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113 South Asia: Hotbed of Islamic Terrorism Animesh Roul Animesh Roul is the Executive Director of Research at the New Delhi-based Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict. He specializes in Islamic fundamentalism; nuclear, biological, chemical, and radiological (NBCR) terrorism; armed conflict; and issues relating to arms control and proliferation in South Asia. He can be reached at . 114 Executive Summary This paper explores the rising menace of Islamic extremism in South Asia while discussing key terrorist groups and networks and emerging terrorism trends. Main Findings: • Islamic terrorism appears to be on the rise in the region since September 11, with a new generation of terrorist leaders taking the reins of jihad. • Terrorist groups are increasingly preferring to work collectively, even when there is little ideological convergence among their objectives. • In Pakistan, crackdowns on the jihadi and sectarian organizations have backfired, triggering large-scale militant Islamic consolidation and subsequent retaliation. The U.S.led war in Pakistan’s neighborhood has only aggravated the situation. • In Bangladesh, government crackdowns pushed the extremist forces into hiding initially, although now they are regrouping and recruiting cadres in rural pockets. • Both Pakistan and Bangladesh are serving as major hubs for ideological and material support to the South Asian radical Islamic networks. • In India, homegrown jihadists are emerging, while radical elements are attempting to exploit the alienation of India’s Muslim youths. • With these three South Asian countries increasingly under the militant Islamic grip, the Sunni-majority Maldives could become the next safe haven for radical elements. Policy Implications: • A regionally coordinated counterterrorism effort is imperative to fight the Islamic extremist threat in South Asia. Islamic terrorist groups have free rein in the region, taking advantage of porous borders and strengthened by the absence of an effective joint antiterrorism strategy. • The emerging collaboration among South Asian terrorist groups could force the U.S. to shift its current counterterror strategy in the region. • With the fast-changing political situation in Pakistan, the U.S. will want to devise a novel plan to continue its campaign against Islamic extremist forces in that country. • It is also imperative to empower moderate Islamic forces to raise their voice against the militant Islamic forces operating in the region. 115 roul S outh Asia has been confronting the challenge of Islamic extremism1 for many years. At least four South Asian countries—India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and, most recently, the Maldives (each with large Muslim populations)—are considered hotbeds of Islamic terrorism. In both Pakistan and Bangladesh, radical Islamic forces aim to establish Islamic states based on Islamic laws. This region has the highest concentration of Islamic jihadist2 groups in the world: a rough estimate is that nearly one hundred Islamic extremist groups and jihadi organizations with crossborder linkages are operating with impunity throughout South Asia.3 India tops the list with more than 50 active or dormant terrorist tanzeems (organizations).4 Several anti-India and anti-Hindu Islamic groups fighting in Kashmir are based in Pakistan or Bangladesh. Many of these groups have ties with international jihadi organizations based in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan, including al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). This essay explores how South Asian countries, in particular India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, are grappling with Islamic extremism, especially since the catastrophic events of September 11. This essay identifies major terrorist groups and discusses intricate terror networks, their operational developments, and emerging terrorist trends in three country-specific sections. Despite concerted efforts by government forces, including the U.S.-led campaign in South Asia, Islamic terrorism is on the rise, with a new generation of terrorist leaders taking the reins of jihad in their hands throughout the region. The essay also finds that South Asian terrorist groups increasingly prefer to work collectively, even when there is little ideological convergence among their objectives. 1 The phrases “Islamic extremist” and “Islamic terrorist” are used here to describe those who follow a path of violence, favoring extreme religious interpretations of the Quran and its tenets. 2 Jihadists practice and adhere to extreme forms of Islam, often resorting to violence against “unbelievers” to achieve the ultimate goal of establishing the rule of God on earth. For more details, see Mary Habeck, Knowing the Enemy: Jihadist Ideology and the War on Terror (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006); and Michael G. Knapp, “The Concept and Practice of Jihad in Islam,” Parameters 33, no. 1 (Spring 2003): 82–94. 3 For a list of terrorist organizations by country, see the...


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