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The Indian Jihadist Movement: Evolution and Dynamics

By Stephen Tankel | Strategic Perspectives 17 | July 01, 2014

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Executive Summary

The Indian jihadist movement remains motivated primarily by domestic grievances rather than India-Pakistan dynamics. However, it is far more lethal than it otherwise would have been without external support from the Pakistani state, Pakistani and Bangladeshi jihadist groups, and the ability to leverage Bangladesh, Nepal, and certain Persian Gulf countries for sanctuary and as staging grounds for attacks in India. External support for the Indian mujahideen (IM) from the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence and Pakistan-based militant groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) persists, but the question of command and control is more difficult to discern. The IM is best viewed as an LeT associate rather than an LeT affiliate.

The Indian mujahideen emerged as part of a wider jihadist project in India, but now constitutes the primary domestic jihadist threat. IM is best understood as a label for a relatively amorphous network populated by jihadist elements from the fringes of the Students Islamic Movement of India and the criminal underworld. Today, it has a loose leadership currently based in Pakistan and moves between there and the United Arab Emirates and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The direct threat to India from its indigenous jihadist movement is manageable and unlikely to impact the country’s forward progress or wider regional stability. It is a symptom of political, socioeconomic, and communal issues that India arguably would need to address even if indigenous jihadism disappeared tomorrow.

An attack or series of attacks by indigenous jihadists, however, start a wave of communal violence in India or trigger a diplomatic crisis with Pakistan. With or without LeT assistance, the IM constitutes a potential, but minimal, direct threat to U.S. and Western interests in India.

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