Foreign Policy Blogs

India: The New Theater in the "War on Terror'

With every passing explosion in downtown New Delhi, it became more and more clear that America and its western partners are ignoring a valuable ally in their war against Islamic fundamentalism. India has always been regarded as somehow unique to the league of democracies, although there are no legitimate reasons for this exclusion. Perhaps it is the perception of India as somehow non-western and thus somehow non-democratic. Perhaps it is because they do not share the same color skin (at least for the time being) as American and European leaders. But as India makes its leap towards the world stage, economically and politically, the similarities and threats facing the burgeoning nation are strikingly similar to those in the world's most developed countries.

The "War on Terror', initially framed as a two-sided struggle with the world's democracies on one side and the Islamic fundamentalists on the other, has begun to devolve in to three separate conflicts over three distinct issues: Globalization, Palestine, and Kashmir.

At its most daunting and epic scale, there is an existential crisis between the "West' and Islamic militants over globalization: the direction of human progress, economic connectivity, religion and secular societies. Currently, America is the safeguard of this system and the onus of its protection falls to her. Everything from Iraq to Afghanistan falls under this category. Separate from this battle is political terrorism rooted in the cause of Palestine. As Israel retains sovereignty over the occupied territories, the majority of violence is aimed at her and her citizens. Just as World War II evolved in to a multi-theater war, the War on Terror is now developing a new theater, with Kashmir as the political endgame and India as the target.

This is certainly no surprise for Indians and non-Indians living in the region. The blasts that shook the capital were an extension of an ongoing campaign between Indian authorities and the so-called Indian Mujahedeen, an umbrella organization for various Islamic fundamentalist sects. The group is primarily composed of members from three different terrorist movements: Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Harkat-ul-Jihad al Islami (HuJI), and the Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).

Lashkar-e-Toiba (Army of the Pure) is based in Lahore, Pakistan, and operates a variety of militant bases across Kashmir. After years of secrecy under the Musharraf regime, they have recently rededicated their commitment to carrying out attacks inside India. Harkat-ul Jihad al Islami (Islamic Holy War Movement), a Taliban-affiliated terror movement operates out of Pakistan as well, with various cells in Bangladesh. Unlike LeT, HuJI envisions a global, pan-Islamic state, much like al Qaeda. Unlike bin Laden, however, they believe the first and most important stop on this journey is Kashmir. Filling up the ranks of the Indian Mujedeen is the Students' Islamic Movement of India, founded in 1977. Their mission is nothing less than the complete adoption of Islamic rule and law within the country.

All three terrorist movements, while fragmented and encompassing differing ideologies, have allied themselves over one common cause, Kashmir. Just as fundamentalist elements throughout the Middle East have found a common enemy in Israel and a common mission in Palestine, Islamic movements throughout the subcontinent are rallying against India. While daunting for Indian security forces, it provides a constellation of opportunities for counter-terrorism officials in the west.

Most immediate, this demonstrates the fractures within the global jihadi movement, a movement that lacks the overall cohesion and goals as it did in the days following September 11th. Infighting between Sunni and Shi'ah, militia and terrorist, those loyal to al Qaeda and those dedicated to the political causes of Palestine or Kashmir, these divisions allow authorities to isolate and attack specific cells. Secondly, while political reconciliation over the Kashmir crisis is no easy feat, it is perhaps the most solvable issue driving Islamic fundamentalism. There is zero chance that the "West' will abandon its goals of globalization, political freedom, capitalistic societies, and liberal democracies. Palestinian statehood remains as elusive as ever. Kashmir, however, has the best chances for success. India is a dedicated democracy, Pakistan has a newly elected civilian government, and both retain friendly relationships with the United States. With the proper diplomacy and skill, America can generate a tremendous amount of good will and support for attempting to diffuse the crisis in Kashmir, even if it is not successful.

The United States and her European allies must begin to view the "War on Terror' in its current form, not as it was in the fall of 2001. The global jihadi movement of al Qaeda and bin Laden has been surpassed by regional theaters in Iraq, Palestine, and India. While certain dimensions can be subdued, as is happening in Iraq, new fronts will inevitably open up. This can lead to one of two results. Just as Germany was inevitably defeated because it was incapable of fighting multiple engagements around the world, so too can be the fate of Islamic fundamentalism. The movement can become so isolated and multi-faceted that coordination and large-scale planning are simply too difficult to launch any meaningful offensive. On the other hand, it can be a testament to the true strength and determination of these terrorist movements. No matter how successful the world's most powerful nations can be in pacifying one particular aspect of the "War on Terror', it will undeniably pop up on some other part of the globe, perhaps in China, Chechnya, or Somalia. One reason to remain hopeful, however, is that the end-game, apocalyptic doomsday battle between al Qaeda and America appears to be on the back burner. At least for the time being.



Josh Hammer

Josh Hammer is an International Relations theorist, with expertise in terrorist ideology, American foreign policy, and war / conflict resolution. He currently holds a Master's of Science degree in International Politics from the University of Edinburgh, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations from the George Washington University. Josh's most recent work, his M.Sc. thesis, is a comparative analysis between Marxist / Leninist ideology and Osama bin Laden's global jihadi movement. He currently resides in New York.

Areas of Focus:
Terrorist Idealogy; American Foreign Policy; Conflict Resolution;


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