Terrorism by a Jihadi name

Afsan Chowdhury
Wednesday, August 30th, 2017
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The statement that the Arakan army is not Jihadi but nationalist is quite true. In fact what we know as Jihads are almost all born in nationalist bowels.  In Western eyes, as colonial powers, nationalism itself is a crime as the ingredients that flame resistance could be many. This doesn’t necessarily have to be faith identity but linguistic identity as well which was so in our case. But more common the factors- faith, ethnicity, language and most important territory- the greater the chances of a sustainable insurgency is more pronounced. Ideological extremism is almost always short lived and fade away since the common factors which help to keep the groups bonded disappear soon enough. India and Bangladesh also some similar experiences.


Using South Asian Terrorism Portal (SATP) data we see that there are three constant hotspots of terrorism in India as defined by experts. 1. Kashmir. 2. North East and 3, the jungle mountain belts stretching from Jharkhand to the hills of Naxalbari.  There are other fringe movements but these are the main streams.


What is common among all three is their common attachment to land territorial disputes. Kashmir is a contested territorial nationalism zone and the cause of  conflict between India and Pakistan also. However, Indians experts and media prefer to see them as Islamic terrorists and the activist groups there also claim to be fighting for their faith.  So the common moniker of being Muslim is a convenient peg to hang the coat of explanation as rather than getting drawn into the territorial dispute, it’s easier to demonize them as Islamic terrorists. Global public opinion also prefers it that way. Once they are dubbed as terrorists no negotiations are necessary.


The second flash point area is the North East, home to ancient migrants from the Mongoloid zone of Asia stretching all the way to China. The people are not one but many –Naga , Manipuris, Bodos etc- and they all have a common problem with territory. They all want their ancient rights to the land established and have been waging an insurgency for a long time. However, they are dubbed as “ethnic terrorists” and hence that allows access to use force there by the national army.


The third branch are the forest and foothill people of India who have also been waging a conflict with central Indian forces for decades. Over time plain landers have taken their spirit of struggle and mixed it with ideology and produced what is commonly known as the “Naxal’ movement that swept across India in the 60s and mid 70s. Again, the struggle began with the people of the forests wanting land rights and freedom from forests exploitation. However, they are generally called Naxalites/ Maoists and therefore terrorists. By giving them an ideological moniker, Islamic/ethnic/Maoist the “enemy becomes more visible and easy to counter them.


Yet none of the three movements ever began as an ideological one and all have been influenced by many ideologies because whatever has helped these insurgent groups to mobilize has been used and in future will be done so. The ideologies may disappear but the movements will not, it seems as most are rooted in land which is permanent.


In one form or other, they are seeking territorial states and the identity is land based obviously as land seeking alone can lead to a state.


In that case, what about the Naxalite movement that spread in the 60s and 70s. The answer is, it’s over. While some of the principles and ideologies can still be traced in the tribal are Maoist movement, it’s dead in say West Bengal and Bihar, far away from the core in the hills including Naxalbari.


Let’s quickly jump back to Bangladesh and look at some fatality data on terrorism. According to SATP data, 734 people died relating to Islamist terrorism between 2005 to 2017. Of these, 370 were civilians, 37 were security personnel and 337 were Islamic terrorists or Jongis. This is the most comprehensive data available anywhere from public sources. Now take another category, Maoists in Bangladesh. According to the same site, in the same period, 61 civilians, 12 security personnel and 678 Maoists were killed in total 751 dead. Thus though both have high death figures, it’s the Maoists who are  getting more killed –almost double than that of Jongis but there is almost no mention in media of such numbers. Clearly it is an invisible compared to the well publicized anti-Jongi operations.

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