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  Talk by Mr Dilip Hiro on “Jihadists in South Asia: Their Varying Trajectories”

  November 15, 2011

  Sapru House, New Delhi

The word Jihad in itself is a neutral world, which has often been used pejoratively, noted the eminent writer, journalist and commentator, Mr Dilip Hiro at a talk organized by the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) on 15 November 2011. While discussing the concept of Jihad, he said that Jihad has two variants-Greater Jihad and Lesser Jihad.

Citing from his recent book "Jihad on two fronts: South Asia's Unfolding drama", he pointed that today Jihadists are fighting their war on two fronts-one directed against non-Muslims (mainly Hindus and Christians) and the other against the Shias and Sufis. The majority of the population practising Islamic faith belongs to the Sunni sect and only a small section of them adheres to the orthodox radical ideology. Interestingly, the majority believers have been unsuccessful in controlling the radical ideas propagated by the active and ideologically committed minority. This failure on part of the silent majority has strengthened the hands of the radicalised minority, noted the speaker.

Events in the three neighbouring countries of South Asia-Afghanistan, Pakistan and India are interconnected, observed the speaker. According to Mr. Hiro, independence of Afghanistan and Islam go parallel and Islam has been the driving force in Afghanistan. He also pointed that any attempt to alter the situation has met with resistance from tribal and Islamic leaders. Throwing light on Jihadist movement in South Asia, Mr Hiro argued that the current militant Jihadist violence in the region dates back to the events of the 1980s in Afghanistan.

Before General Zia ul Haq came to power in Pakistan, Islam was mainly used as a tactical move to solve particular crisis, highlighted Mr Hiro. General Zia integrated Islam into State and society, its imprint is still strongly evident in the country. The geographical proximity between Afghanistan and Pakistan has also influenced Jihadist movements in the region. Both underground and over ground Jihadist groups are operating in Pakistan, and collaboration between the two has strengthened the Jihadist forces in Pakistan.

Discussing about Jihadist groups in India, the speaker noted that these groups are still weak. One prime reason that has prevented the growth of these groups in India is the participation of Muslims in the electoral politics, stated Mr Hiro. Giving another example highlighting the interconnectedness of incidents occurring in these three countries, Mr Hiro said, after Mujahideen's victory in Afghanistan, their attention shifted to Kashmir, which lies close to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Mujahideen's fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s constituted not only Afghans but Muslims from other parts of the world too.

September 11 changed the history of international politics, which also had its impact on Jihadist movements. Post 9/11, these movements became more radical, stated Mr Hiro. India, U.S and Israel have been victims of terrorism, which brought the three countries closer after September 11. He argued that closeness among India, Israel and U.S. has been one of the important factors instigating anti India feeling among the Jihadists.

Describing the current situation in Afghanistan, he said that the five determining players today are-Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, U.S and Taliban. India and Taliban represents the two extreme ends, each uncomfortable with the other's presence. Concluding his talk, he emphasised that today any solution to the Afghan crisis has to involve Taliban.

Ambassador Sudhir Devare, Director General ICWA welcomed the speaker and other guests. Ambassador C.R. Garekhan, a distinguished member of the Indian Foreign Service chaired the session. The talk was attended by several former diplomats, journalists, officials from various Embassies in India and research faculty of ICWA.

Report by:        Dr Angira Sen Sarma, Research Fellow, Indian Council of World Affairs