India targeting Islamic activists after Mumbai bomb blasts

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Qazi Umar

Sha'ban 05, 1424 2003-10-01

World

by Qazi Umar (World, Crescent International Vol. 32, No. 13 2003-10, Sha'ban, 1424)

"Twin explosions in India’s commercial capital": even the headlines after the bomb blasts in Mumbai on August 25 were eerily familiar. Investigations (if any are even being conducted) to date are yet to find the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks on the WTC and Pentagon, or even determine who they really were. But the result of those fateful events has been havoc for Muslims everywhere. In the post-9/11 world, the "war on terror" (really a war on Islam) is the universal agenda. But India, with its amazing ‘consciousness’ of terrorism, has been trying to achieve a "vital breakthrough" by unequivocally declaring that Pakistan is an "epicenter of international terrorism".

In an interview published on August 28 in The Australian newspaper, foreign minister Yashwant Sinha revived India’s traditional anti-Pakistan rhetoric, which has been muted during the thaw of the last few months. Calling Pakistan "the epicentre of international terrorism", he claimed that almost all attacks in India "had links leading into its smaller neighbour". The recent "twin blasts" in Mumbai have only provided one more platform for India to re-establish its Pakistan-bashing record.

At least 50 people were killed and over 150 injured in two bomb blasts in south Mumbai on 25 August: one near the Gateway of India and the other at Zaveri Bazaar in the busy Kalbadevi area. Even before the victims were rushed to hospital and the news got into the media, Indian intelligence agencies had declared that they suspected Pakistan-based Lashkar-e Tayyeba’s hand in the "twin bomb blasts".

As expected, leaders all over the world condemned the explosions and expressed their condolences. On August 26 president George W Bush telephoned prime minister A. B. Vajpayee to express his sympathies over the loss of life, and telling him that "in the fight against terror, India has a friend in the US". The Mumbai blasts, the prime minister said, were a "grim reminder that the struggle against terrorism continues and we must work together to eliminate the threat".

US secretary of state Colin Powell informed Indian external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha that US stands ready to assist India "in any way we can", and offered to render any assistance necessary. Britain emphasized the importance of the global community taking firm action to deal with international terrorism. British foreign minister Jack Straw said that "this is a scourge" that needs to be "tackled and fought with determination". German foreign minister Joschka Fischer in a telegram to Sinha said, "This criminal attack fills us with horror". In a letter to prime minister Vajpayee, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao said that he was "shocked" by the "heavy casualties". India accepted these condolences and condemnations; however the message of condolence and condemnation from Pakistan failed to impress India at all.

Deploring the attack, Pakistan foreign office spokesman said in Islamabad, "Civilians have been targeted in the blasts. We condemn all such attacks. All attacks targeting civilians should be condemned." On August 26, the day after the blasts, India’s deputy prime minister L. K. Advani said, "Pakistan’s condemnation of the incident could be regarded [as] earnest only if it handed over 19 absconders wanted by India. Once again I am asking Pakistan to hand over them to us." However, urging Indian leaders not to resort to finger-pointing in response to the bomb-explosions in Mumbai, on 29 August Pakistan denied deputy prime minister Advani’s charge that it is harbouring Indians wanted for acts of terrorism in India. "We have not given any shelter to any Indian nationals," Pakistan’s foreign office spokesman Masood Khan told the BBC.

As usual, Advani arrived in Mumbai with a fictious ‘investigation report’. Advani, without directly accusing Pakistan, said that India’s "successful democracy" has not gone down well with some countries. "India’s growth, its success both as a democracy and as a secular country with a large Muslim population, its economic progress... are the factors at the root of the neighbour’s hostility. It is wrong to attribute it only to differences over Jammu and Kashmir," he said during his visit to Mumbai on 26 August. Advani added, "While the perception is that India’s problem with Pakistan is Jammu and Kashmir, the fact is far more widespread. Mumbai only highlighted that." The deputy prime minister also revealed that preliminary investigations indicated the involvement of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e Tayyeba and the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). Advani also added that recently-arrested SIMI activist Saqib Nachan was among those involved in Mumbai blasts.

The Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) was formed in 1997 by Muslim youth advocating radical social change in India (see box, opposite page). On September 27, 2001, SIMI was banned under POTA (the Prevention of Terrorism Act). Hundreds of SIMI activists all over the country are imprisoned, and the offices of the organization throughout the country have been sealed. However, terrorist charges and arrests are imposed on SIMI activists daily. Intelligence agencies have discovered an easy way out: put the blame on SIMI for any law and order failure in the country. Never, in its 24 years of activism before the ban, had SIMI been accused or charged with terrorist activities (though SIMI’s stand on India’s policies in Kashmir and India’s anti-Muslim governance were always under scrutiny). However, despite the circumstances that led to its ban, SIMI is being accused of masterminding the recent bomb-blasts in India and of being linked with Pakistan-based organisations. The incident on August 25 is the sixth bomb-blast in Mumbai since December 2 last year. More than 50 Muslims, most of them affiliated to SIMI, have been arrested under POTA .

Four Muslims, two of them women, were arrested on September 1 under POTA in connection with the twin blasts. Three of them appeared in the Special Court of A. P. Bhangale and remanded in police custody till September 15. The other defendant, Sayyed Mohammed Abdul Rahim (45), could not be produced in the court because he was admitted in hospital. The three remanded to police custody were Arshad Shafique Ansari, Fahimida Sayyed (37), wife of Sayyed Abdul Rahim, and their daughter Fareen Sayeed (17). This is the first time women have been arrested under POTA. All four are charged with involvement in the explosions at Ghatkopar that occurred on July 28, as well as the blasts in Mumbai.

In September 3 the Karnataka police arrested Mohammed Fahim, a resident of Hyderabad, in Bangalore, in connection with the Mumbai blasts. Fahim, who was picked up at Bangalore airport, works as an electrician in Dubai. B Raman, former head of counter-terrorism at Research and Analysis Wing (RAW, India’s intelligence agency), came out with more anti-Pakistan rhetoric: "My assessment is that probably the Pakistani consulate in Dubai carried out the operations in Mumbai through surrogates." It must be remembered that P.C. Sharma, CBI director, had a meeting with the UAE internal security minister last year. Following that meeting, the Dubai authorities extradited Mohammed Altaf, a former SIMI activist whom India accused of the bomb-blast at Ghatkopar on December 2, 2002. According to the Mumbai police, one of the detainees claimed that some officials at the Pakistan consulate in Dubai became active after last year’s Gujarat riots and could have been involved in fomenting trouble in Mumbai. On August 26 Pakistan’s foreign minister expressed his frustration: "Whenever something happens in India, they start blaming Pakistan," Kasuri told reporters in Lahore, adding, "Our position is still the same. We want friendly ties with India."

The first casualty of the Mumbai blasts on the India-Pakistan diplomatic scene was the resumption of air links between the two countries. India blamed Pakistan’s "negative approach" for the failure. The "twin blasts" in Mumbai are just another excuse for India to clamp down on Muslim voices in India and justify its occupation of Kashmir. Yet again the anti-Pakistan rhetoric may help the ruling BJP government to divert attention from its difficulties and mistakes in government and boost its election campaign.

On September 9 Mumbai’s police arrested more than 100 Muslims who were protesting against Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s forthcoming visit to India (September 11, the second anniversary of the destruction of the WTC and part of the Pentagon). Sharon’s visit came less than a month after the US withdrew its objections to Israel selling India the $1 billion Phalcon early-warning airborne radar system. We should remember that the hands of both Israel and India are stained with the blood of the shuhada of Palestine and Kashmir, (and the plight of Muslims in Gujarat and the rest of India as well), and decide our attitudes and policies accordingly.

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