March 30, 2020
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The Anti-Shia Virus

It is quite likely that the growing anti-Shia trend in the propaganda and activities of Al Qaeda could be extended to India through the LEJ in order to create a divide between the Sunnis and the Shias...

The Anti-Shia Virus

B. Raman

"The SSP (Sipah-e-Sahaba) and the LEJ (Lashkar-e-Jhangvi) have not come to notice till now for any activities in the Indian territory--either in Jammu & Kashmir or outside. In view of the recurring explosions targeting Muslims and Muslim places of worship in Delhi, Malegaon, Hyderabad and Ajmer since last year, one has to look into the possibility of the involvement of the SSP and the LEJ in terrorism in Indian territory. None of the Muslim places of worship targeted in India so far belonged to the Shias, but one must note that in Pakistan, the LEJ targets not only Shias and their places of worship, but also the Barelvi Sunnis and their places of worship. The Barelvis are a more tolerant Sunni sect and have rejected Wahabism so far. Despite the progress made by Wahabism and Deobandi sects, the Barelvis are still in a majority in the Indian sub-continent. Hence, the LEJ's attacks on the Barelvis, many of whom are descendents of converts from Hinduism. The Wahabis/Deobandis are mainly descendents of Muslim migrants into the sub-continent from West and Central Asia.Indian investigators should not keep their focus exclusively on the LET and the HUJI. They should keep their mind open and look into the possibility of the involvement of other jihadi terrorist organisations too"

-- From Al Qaeda's New Trojan Horse 

This year's Muharram observance in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has led to unusual clashes between the local Sunnis and Shias, the like of which one had not seen in the past. A Shia procession was reportedly attacked when it passed through a predominantly Sunni area called Gojwara in Srinagar. Fiften persons were reported to have been injured in the resulting clashes between the members of the two sects. This was followed by an attempt by a group of Sunnis to raid a Shia area. This was, however, prevented by timely police intervention. There have been no reports of similar clashes from other parts of India.

Even though India has as many Shias as Pakistan, the two sects have had no history of mutual animosity similar to what one sees in Pakistan. There are occasionally instances of tensions due to differences between the two sects over procession routes, but these are sorted out by the local leaders of the two communities and a resort to violence is prevented.

The violence seen in J&K this year has come in the wake of explosions targeting Muslim places of worship in Delhi,Malegaon, Hyderabad and Ajmer . The attack on the Ajmer shrine was particularly worrying and significant because of its historic sufi traditions.

Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front (IIF) formed in 1998 has five Pakistani members--the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ), the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM) and the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) Of these, the LET,the JEM, the HUM and the HUJI have been active in J&K and other parts of India for over a decade now. However, the LEJ, which is an anti-Shia organisation, has not so far been active in India. Till 2006, its activities were confined to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Of these Pakistani organisations, the LET and the JEM used to be the closest to Al Qaeda. The JEM continues to be as close to Al Qaeda as in the past and has been actively involved in the anti-Army and anti-Shia incidents in the Swat Valley of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and in the anti-Shia violence in the Kurram Agency of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). There are reports that the LET leadership is feeling uncomfortable about the increasing anti-Shia violence of Al Qaeda. In view of this, since last year, Al Qaeda has been encouraging the LEJ to come to the forefront of the global jihad against the Crusaders, the Jewish people and the Hindus.

Al Qaeda had in the past been avoiding direct criticism of Iran and the Hizbollah of the Lebanon. It has now started accusing Iran of stabbing the Ummah in the back and describing the Hizbollah as an Iranian stooge, which is fighting for the strategic interests of Iran and not for the interests of the Ummah or of the people of the Lebanon.In this connection, reference is invited to my article Iran Stabbed The Ummah In The Back.

The intensification of Al Qaeda's anti-Iran and anti-Shia propaganda and anti-Shia violence in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region is seeking to replicate its earlier anti-Shia campaign in Iraq, which is still continuing. It is quite likely that this growing anti-Shia trend in the propaganda and activities of Al Qaeda could be extended to India too through the LEJ in order to create a divide between the Sunnis and the Shias in the Indian Muslim community. The possibility of the LEJ having already established sleeper cells in places like J&K, Lucknow, Hyderabad and Mumbai, where there is a sizable Shia population, needs to be enquired into seriously before this anti-Shia virus spreads further in J&K and other parts of India. 

B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai

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