Assam News – Jaideep Saikia on “National Security: Challenges Ahead”

by Guwahati_City


The highlights of the Lecture: “National Security: Challenges Ahead” by Top Counter Terrorism Specialist, Jaideep Saikia on 21 April 2021 in India Club after receiving the Achiever 2020 Award for Outstanding Contribution to National Security included the following:

Line of Amity

The “Line of Amity” is a gedankenexperiment that has been conceived of by the celebrated India-China boundary observer and conflict analyst, Jaideep Saikia. The concept came to the fore as a result of Jaideep Saikia’s uneasiness about the inability to cobble a comprehensive solution to the boundary issue between India and China.  The dialogue between the Special Representatives of India and China on the Boundary Question has not made any progress beyond status quo, albeit with the usual appendages about maintenance of peace and tranquility along the frontiers. Indeed, it has resulted in growing mistrust and conflict as has been the case in Doklam (2019) and Galwan (2020). Certain observers of the boundary issue are of the view that continuation of status quo is as much an Indian doing as that of the Chinese desire to leave the issue to the “next generation”. The Chinese attitude, in all probability, is a result both of the Indian refusal to accept China’s east-west swap proposal of 1960 and 1980, which were “carefully unofficial and elliptical” and the fact that the Chinese side is reportedly “not unified on the issue” with the moderate school stating that “China’s case for ownership of all that region (entire southern slope) was actually rather weak”. This was clearly brought out by John W. Garver in his seminal book on Sino-Indian rivalry in the 20th century, “Protracted Contest”. But Beijing had already shifted the “goalposts” in the 7th round of talks in July 1986 and China had “explicitly reversed the geopolitical logic of the 1960 (and 1980) swap by asserting that India accommodates China in the east”. At any rate, a solution of sorts—with an eye to circuiting the status quo that prevails—was proposed by Jaideep Saikia on 26-27 August 2014 during the course of an India-China “Track II Dialogue” in which he was a member of the Indian delegation. With the knowledge that neither sides would surrender ground (the instances which Jaideep Saikia quoted was that of Thagla Ridge held by the Chinese in the Kameng Sector of Arunachal Pradesh and the southern bank of the Namka Chu River that runs south of the Ridge held by the Indians) as well as the fact that the only solution lie in converting the “Line of Actual Control” into an International Boundary, he took recourse to semantics. The phrase “Line of Actual Control”—if even a step is to be taken in the direction of later-day resolution (even by the generation that is to come!)—must be replaced by a classification that does not ring of belligerence. “Line of Amity” is the name that Jaideep Saikia proposed. Referring to his visits to the almost the entire Line of Actual Control in the Eastern Sector (except the glaciated parts), Saikia laced his argument by stating that he has physically been on the ground and seen aspects for himself. If unyieldingness is inevitable and status quo is the only outcome of protracted negotiations, it was Jaideep Saikia’s considered opinion that at least a change of nomenclature that resonates of accommodation could herald a positive mindset change from continual and non-progressive status quo. He laced his plea by stating that altering the name from “Line of Actual Control” to “Line of Amity” would not have any legal implications or bring forth questions about the principle by which delineation of boundaries are normally undertaken. Jaideep Saikia hazarded this aspect despite the fact that the watershed principle is applicable to the Thagla Ridge which the Chinese presently occupies. As a matter of fact, the McMahon Line that was drawn in 1914 during the Simla Conference between British India, Tibet and China almost approximates to the “line” on which the Chinese are sitting atop the Thagla Ridge. The name “Line of Amity” also has the possibility of bringing future leaders of both the countries to the table without the baggage of the past as well as the suspicion that has accompanied almost all India-China boundary dialogue and could well be, according to Jaideep Saikia, the prerequisite for entente cordiale.

Debate between De-Radicalisation & Counter Radicalisation

Reticent corners of the universe seldom come to light, unobtrusively concealing themselves from gaze and assay. The uncharted neuronal caverns of a Homo Sapiens brain, heir to countless stealth space, are among such quarters. Inhibited by obscure synaptic activity they are capable of obscuring facets which—if it were to lend itself to revelation—would have exhibited myriad possibilities for humankind. The human brain is, after all, the most sophisticated objet d’art that creation has shaped. Despite hard evidence about the plasticity of the brain and the occurrence of cortical rewiring which takes place as a response to training, the fact of the matter is that human beings do not come into the world in a “tabula rasa” manner.  Nature ascertains that the behavioural patterns fractionate along genetic boundaries. To that end, a person’s mental content is largely in-built, even to the extent that her actions are predisposed. Nurture—especially if it suits the sapient architecture that nature has fashioned—encourages the innateness. However, inherence—whether or not nurture intervenes in its growth—permits a subject to participate in an attributive manner. Extra-cognitive predispositions too, therefore, cannot be said to be wholly determined by the setting. Although this hypothesis may be accused of being an extension of the Chomskyan “universal innate grammar” theory which describes the extraordinary ability in children to decipher complex concepts from a principally imprecise environment, the fact of the matter is that deviant behaviour, too, is spawn of a brain that may careen out of control during the process of encephalisation that takes place in the front end of the neural tube in the seventh week of brain development. It is in this context that the question of radicalisation acquires import and warrants examination in a discourse that has religious fanaticism as a subject of study. The fact that the lecture alluded to an account of neuroscience is to construct a background for a counter narrative—which in the days to come may receive a superior reception.

In all fairness, radicalisation that characterises the present times has always been deemed to be—shorn of the apologist’s banner—confined to Islam. Recent events around the world bracket “acts of terror” as a) one perpetrated by Muslims b) in the name of and for Daesh (al-Qaeda, too, have of late begun to laud acts of violence that are being attributed to Daesh or Daesh followers!) and c) which is confusing the State about the real identity of the perpetrators and d) even about the motivation for the actions. It does not require imposing imagination to comprehend that almost all the acts of violence is an express result of the “transformative moment through which Islam is passing through”. But despite the simplicity of such an explanation the new challenge for the so-called “urbane” world necessitates novelty. After all some of the incidents that have been termed as Islamist action—with or without Daesh content—might not be as cut-and-dried as has been thought of. The important aspect that must be borne in mind is that until such time there is motivation to kill and maim (especially if it is planned and carried out by determined, violent minds!) the brain will always guide aggression—there are plenty of “warrior genes” inside it in order to steer such action.

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The 1 July 2016 “hostage-situation” in Dhaka provides an interesting case study about the manner in which an Islamist action was undertaken. An undemanding appraisal of the incident is, therefore, being embarked upon.

Initial investigation informs that almost all the victims were foreigners. The chosen weapon was a machete (despite the fact that the terrorists reportedly wielded firearms), giving rise, thereby, to the notion that there was a method in the madness. While certain experts attributed the recourse to “medieval barbarity” as a “Daesh prescription” (almost all the fourteen issues of Dabiq, the online propaganda mouthpiece of Daesh, published until date, showcase machetes dripping with blood), others tried to trivialise such a theory by providing the flimsiest of explanations: the violent innards that characterise East Bengali society, where conflict and violence are normally resolved by recourse to decapitation or comparable means! There was also considerable speculation—and consequently puzzlement—about the swiftness with which Daesh exhibited the killers in their propaganda machinery. Clearly the terrorists had uploaded their photographs (posing, as they did, in front of a Daesh pennant) from inside the restaurant that they had commandeered (even this last detail has not been verified with the possibility that the photograph could well have been sent to a Daesh ghost-site beforehand!). But, there was no two-way communication. In other words, a Daesh command-and-control axis was not guiding the terrorists at least during the hostage taking exercise—as was the case during the 26/11 Mumbai crisis when the terrorists were being constantly instructed from their minders in Pakistan! Daesh, therefore, in all probability “grabbed the chance” in order to showcase to the world that its reach and range extended to Bangladesh, where “machete-murders” were suddenly proliferating.  But, it also meant that there are groups and individuals inside the erstwhile East Pakistan who are seeking brand equity (and receiving it) with Daesh. If such is the case then there should be no confusion about Daesh presence in Bangladesh! After all, despite the fact that Daesh metamorphosed into its present shape from its earlier manifestation of Jama’at al-Tawhid wa-al-Jihad in 1999 and eventually al-Qaeda-in-Iraq in 2004, its present call to Muslims worldwide to undertake the hijrah has brought people from all over the world! The argument that the 1 July 2016 attackers were only Bangladeshis and consequently could not have had any truck with Daesh is without substance. At any rate, confusion reigns till the time of writing in mid-July 2016 with investigators stating that it was a combined operation by Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) and Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) and that the Gulshan attack was an elaborately planned strike that had been rehearsed for seven months. This official admission (whatever else it might be indicative of) proves that a) Islamist organisations in Bangladesh are acting in unison b) since at least JMB and ABT have sworn allegiance to Daesh and al-Qaeda respectively, there must be a unity of agenda and objective between the latter two—a theory that at least Jaideep Saikia has been propagating since the coming into existence of the “caliphate” on 29 June 2014 [see Jaideep Saikia Shadow of Daesh: Islamic State’s Design in “Bengal” The War College Journal, Mhow, Summer 2016] and d) the inter-subjectivity of design clearly attests to the fact that an encompassing Islamist agenda that is global in intent and purpose had prior knowledge of the 1 July 2016 attack. The genuine lament should be about the absence of high order analyses by intelligence agencies in South Asia and its failure to comprehend the above aspects. Indeed, the bewilderment is compounded by the fact that there has been no robust post-crisis situational activity. State exercise—and by those in its payroll—seems content with a denial of a Daesh hand, and naysayers of the State opposing it. “Expertise”, therefore, is as divided as Bangladesh. Jaideep Saikia had earlier written about the divide thus:

Bangladesh—despite the fact that it was formed on the basis of Bengali nationalism (jettisoning the commonality of religion that had linked it to Pakistan in 1947)—is not (in the opinion of the author) a homogenous entity. In reality there are two Bangladesh. One is devoted to Bengali culture, language and the ethos that is the hallmark of Bengalihood. Religion is not paramount for this group. The other identifies itself with the Islamic world and finds comfort in the “transformative moment” that Islam is passing through (Jaideep Saikia, Circle of Treason: Bangladesh Beyond the Threat of Illegal Migration, Manekshaw Paper, No 41, Centre for land Warfare Studies, New Delhi, 2013)

Therefore, the plot was lost in a tempest of inanity. The contesting objectives were either to support the denials by Dhaka of Daesh presence in the erstwhile East Pakistan and shore up the assertion that both Dhaka and Delhi subscribed to or attack it. The dispute revolved around the official Bangladesh claim that it is actually home grown Islamists (primarily ABT and JMB, both of which had, as aforesaid, sworn affiliations to al-Qaeda and Daesh respectively!) with aid from the Inter Services Intelligence of Pakistan or even the Israeli Mossad that is teaming up with the political opposition of Bangladesh that is responsible for the violence. The fact that it could be fear of economic and political repercussions (and the apprehension that extra-regional powers could intervene if Daesh presence is admitted!) that drove the denial was pointed out by a few experts, but such accounts were conveniently swept under the carpet of exigency. Saikia—notwithstanding the forthrightness with which he is examining a global event—is aware that national or (even) regional security might well allow, as indeed it should, for circumspection. But, the aspect that must not be missed are the two distinct levels in which a State must relate to and act upon in order to address such dilemma. At the vyavaharika level (for want of a more apt description about the duality of stages) correctness comprehends that the entrails are read correctly and are responded to in a manner that aids the larger picture, one that has guardedness in mind. However, at the paramarthika level description and action must be driven by realism. If, therefore, the Shastras had ordained na bruyat satyam apriyam (don’t give tongue to unpalatable truths) for the defence of a larger objective, then it is a counsel that is in accord with pragmatism, permissible in certain circumstances at the vyavaharika level. But such practice should be confined to the sphere of the several. It is the considered opinion of Jaideep Saikia that privileged information is the prerogative of the few and, to that end, the paramarthika level (meant for the chosen few) has to decide and decree on the strength of absolute validity, shorn of narrow considerations.

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If the above caveats are sound, the questions that should have been asked (about the violence in Bangladesh which peaked on 1 July 2016) are when did violence (of this genre!) begin and when did Daesh begin to claim responsibility for the acts of violence. If official reports are anything to go by the first victim, Asif Mohiuddin, a self-confessed “militant atheist blogger” was attacked on 15 January 2013 by ABT, an al-Qaeda franchise. Mohiuddin survived the attack, but exactly a month later—on 15 February 2013—Ahmed Rajib Haider, another “atheist blogger” and who is being termed as the “First Shahbag Martyr” (the frequency of attacks by Islamist increased after the Shahbag Protest of 2013)—was killed. There is adequate analysis to show that the rate of recurrence of the attacks increased after the 2013 Shahbag Protest and when the secular half of Bangladesh gathered in the Square to protest the “life-imprisonment” of Abdul Quader Molla by the International Crimes Tribunal (the sentence was converted to execution as a direct result of the protest). The radical half that makes up Bangladesh was, therefore, hitting back, “piggy-backing” onto al-Qaeda or Daesh simply because it wanted international attention—which indeed it was able to garner. However, Daesh, too, had been watching and only from 21 February 2016 with the killing of Jogeswar Roy did the “Fanatics from Ar-Raqqah” started claiming responsibility (although there is some confusion about Ansar Bangla 7 having killed Avijit Roy—a naturalised US citizen—on 26 February 2015 in response to American bombing of Daesh held territory in the Middle East). It was convenient for Daesh to do so: groups such as JMB that were carrying out the attacks (it had entered West Bengal and Assam as well) had already sworn their allegiance to Daesh and the latter found that such a modus operandi suited their purpose about the construction of “Nizammiyah for the Caliphate” in an expanse that was far away from their traditional area of operation. It quickly made contact with JMB and even devoted pages of the 12th and 14th issues of Dabiq to proclaim the “Revival of Jihad in Bengal” and the “martyrdom” of one Abu Jandal al-Bangali who reportedly undertook the hijrah. Dabiq also spoke of the “blessed operations” of “Jama’atul Mujahidin (who) tried its best to awaken the Muslim masses of Bengal to the importance of ruling by Shari’ah and the fundamentals of wala and bara” and published an extensive interview with the “Amir of Khilafah’s Soldiers in Bengal, “Shaykh Abu Ibrahim al-Hanif”. It is, therefore, of little or no bearing whether Daesh entered Bangladesh by proxy or at a later stage. The fact that it has should be the theme of concern.

But are the “machete-murderers”, radicalised by Daesh propaganda? Or is it simply convenient to cloak themselves in Daesh garb to conceal their political objectives. If this argument has even a shred of truth, then it can be said that there are others that are resorting to killings not because they subscribe to the Daesh agenda, but because they have discovered a paradigm in the Daesh discourse which allows them to give vent to their deviant behaviour. It is in this context that Saikia sought to invoke (and devote) much of the opening narrative to neuroscience, a decidedly strange plot for a handbook on radicalisation and ways to counter it.

The “Tale of Two Bangladesh”, the Daesh-veiled political conspiracy that Dhaka has “uncovered” and even Daesh’s need for affiliates and consequently distraction (from defeat in the battlefield, the last of which the fall of Fallujah) is understandable. Indeed, it explains quite a lot. But, what if a similarity of violence were to take place in India (where there is no visible political conflict!)? Even if it were to be granted that the “missing” youths (small in number!) undertook the hijrah from India because they are religious zealots, it would not explain the phenomenon of the hidden few who would (god forbid!) imitate the “Cackle of Hyenas” (Jaideep Saikia, during the course of his lecture, said that he would rather use a phrase attributing the killers to hyenas than to wolves, the latter, a dignified, but much maligned creature!) that are breeding across the globe and of late in the neighbourhood? What if the authorities were to suddenly stumble upon perpetration of violence that is being witnessed by neo-converts: people from other faiths converting to Islam because one of the manner in which the religion is being interpreted permits canonical inviolability and conduct of action that have been hitherto proscribed.  Would a psycho-profiling (in the manner that closely examines every killing across the globe, but have been written off as religion-driven radicalisation) be then accepted? The handbook elegantly scripts the various radicalisation typologies and provides counter measure prescription. Col. Saubhagya Sharma’s comprehension of Islam and the manner in which certain practitioners of the faith interprets its tenets in order to promote terror is unique not because he makes a distinction between Islam and terrorism, but because he has understood the imperatives of radicalisation and the need to counter it. This is remarkable out-of-the-box thought and is in stark opposition to the doggedness with which a non-existent de-radicalisation programme continues to be pursued in a terror-torn world. Research has shown that a number of Saudi Guantanamo detainees that were “de-radicalised’ have returned to terrorism upon release. Although there have been arguments that de-radicalisation creates a barrier to recidivism, there is really no way to fathom or evaluate whether a thorough cauterisation has taken place. Or are there de-radicalised terrorists—disengaging because of purely instrumental reasons—who continue to harbour a radical world-view?  Who determines whether the law-enforcer is erring or not by arranging theological correction of “radicalised minds” that have never actually read the Qur’an? Answers to such questions can only come to the fore were a science that “looks inside the brain” is employed. This theory applies for so-called de-radicalised terrorists as well as ones who have been thought to have been radicalised by religious injunction. After all is it not conceivable that there are extra-religious reasons or considerations that could have propelled perpetrators of crimes to adopt a nihilistic weltanschauung that led to the death and gore that have been witnessed since the “baying” from Ar-Raqqah began? Has a neurological study been ever conducted on an Islamist radical who has attempted to undertake the hijrah and have been apprehended midway? Shrunken Amygdala or smaller ventromedial prefrontal cortex (which is indicative of a brain that propels aggressive conduct disorder) cannot be said to be any less intelligent. No less innovative are suppressed homosexuals and loners such as Omar Mateen and Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel—the only way to appreciate what they did is to read deeper into what Byron might have understood in his immortal work Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage as the “wandering outlaw of his own dark mind”. The so-called “thought virus” that is reportedly being spread by people such as Zakir Naik only enforces the call of the wild. One of the convenient explanations which the sole survivor of the 1 July attack gave was that he was inspired by Naik’s speeches.

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Therefore, the “radical” not only finds an outlet which has sanction by an “establishment” (in this case, Daesh), but deceives the counter terrorism apparatus and the world that it is call of an Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi that drove her into a killing frenzy. Therefore, even as a counter radicalisation programme is set in motion, the most important (initial) examination that must be conducted is to clinically unearth the real motivation of the perpetrator. The simplest explanation that abounds (particularly in media) is to term a killer “a bad Muslim” because they have misinterpreted the Qur’an. The acceptable explanation could well have been to call them psychopaths who found a universe of discourse and a clear, unambiguous, audible paradigm where her behaviour not only is encouraged, but one which is glorified by recourse to prophetic injunctions. After all (as was proffered above) in Dabiq, almost all acts of barbarism have instant “endorsement” by recourse to a Shura. For instance, the burning alive of the Jordanian pilot Mu’adh Safi Yusuf al-Kasasibah—according to Daesh—is called “equivalent response”. It quotes an ayat from An-Nahl thus: “and if you punish (an enemy), punish with an equivalent of that with which you were harmed”. In other words, it says that in burning the Jordanian pilot alive and burying him under a pile of debris, Daesh carried out a just form of retaliation for his involvement in the bombing campaign which resulted in the killing of countless Muslims who, as a result of these airstrikes, are burned alive and buried under mountains of wreckage. Daesh cleverly makes use of the Qur’an to justify its ghastly acts, utilises such acts to deter other pilots and as Saikia seeks to put forward appeal to minds on the prowl for dark passageways. It is, therefore, in the realm of the mind that the final fitnah is to be waged.

But, even as counter radicalisation methods are fine tuned and put into practice, what cannot be dismissed is the deviant brain factor, the possibility that a killer acts in the name of Islam in order to access a “psychological sanctuary” which suddenly came into existence with the declaration of a “caliphate”. The awareness that her act of barbarism has the sanction of a divine authority only propels her forward. To that end, the battle to overcome deviant thought has to be preceded by a correct comprehension of the fundamentals. It does not require the cogitation of a “Grand Zedi Order”, but at the same time it is too serious a matter to be left to the conventional. The devotion of the certain remarks to neuro-psychology may, therefore, be viewed as a custom that should not be honoured in its breach, but by recourse to quiet observance.

Jaideep Saikia concluded his lecture by stating that the Islamist are down and not out. Indeed, he invoked the advanced research that he had carried out in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, United States where he was reportedly able to discern a concrete timeline whereby the Islamist quite themselves in the face of pressure for the state actors, propping up over ground groups. Referring to Bangladesh he spoke about the Hifazat-e-Islami Bangladesh and Islami Andolan Bangladesh who are not only appealing for a blasphemy law and demanding the removal of all statues (especially of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman which were erected during the “Bangabandhu Year”), but has also taken to the streets protesting the visit of Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi to Dhaka on 25 March 2021 to be present in the Independence Day celebration of Bangladesh. Jaideep Saikia cautioned the audience which comprised of top security officials that there would soon be an upsurge in violence in the erstwhile East Pakistan and the spillover effect would be felt in India as well because of the sheer geographical proximity of Bangladesh to India. A copycat effect egged on by a rabid and global Salafi movement would witness suicide bombings etc in the North East of India which hitherto was only being used by the Islamists from Bangladesh as a “gateway” to the rest of India to perpetrate anti-India action along side tanzeems such as Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. The entry of al-Qaeda (which had long been predicted by Jaideep Saikia in 2004 in his best-selling book Terror Sans Frontiers: Islamist Militancy in North East India) and the ISIS would be the final nail in the coffin. Saikia urged the state to quickly give up the non-existent “de-radicalisation” and embark upon a sophicatedly constructed counter radicalisation exercise.   





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