Cut terror’s Saudi pocket money

Another terrorist incident, this time at Delhi high court, and the same old response — a lot of helter-skelter activity amounting to little. A week after the blast, not a substantive clue has been unearthed by the National Intelligence Agency and Delhi Police whose men in khaki more and more resemble a bunch of bumbling buffoons, who seem to do a better job of extorting money from canoodling couples in parks than protecting the city from terrorists, criminals and assorted bad guys. But the Government of India does not seem overly concerned.

According to home minister P. Chidambaram, some 51 ISI-supported terrorist cells in India have been “neutralised” in the last few years. That leaves 250-odd Pakistan ISI-founded cells intact. How’s that? Well, in a conversation in Islamabad many years ago, former ISI chief Maj. Gen. Hamid Gul boasted to this analyst that the ISI had over 300 “sleeper cells” inside India which, he asserted, could be activated at any time.
The good mason Chidambaram informs us that a strong anti-terror policy and administrative edifice is built “brick by brick”. At his present rate of construction, it is reasonable to assume that it will take a long time to come up.
If domestic political factors inhibit hard policing and monitoring as means of deterring terrorism and pre-empting terrorist attacks within India, a similar hesitation on the part of the leading powers squarely prevents its stifling at the source. The global jihad perpetrated by Sunni Muslim terrorist outfits is sustained financially by billions of dollars funnelled by religious charities mainly in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. These monies go into founding thousands of madrasas, sprouting uncontrollably, like wild hallucinogenic mushrooms, in the Islamic world and the subcontinent. Wracked by poverty and illiteracy, the Saudi-funded madrasas host teens and young adults who are pickled in the harsh Wahhabi values of desert Islam preached therein. Having bitten into the Wahhabi mushroom, they are free to imagine that by their reckless and nihilistic acts of violence, they are doing Allah’s bidding, furthering the grand design of a world vacated of non-believers. The significance of this delusional aspect of jihadi terrorism should not be under-rated. It is the fuel driving Al Qaeda, its Pakistan Punjab-based derivatives — the various Lashkars — and the emerging groups of extremist and, ironically, educated Muslims in India surreptitiously joining banned groups, such as the Students’ Islamic Movement of India and their spin-offs, like Indian Mujahideen.
Starve the terrorist groups of monies and extremism will dry up is a simple enough plan for anti-terrorist action that finds no backers. The Saud family has made it clear that while it does not care for the excesses of Wahhabism to destabilise its fief, it will happily countenance the diversion of this fundamentalist ideology away from its own kingdom and towards distant lands by transfer of funds routed through Islamic charities. The United States, which trumpets its global war against terrorism, is aware of the Saudi and Gulf funds propelling the spread of intolerant Wahhabi Islam in Pakistan and generally the subcontinent, but has not rid Arabia of its current rulers, an option Washington has exercised against regimes elsewhere in the region for offering far less provocation. The reason, of course, is the pliability of the Sauds. It is better, the US believes, to have these self-proclaimed “guardians of Mecca and Medina” and habitues of Monte Carlo in the saddle whom Washington can play the puppet master to, than replace them with an unknown colonel and end up with a Gaddafi who, eventually, has to be brought down.
This has put Washington in the uncomfortable position of hurrahing along the democratic-minded Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, the Tahrir Square movement in Egypt, the rebellion against the long-ruling Assad family in Syria while doing an about-turn when the Shia majority in Bahrain, demanding freedom, turned on the minority Sunni-ruling clique of King Hamad. The American fear was that encouraging the democratic impulses in Bahrain — the gateway to Saudi Arabia — would incline the Shias inhabiting the rich, oil-bearing portions of that country to throw the Sauds out, thereby creating a swath of Shia states in West Asia controlling the oil and looking to Tehran for religious and political guidance and support. However, a stronger, more influential Iran is anathema to Israel, the United States and the European Union.
But if Riyadh is unwilling to shut off the Wahhabist funding channel for reasons of survival, and the US government is unable to put the kibosh on the Sauds for reasons of politico-strategic expediency, shouldn’t Delhi, even if belatedly and at a minimum, take some basic preventive measures rather than incessantly plead with Washington to prevail on Islamabad to cease and desist from exporting and facilitating terrorism in India? After all, it is over two decades now since ISI-prompted terrorism raised its head in the wake of the 1989 state elections in Jammu and Kashmir.
The US has protected itself against home-grown Islamic militancy by intensely policing its Muslim citizenry. Less intrusively, the Indian government should, by now, have emplaced laws, rules and regulations requiring close monitoring of the inward flowing funds from Saudi and Gulf religious charities, audited accounts and explanation of expenditure of these funds from the Indian beneficiary institutions, and carried out official vetting of teachers and syllabi in the madrasas run on these monies. This hasn’t happened. The absence of such a preventive legal-administrative system does not denote a secular state, merely a confused one that leaves itself wilfully vulnerable. The consequences are there for all to see. A previously communally peaceful Kerala, for example, is now a hotbed of Islamic radicalism. Where Kerala is today, India may be tomorrow — a frightening prospect

Bharat Karnad is a
professor at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

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