Srinagar to Guwahati may be a good 2,800 km and may be much more apart in imagination, but in these days of social media and times of dizzyingly fast means of communicating with each other, ideas take seconds to travel. That is why the recent emergence of tentacles of the Kashmir-focused Hizbul Mujahideen in Assam is not really a far-fetched development.
While nine people have been rounded up by the Assam Police as recent as Sunday and linkages being explored and investigated in Uttar Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, it has set alarm bells ringing within the security establishment in the state and efforts have gained ground to set up a Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) on the lines of the ones in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and other places.
“The emergence of the Hizbul Mujahideen module in Assam may be a one-off case. But we have sought the formation of an ATS in Assam in order to keep a close eye as these groups operate very surreptitiously and secretively because of the unique nature of the Assamese social fabric,” Pallab Bhattacharya, additional director general (special branch), told Firstpost.
Hizbul Mujahideen is the largest militant outfit in Jammu and Kashmir waging an armed struggle seeking the severance of Kashmir from India although government reports say the outfit is fighting a growing crisis of shortage of weapons and finances. It is believed that of the about 210 hardcore militants active in Kashmir Valley now, about 126 belong to the Hizbul.
After Jammu and Kashmir, Assam has the largest population of Muslims among the Indian states. While Assamese Muslims adhere to a Sufi form of Islam cherished and propagated by 17th-century poet and spiritual leader Azaan Faqir that is deeply rooted in Assamese culture and traditions, Bengali-speaking Muslims are fairly liberal in their outlook too.
“It is a unique Islamic culture in Assam due to which even the few radicalised elements tread very carefully lest they be exposed by members of their own community. But radical thoughts have increasingly been gaining ground and that is why there is an urgent need to tackle it and nip it in the bud,” said Bhattacharya.
At the same time, what is surprising is the daring effort to supplant the Hizbul Mujahideen ideology in the northeastern state as is the ready availability of a ragtag band of wannabe militants.
The idea behind setting up the ATS would ostensibly be to identify and isolate the radical elements. While the state’s security forces have handled the insurgency led by the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and other insurgent outfits in an effective manner, a different approach needs to be organised to combat jihadi modules.
At the same time, it has to be admitted that situation in certain parts of the state is indeed getting more fertile to breed radical Islamist ideologies which pave the way for setting up of jihadi outfits. The latest Hizbul Mujahideen involvement is a manifestation of that.
Says Ajai Sahni, a leading security expert: “The Hizbul Mujahideen module in Assam doesn’t mean much. A person from Assam went to Kistwar in Kashmir and got radicalised after coming into contact with certain elements. He went back to Assam and tried to cobble up a group. There is however no denying that there is significant potential for Islamist radicalism in the state.”
According to South Asia Terrorism Portal, a leading portal on terrorism, about 20 Islamist terror formations have operated in Assam at different periods.
Four years back, the Assam state Assembly was informed that between January 2001 and November 2014, a total of 130 Islamist extremists, including 106 MULTA (Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam) cadres, 14 of Harakat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), and 10 of JMB (Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh), were arrested in Assam.
Clearly, the detection of such radical Islamist groups professing jihadi ideologies has been too frequent for comfort.
Updated Date: Sep 25, 2018 18:55:31 IST