While US annual report on India notes increased militancy in Kashmir, threat from jihadist groups will remain limited
The US State Department released its annual report on “terrorism” in India in July, noting that the number of attacks countrywide increased by 17% in 2016, with incidents in Kashmir up by 93%. The latter statistic largely reflects a period of extended unrest in the region since the July 2016 killing of separatist leader Burhan Wani, with most incidents taking the form of cross-border assaults launched from Pakistan on security force facilities.
The report also highlighted the arrests of at least 68 Islamic State (IS) supporters by the authorities in 2016. While this figure may be understated, it reflects IS’s limited influence in India to date. The group has directed some propaganda toward recruiting sympathisers in the country, and a limited number of Indians have travelled to fight in IS’s self-declared Caliphate, but India is not presently a priority for the group and so it has not devoted significant resources to the country. Consequently, arrests linked to IS have mainly consisted of sympathisers. Indeed, our 10 March Report noted that a pipe bomb attack on a train in Madhya Pradesh, was the first successful IS sympathiser strike in the country.
However, Kashmir is an emotive issue among Muslims in South Asia, and so both IS and al-Qaeda periodically seek to exploit this sentiment to boost their own support. Indeed, on 27 July, a pro-al-Qaeda media channel announced popular Kashmiri militant leader Zakir Musa as the head of a new al-Qaeda-linked cell in the state. However, the group has so far had little success building its support in Kashmir, due in part to the effective security forces in the region, as well as al-Qaeda’s own competing priorities. While Musa’s popularity could provide a temporary propaganda boost, the announcement is unlikely to lead to a significant fresh deployment of resources by al-Qaeda’s central leadership to Kashmir or any sudden increase in its capabilities in India proper.
Nonetheless, the Government will continue to play up the global jihadist threat as part of its efforts to engage Washington on security cooperation, to undermine its rival Pakistan internationally, and to deflect attention from domestic groups with local grievances. For now, the predominant militant threat to India will remain from Pakistan-based groups with links to Kashmir. Such groups will continue to primarily target the security force in cross-border raids. These will mostly occur in remote areas, and are unlikely to affect foreign companies operating in the country. While a large-scale attack targeting civilians or public spaces cannot be ruled out, this threat will be mitigated by India’s effective intelligence and security apparatus, and any such incident would be a one-off, rather than mark the beginning of a concerted campaign.