On November 26, 2008, ten militants from the Pakistan-based Islamist group Lashkar-e-Taiba traveled by boat to Mumbai, India, where they launched a series of coordinated shooting and bombing attacks targeting a railway station, a popular restaurant, a hospital, two hotels, and a Jewish community center in the city. The assaults on both of the hotels and the community center devolved into sieges that lasted for three to four days. In total, 164 people were killed and approximately 300 more were injured. (Sources: CNN, Guardian)

Overview

Since gaining independence from British colonial rule in 1947, India––a country today comprised of over a billion people––has been plagued by several conflicts, many of which have given rise to various forms of terrorism and extremism. For example, India has fought three wars against Pakistan over Kashmir, a disputed territory over which India, Pakistan, and China all claim partial or complete ownership. Kashmir has been the source of a violent insurgency since the late 1980s. Islamic militant groups seeking independence have carried out attacks against Indian targets both in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere in the country, including the infamous November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai perpetrated by Lashkar-e-Taiba. (Sources: Council on Foreign Relations, CNN)

Islamic extremism in India remains primarily focused on the conflict in Kashmir, and global Islamic terror groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda have only made limited inroads into the country. Though India has the second largest Muslim population in the world, Muslims remain a minority there, making up approximately 14 percent of India’s Hindu-majority population. Hindu extremism, however, continues to carry out violence against Muslims, Christians, and other religious minorities in India. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is India’s Hindu nationalist party and wields significant influence in the Indian government, especially since BJP member Narendra Modi became India’s prime minister in 2014. In 2015, violent attacks on religious minorities in India reportedly averaged one per day. There have also been several reports of state authorities participating in such violence. (Sources: Pew Research Center, Diplomat, Diplomat, New York Times, Hudson Institute, Vice News, National Review)

Kashmir has been the source of a violent insurgency since the late 1980s.

Though India experiences several forms of religious extremism, in 2006, then-Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh named left-wing extremists as the “single biggest internal security threat” in the country. Left-wing rebels, also known as Naxalites or Maoists, have waged a low-level insurgency in India’s south-central regions since 1967. The Communist Party of India (Maoist) (CPI-M) emerged in 2004, and was reportedly the single largest armed group operating within India as of 2017. Despite counterinsurgency operations launched by the Indian government and a stalemate in recent years, no peace agreement has been reached, and over 20,000 people––mostly civilians––have reportedly been killed in the Naxalite insurgency since 1980. (Sources: Council on Foreign Relations, Diplomat, Al Jazeera)

Northeast India, which is comprised of seven states connected to the rest of the country by a land corridor less than 30 kilometers wide, has also been a highly volatile region since Indian independence. Each of the seven states has experienced an insurgency at some point since 1947, after which the area was largely neglected by the Indian government. Most violence has been directed either at the Indian government or at illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh. Some of the states in Northeast India, including Nagaland and Assam, have not yet reached a settlement and remain in a state of active or suspended conflict today. (Sources: Council on Foreign Relations, Indian Defence Review, YaleGlobal)

Although the Indian government’s response to terrorism has been criticized as incoherent and reactionary, the U.S. Department of State assessed that it has improved in the wake of the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai. The Indian government has several intelligence, military, and police organizations that work to launch counterinsurgency operations, sometimes along with help from paramilitary and other local groups, though some of these groups have been accused of perpetrating human rights abuses. India also has domestic legislation in place to prosecute terrorist activities, as well as anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing (AML/CTF) legislation that it has amended to comply with international standards. However, some legislation has been highly controversial, such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). AFSPA, which gives unconditional permission to Indian security forces to shoot on sight, has been implemented in several Indian states since 1958 in response to insurgencies. India also has implemented some de-radicalization initiatives, as well as counter-messaging initiatives aimed at countering the online propaganda of ISIS. (Sources: Council on Foreign Relations, U.S. Department of State, Diplomat, BBC News, FirstPost)

India is a founding member of the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) and promotes multilateral efforts to combat terrorism, though it has not participated in global anti-ISIS efforts. India regularly cooperates with the United States on bilateral counterterrorism initiatives, and the United States has helped India to implement U.N. Security Council counterterrorism resolutions and sanctions domestically. (Sources: U.S. Department of State, Diplomat)

Public concern over the threat of terrorism in India is high. In 2013, India had the fourth highest number of citizens who labeled Islamic extremist groups as a “major threat” out of 40 countries polled. Two years after the 2008 terror attacks perpetrated by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in Mumbai, a plurality of Indians named LeT as the greatest threat to the country. Nonetheless, grievances still exist in Kashmir and Northeast India that hinder the resolution of the conflicts there, and the BJP, India’s Hindu nationalist party, enjoys widespread public support. (Sources: Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, BBC News, Diplomat, Hudson Institute)

Radicalization and Foreign Fighters

There are several forms of extremism present in India, including religious extremism, left-wing extremism, and ethnic separatism. Various extremist movements are concentrated in different parts of India, and have distinct objectives and paths to radicalization. (Sources: Council on Foreign Relations, Independent, Economist)

Islamic Extremism

With 180 million Muslims, India has the second largest Muslim population in the world. However, few Indian Muslims have become radicalized. There are several explanations as to why: a 2009 New York Times article suggested that due to India’s robust democratic traditions, Indian Muslims “are not afraid to speak out against religious extremism in their midst,” citing a trend in which Indian Muslims refused to bury the bodies of suicide bombers. A 2014 Economist editorial cited India’s democratic traditions, history of cultural integration with Hindus and other religious groups, and the domination of Sufism, a less hardline form of Islam, in the country. However, others have challenged these explanations, given the rise of Hindu extremism and anti-minority sentiment in recent years. A 2013 Bloomberg View article posited that Indian Muslims, many of whom live in urban poverty, do not turn to radical Islam simply because they “have many of their own problems to deal with” instead. (Source: New York Times, New York Times, Economist, Bloomberg View)

The Kashmir Insurgency

Nonetheless, Indian Muslims seeking jihad have tended to gravitate toward the insurgency in Kashmir rather than the appeal of global Islamic extremist groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda. The northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir comprises about 45 percent of the entire Kashmir region, along with territory controlled by Pakistan and China. At the end of colonial rule in 1947, the British did not partition Kashmir but left its princes to choose allegiance to either Pakistan or India, creating a profound rivalry between the two countries that ultimately spurred three wars between them. Several Sunni Islamic militant groups are fighting for an independent Kashmir in the present-day insurgency in the region, which began in the late 1980s. These groups seek to undermine Indian control in Jammu and Kashmir and unite the entire Kashmir region in an Islamic state governed under their own respective interpretations of sharia law. Some have even conducted attacks elsewhere in India in a broader attempt to undermine Indian control wherever possible. Several of these groups have also allegedly received support from the Pakistani government and intelligence services, which reportedly view them as a counterweight to India. Though violence in Kashmir peaked in the mid-2000s, it continues today with total death toll estimates well over 40,000. (Sources: Council on Foreign Relations, Diplomat, Diplomat, CNN, Foreign Policy, Hindu, Hindustan Times, Stanford University, Stanford University, Stanford University, Long War Journal)

Harakat-ul-Mujahideen

Harakat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) (a.k.a. Harakut-ul-Ansar) is a militant group that was initially founded in 1985 to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, but changed its focus to waging jihad against Indian forces in Jammu and Kashmir in the 1990s. HuM was designated as a terrorist organization by the United States in 1997, and gained international attention for hijacking a domestic Indian Airlines flight in December 1999. Though HuM’s membership mainly consists of individuals from Pakistan, Kashmir, and Afghanistan, it has also drawn fighters from locations around the world, including Southeast Asia, the Middle East, the United Kingdom, and the United States. HuM is allied with several other militant groups in Kashmir, including Hizb-il-Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba, and also maintains ties to al-Qaeda. The group has been notably less active since 2013. (Source: Stanford University)

Hizb-il-Mujahideen

Hizb-il-Mujahideen (HM) is a militant group that was formed in September 1989 as the military wing of Jamaat-e-Islami (JeL), a conservative Islamist political party in Pakistan. According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, which designated HM as a terrorist organization in August 2017, the militant group is one of the largest operating in Jammu and Kashmir today. Most of HM’s fighters are from Pakistan, though the group has also utilized social media and video tutorials in an effort to recruit and train Kashmiri youth in recent years. (Sources: South Asia Terrorism Portal, U.S. Department of the Treasury, Hindustan Times, International Business Times India)
Jaish-e-Mohammed

Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) is a militant group that was founded in the early 2000s by former HuM member Masood Azhar, allegedly with the support of Osama bin Laden. The group immediately began to carry out deadly attacks in Jammu and Kashmir, such as an October 2001 attack on the state’s legislative assembly building that killed 30 people. Following the attack, JeM was designated as a terrorist organization by the United States. JeM also expanded to carry out attacks in other parts of India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. In December 2001, JeM collaborated with Lashkar-e-Taiba in an armed assault on the Indian parliament building in Delhi that reportedly killed 14 people. JeM’s membership mostly consists of individuals from Pakistan, though the group has also drawn Kashmiri and Punjabi immigrants living in the United Kingdom to its ranks. In June 2008, JeM reportedly switched its focus from attacking Indian targets in Jammu and Kashmir to expelling Western forces from Afghanistan. Attacks attributed to the group decreased drastically after 2013, though unclear attributions and local reporting have made it difficult to assess JeM’s true level of activity in recent years. (Sources: Stanford University, Long War Journal, U.S. Department of State)

Lashkar-e-Taiba

Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) is a militant group that was founded in Afghanistan in 1990 by Hafiz Mohammed Saeed. It is currently based in Pakistan, where it maintains a vast network of training camps and branch offices. It was designated as a terrorist organization by the United States in 2001. LeT views the dispute over Jammu and Kashmir as part of a global struggle against Muslim oppression, and has carried out several notorious attacks in India, such as a December 2001 collaborated assault with JeM on the Indian parliament in Delhi, and the November 2008 coordinated attacks in Mumbai that killed over 160 people. LeT has also attacked Delhi’s symbolic Red Fort palace and carried out massacres of minority groups in Jammu and Kashmir. Though most of LeT’s membership is Pakistani, the group has also exploited Hindu-Muslim tensions to recruit Indian Muslims, and has launched recruitment campaigns across Asia, Europe, and North America. (Sources: South Asia Terrorism Portal, Stanford University, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington Post, U.S. Department of State)

Indian Mujahideen

LeT also supports proxy Islamist groups within India, the most prominent of which is the Indian Mujahideen (IM), which came into operation in 2003. Its stated goal is to avenge violence against Indian Muslims. Although IM declared that it was an independent organization in December 2007, some analysts have suspected that it is actually a direct proxy of LeT or even of Pakistani intelligence services. Since IM’s founding, it has been difficult to determine whether attacks have been carried out by IM or LeT, since the two groups support each other’s operations. IM and LeT have also carried out joint attacks, such as a February 2010 attack targeting foreigners at a bakery in Pune, India, that killed nine. However, although IM has been called “the most lethal urban terrorist group” in India by security analysts, the group has overall managed to keep a fairly low profile in the country. The group was later linked to ISIS after one of its known members, Muhammad Sajid, was reported to have been killed fighting in behalf of ISIS in Syria in 2015. (Source: Stanford University, BBC News, Diplomat)

Al-Qaeda

On July 27, 2017, al-Qaeda announced that it was establishing an affiliate in Jammu and Kashmir called Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind (AGH) led by Zakir Musa, a former leader of HM. Al-Qaeda’s announcement was met with disapproval from many of the established militant groups fighting in Jammu and Kashmir, including LeT, JeM, and HM, the latter of which even accused AGH as being part of an Indian intelligence operation. However, in November 2017, ISIS’s Amaq News Agency claimed an attack in Kashmir on behalf of AGH, suggesting that the group had actually switched its allegiance to ISIS. Regardless, according to analysts, AGH has yet to prove that it will significantly change the trajectory of fighting in Jammu and Kashmir. (Sources: Diplomat, Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium, Jamestown Foundation)

The U.S.-designated al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), whose formation was announced in September 2014, is another al-Qaeda affiliate allegedly operating in India. AQIS is allied with the Taliban and claims to operate in Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Myanmar (Burma), and Bangladesh, though most of its operations to date have been in Pakistan. Some analysts believe that AQIS was formed as an attempt to preserve al-Qaeda’s safe havens in Pakistan and Afghanistan and take attention away from ISIS, though the group claims to be fighting on behalf of Muslim oppression in the region. AQIS has been unable to conduct any larger-scale attacks typical of al-Qaeda, and has not yet carried out any notable attacks on Indian soil. However, in November 2017, AQIS claimed to be re-focusing its efforts on Indian targets, specifically referencing the oppressions of Muslims by Hindu extremists in a propaganda video released that month. (Sources: Stanford University, Long War Journal, Diplomat, BBC Monitoring)

Several of the militant groups and militant leaders fighting in Kashmir have long-standing ties to al-Qaeda, and have received logistical and financial support from the group. However, few Indian Muslims have sought to join the global al-Qaeda movement. Former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who served as Prime Minister from 2004 to 2014, regularly boasted that not one of India’s 180 million Muslims had joined al-Qaeda. In an audio recording released in June 2017, AGH commander Zakir Musa reproached Indian Muslims for not joining jihad, calling them the “most shameless Muslims in the world.” (Sources: Council on Foreign Relations, Stanford University, Stanford University, Stanford University, Bloomberg View, Times of India)

ISIS

ISIS was banned in India in December 2014, following the group’s abduction of 39 Indian construction workers outside of Mosul, Iraq, earlier that year. ISIS has had some success in recruiting supporters from India. According to India’s Ministry of Home Affairs, 75 Indian nationals had joined the group as of March 2017. In one notorious case in May 2014, four engineering students traveled to Iraq to become foreign fighters for ISIS. Two years later, in May 2016, one of them appeared in the first ISIS recruitment video to feature Indians, urging Indian Muslims to join the group. Indian authorities have expressed concern over ISIS’s ability to attract members through online propaganda, and have arrested several recruiters, propagandists, and supporters in the country. According to the U.S. Department of State, Indian authorities arrested 68 ISIS supporters in 2016 alone. Nearly half of all Indians arrested for their links to ISIS have reportedly been linked to a single Syria-based online recruiter, Shafi Armar (a.k.a. Yusuf al-Hindi). Armar, who is from Bhaktal, India, was reportedly still alive and actively recruiting from Syria as of May 2016. (Sources: Diplomat, Washington Post, Government of India, Hindu, Hindustan Times, U.S. Department of State)

In January 2015, ISIS announced the establishment of its affiliate Khorasan Province (ISIS-K), active in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and parts of India. Though ISIS-K has not gained significant traction in India, and some of its supporters were linked to a March 2017 bombing on a passenger train in Madhya Pradesh. (Sources: Hindustan Times, Diplomat, Times of India, Indian Express)

Several militant groups in Kashmir have condemned both ISIS and al-Qaeda for justifying indiscriminate violence against Muslims. LeT chief Mehmood Shah stated that “all they have done has…brought upon [Muslims] injustice, brutality and oppression.” (Sources: Diplomat)

Hindu Extremism

The Hindu nationalist movement in India––collectively known as the Sangh Parivar––emerged in response to colonialism in the 1920s. It aims to ensure the predominance of Hinduism in Indian culture and society and seeks to drive out religious minorities from the country, claiming that Hindus are threatened by growing Muslim and Christian populations. The movement, which is comprised of several affiliate organizations, has encouraged and utilized violent tactics against these religious minorities. The Sangh Parivar’s principal organization, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), is a paramilitary organization with millions of members. The RSS’s educational wing, the Vidhya Barati, operates twenty thousand schools in India in which Hindu nationalist propaganda is disseminated to two million students. The Sangh Parivar also includes a propaganda organization that conducts hate campaigns that sometimes encourage violence against religious minorities. (Source: Hudson Institute)

RSS’s political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is the largest political party in India. BJP member Narendra Modi has served as India’s prime minister since the party won India’s national elections in 2014. The party has attempted to pass laws banning conversions from Hinduism and restricting the rights of religious minorities. The BJP has also permitted state authorities to excuse, facilitate, and at times even participate in violence against religious minorities. For example, mobs that conducted anti-Muslim riots in the state of Gujarat in 2002 that killed more than 1,000 people were found to be in possession of lists of homes and businesses that could only have been acquired from government sources. State authorities and police reportedly “stood by or joined in” during acts of violence, which included dismemberment and burning people alive. State authorities also reportedly impeded the subsequent prosecutions. For example, one nineteen-year-old girl stated to media sources that she had “testified falsely [in a trial] after Hindu politicians repeatedly threatened her family.” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was previously the chief minister of Gujarat, has also been accused of allowing the riots to take place. (Sources: Hudson Institute, Deutsche Welle, BBC News)

Hindu extremists have targeted Christians as well as Muslims. In 2008, a Hindu mob killed more than 100 Christians and destroyed over 300 churches in the city of Kandhamal. In December 2017, 30 Christian priests and seminarians singing Christmas carols were arrested in Madhya Pradesh for allegedly violating an anti-conversion law, and eight individuals who attempted to help them were physically assaulted. Violence against religious minorities in India exacerbated after Narendra Modi became India’s prime minister in 2014. In 2015, attacks on religious minorities averaged one per day, a 20 percent increase from the previous year. (Sources: Hudson Institute, Vice News, National Review)

Communist Party of India (Maoist)

India’s left-wing extremist movement surfaced when peasants in the Naxalbari district of West Bengal staged an armed uprising in 1967. The left-wing or “Naxalite” insurgency was largely subdued by the Indian government throughout the 1970s and 1980s, but several radical left-wing groups have since emerged, including the People’s War Group (PWG) in 1976, the Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist) Janashakti in 1992, and the Communist Party of India (Maoist) (CPI-M) in 2004. CPI-M, which draws most of its membership from local tribal communities, claims that it is fighting for the rights of India’s marginalized tribal communities and waging a “protracted armed struggle” to seize power from the government in line with traditional Maoist practice. As of 2017, CPI-M was reportedly the single largest armed group operating within India, with an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 fighters operating in India’s central and eastern states––particularly Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. Former Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh named CPI-M as the greatest internal security threat in India in 2006. (Sources: Al Jazeera, Independent, Diplomat, South Asian Terrorism Portal, Council on Foreign Relations, Diplomat)

In 2009, India launched a counterinsurgency operation against CPI-M. Violence peaked in 2010 and has since decreased, though this has been mainly due to a stalemate rather than any peace settlement. Nonetheless, as of 2017, estimates suggested that Naxalite rebels were present in 10 of India’s 28 states, compared to 20 almost a decade earlier. However, Indian security forces have been accused of committing mass human rights abuses against civilians, including executions, torture, and sexual abuse. More than 20,000 people have been killed in the Naxalite insurgency since 1980. (Sources: Al Jazeera, Independent, Diplomat)

Northeast India

Northeast India has been one of the country’s most volatile regions since the region was partitioned when the country gained independence in 1947. Northeast India is made up of seven states––Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura, Meghalaya, and Mizoram, which are connected to the rest of India by a land corridor only 28 kilometers wide. The area is home to 213 tribes that are culturally and historically distinct from the rest of India. Physically alienated from the rest of country, Northeast India was largely neglected by the government after Indian independence. Each of the seven states has experienced an insurgency at some point since 1947, with violence directed at the Indian government in protest of widespread poverty, neglect, and discrimination, as well as at illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh who have been viewed as a cultural and political threat by the region’s native tribes. Conflict has still plagued much of the region in recent years, with the exception of Mizoram, whose two-decade long insurgency was permanently resolved in a political settlement in 1986. (Sources: Indian Defence Review, Council on Foreign Relations)

Nagaland

Nagaland’s insurgency, which began in the 1952, is the oldest in Northeast India. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Isak-Muivah (NSCN-M) formed in 1988 when its predecessor spilt, and it quickly became one of the most powerful groups fighting in the Naga insurgency. The NSCN (IM) seeks to establish an independent Naga state comprising all areas inhabited by the Naga people, which includes other Indian states beside Nagaland and even parts of Myanmar. Since 1997, the group has undergone more than 80 rounds of peace talks and signed multiple ceasefire agreements with the Indian government. Although violence has largely been suspended over the last decade, no permanent solution has yet been found. (Sources: Indian Defence Review, YaleGlobal, Indian Express)

Assam

The insurgency in Assam erupted in the 1970s in response to a large influx of illegal immigrants from the newly established country of Bangladesh seeking to escape poverty and land scarcity. The United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) emerged in 1979 with the aim of expelling immigrants and establishing an independent state for the Assamese people. The group, which also spread to parts of Arunachal Pradesh, carried out several attacks on politicians, security forces, and infrastructure in the 1990s, which provoked a harsh response from the Indian government that diminished the group’s ranks from over 3,000 to only a few hundred. The National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), another group based in Assam, emerged in 1986 with the aim of creating an independent state for the Bodo people. The group quickly became infamous for its brutal attacks against civilians. Both the ULFA and NDFB are still active today, though ULFA violence has significantly decreased in recent years after the group signed an agreement with the local Assamese government in 2011. NDFB has continued to carry out deadly attacks targeting civilians, such as a series of attacks in December 2014 that killed more than 70 people, including several women and children. (Sources: Indian Defence Review, YaleGlobal, Diplomat, Hindu, Council on Foreign Relations)

Tripura

Tripura’s insurgency also largely emerged in response to a large influx of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh in the 1970s. The National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) and All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) both sought to expel immigrants and establish an independent state for Tripura. In the 1990s and 2000s, the two groups launched several brutal massacres and an ethnic cleansing operation called “Operation Roukhala” aimed at driving out Bengali immigrants. After violence peaked in 2004, counterinsurgency operations combined with efforts to rehabilitate militants and reintroduced them into society have effectively ended violence in the state. In 2015, an 18-year-old law called the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) was finally removed. AFSPA had given unconditional permission to Indian security forces to shoot on sight, arrest individuals without a warrant, and conduct searches without consent. (Sources: Indian Defence Review, Hindu, BBC News, FirstPost, South Asian Terrorism Portal)

Kashmir Separatism

Though most of the militant groups fighting for an independent state in Kashmir can be classified as Islamic fundamentalist, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) was a secular group that sought an independent state for Kashmiris. The JKLF was formed in 1977 and received support from the Pakistani military, carrying out its first attack against an Indian target in 1988––effectively marking the start of the Kashmir insurgency. However, following the subsequent withdrawal of Pakistani support, the group largely lost influence after 1990. (Sources: YaleGlobal, BBC News, BBC News)

Sikh Separatism

Sikhs in India have advocated for an independent state since the 1920s. Sikhs continued to face discrimination and oppression from the Indian government even after the majority-Sikh Indian state of Punjab was established in 1966. Punjab’s creation led to the emergence of a separatist movement there called the Khalistan movement in the 1980s. In 1982, armed Sikh militants reportedly seeking to evade arrest took up residence in the Golden Temple in Amritsar, where they began amassing weapons. In response, the Indian army assaulted the temple in June 1984, killing over 500 people––including many civilians. That October, two Sikh bodyguards assassinated then-Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who had sanctioned the attack. More than 3,000 were killed in anti-Sikh riots across India the following month. Khalistan militancy continued through the 1990s, with several militant outfits supporting the movement. Though violence significantly decreased and ultimately ended later in the decade, support for the Khalistan movement still exists, especially from the Sikh diaspora in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada. (Sources: International Business Times, Indian Express, BBC News, Indian Express, United Press International)

Tamil Separatism

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was a Sri Lankan-based militant group that was founded in 1972 and sought an independent state for the Tamil people on the island. During the 1980s, the LTTE received substantial support from Indian intelligence services and Tamil populations in India. Several Tamil separatist groups, such as the Tamil Nadu Liberation Army (TNLA), also emerged in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, which functioned as a sanctuary and important transit point for the group’s weapons and contraband. In one of the LTTE’s most infamous attacks, a female suicide bomber blew herself up on Indian soil, assassinating former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Gandhi was targeted because he had ordered Indian troops to intervene against the LTTE in the Sri Lankan civil war. The LTTE was ultimately defeated by the Sri Lankan government in 2009, and Tamil separatist sentiment in both Sri Lankan and India has significantly decreased since. (Sources: Stanford University, Independent, South Asian Terrorism Portal)

Major Extremist and Terrorist Incidents

Major Political Assassinations

On October 31, 1984, Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards who opened fire on her near her home in Delhi. Her assassination was thought to be in response to Operation Blue Star, a government operation carried out earlier that year against Sikh militants occupying the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The operation, which she sanctioned, killed more than 500 people, including civilians. The following month, in response to her assassination, anti-Sikh riots erupted across the country, in which more than 3,000 were killed. Gandhi had been elected as India’s prime minister four times since 1966. (Sources: New York Times, BBC News)

On May 21, 1991, former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was killed by a 17-year-old female suicide bomber from the LTTE, in an attack considered to be one of the most politically devastating of all time. The suicide bomber, known as Dhanu, had rushed up to him as he was conducting an election campaign in Sriperumbudur, a town in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Gandhi, who had served as India’s prime minister between 1984 and 1989, was believed to have been targeted because he had ordered Indian troops to intervene against the LTTE in the Sri Lankan civil war. Following the assassination, India almost completely withdrew from involvement in Sri Lanka. The LTTE issued an apology in 2006, though it was rejected by the Indian government. (Sources: Stanford University, Independent, New York Times, Guardian, BBC News)

2008 Mumbai Attacks

To date, India’s worst terrorist incident has been the coordinated attack in Mumbai carried out by LeT in November 2008. Ten LeT militants traveled from Karachi, Pakistan, to Mumbai by boat prior to the attack. On their way, they hijacked a fishing boat, killing four crew members and the captain. Once they docked in Mumbai on November 26, the militants split up into three groups, hijacked cars, and carried out several bombing and shooting attacks across the city. The major attacks included a gun assault on the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station that killed approximately 58 people, an attack on the Café Leopold that killed about 10, and an ambush outside the Cama and Albless Hospital that killed six police officers. There were also several rogue shootings and bombings conducted on various streets. Three additional assaults devolved into sieges. Approximately 30 people were killed in a three-day siege at the Oberoi-Trident Hotel, 31 people at a four-day siege at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel, and seven people in a three-day siege at Nariman House, a Jewish community center in the city. (Sources: PBS, CNN, Guardian)

In total, at least 164 people were killed and approximately 300 more were injured. Nine of the ten assailants were also killed, and the lone surviving militant, Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, was tried and executed in November 2012. However, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the LeT leader charged with masterminding the attacks, was granted bail and released from prison in Pakistan in April 2015. Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, another LeT leader suspected of involvement in planning the attacks, was released from house arrest in Pakistan in November 2017. (Sources: PBS, CNN, CNN, CNN)

 

Domestic Counter-Extremism

India’s Ministry of Home Affairs oversees several intelligence, military, and police organizations that work to combat terrorism in the country. India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) oversees external intelligence affairs, and the country’s Intelligence Bureau (IB) oversees internal intelligence. There are also paramilitary groups that patrol the country’s borders and lend support to other security agencies, though some, such as the Central Reserve Police Force, have been accused of perpetrating human rights abuses. (Source: Council on Foreign Relations)

India has some domestic legislation in place to prosecute terrorist activities, including the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) of 1967 and a Suppression of Terrorism Act passed in 1993. India also has anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing (AML/CTF) legislation in place, which it has amended to comply with international standards. However, according to the U.S. Department of State, India does not always effectively enforce its AML/CTF legislation and rarely takes proactive measures to curb AML/CTF activity. The Indian government supervises the money services business (MSB) sector, but illicit activities still frequently manage to take place. (Source: U.S. Department of State)

According to a 2008 report by the Council on Foreign Relations, the Indian government’s responses to terror attacks have been reactionary. Rather than formulate a coherent strategic response to terrorism, the government has frequently just implemented short-term measures in the wake of an attack. However, the U.S. State Department reports that India has attempted to improve its domestic counterterrorism capabilities since the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai. Although India’s governmental agencies still struggle with coordination and information sharing, the government has attempted to address the issue by forming a Multi-Agency Centre aimed at facilitating such processes. Local law enforcement continues to suffer from inadequate training and a lack of resources, but many national and state officials have participated in U.S.-sponsored security training aimed at enhancing their counterterrorism capabilities. (Sources: Council on Foreign Relations, U.S. Department of State)

Islamic Extremism and ISIS

The Indian government has several de-radicalization initiatives in place aimed at targeting the appeal of Islamic extremism. These include programs to regulate curricula in madrassas and to rehabilitate and reintegrate former terrorists into society. Additionally, India’s National Investigation Agency has issued two arrest warrants for Zakir Naik, a radical Islamic televangelist and preacher wanted for his alleged role in influencing a July 2016 terror attack in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and India’s Ministry of Home Affairs has banned his Islamic Research Foundation from the country. (Sources: U.S. Department of State, Star Online)

Though India banned ISIS in 2014, the Indian government has expressed concern about the group’s ability to attract members through online propaganda. In late 2014, Intelligence Bureau officials began posing as ISIS recruiters on Twitter in an effort to target susceptible youth, and in October 2016, India’s Ministry of Home Affairs appointed a Senior Advisor to Curb Online Radicalization. Indian authorities have arrested several recruiters, propagandists, and supporters of the group in the country, including 68 ISIS supporters in 2016 alone. (Sources: U.S. Department of State, Diplomat, Government of India)

Kashmir Insurgency

The Indian Army regularly conducts counterterrorism operations in Jammu and Kashmir. However, some of these operations have inflicted civilian causalities and been met with widespread protest, such as an April 2018 operation targeting LeT, JeM, and HM that killed four civilians in addition to 13 terrorists. The government in Jammu and Kashmir introduced a law called the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in 1989 following the outbreak of insurgency, which gave unconditional permission to Indian security forces to shoot on sight, arrest individuals without a warrant, and conduct searches without consent. AFSPA has been heavily criticized and blamed as the cause of several unnecessary killings in the region. Paramilitary groups also contribute to counter-terrorism efforts in Jammu and Kashmir, though some, such as the Central Reserve Police Force, have been accused of committing human rights violations there. (Sources: Council on Foreign Relations, Council on Foreign Relations, Long War Journal, BBC News, FirstPost)

Hindu Extremism

There are few controls against Hindu extremist violence in India. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the political party of the Hindu nationalist movement Sangh Parivar, has been a major player in India’s government since 1998. At times, the BJP and its affiliated state authorities have permitted, excused, or even facilitated violence against religious minorities. For example, mobs that conducted anti-Muslim riots in the state of Gujarat in 2002 that killed over 1,000 people were found to be in possession of lists of homes and businesses that could only have been acquired from government sources. State authorities and police reportedly “stood by or joined in” during acts of violence and impeded the subsequent prosecutions. One nineteen-year-old girl stated to media sources that she had “testified falsely [in a trial] after Hindu politicians repeatedly threatened her family.” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was previously the chief minister of Gujarat, has been accused of allowing the riots to take place. (Sources: Hudson Institute, Deutsche Welle, BBC News)

Left-Wing Extremism

In 2006, then-Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh named left-wing extremists as the “single biggest internal security threat” in India. Indian authorities have attempted to combat left-wing Naxalite rebels with a variety of strategies at both the state and federal level, with the assistance of local vigilante groups, paramilitary forces, and elite commando units such as the Greyhound force. However, the lack of effective coordination and a coherent strategy has continually hindered permanent success. In 2009, India launched a counterinsurgency operation against the CPI-M called “Operation Green Hunt,” which has so far been successful at diminishing Naxalite presence in the country. As of 2017, estimates suggested that Naxalite rebels were present in 10 of India’s 28 states, as opposed to 20 almost a decade earlier. Nonetheless, violence against civilians escalated at the start of the operation, and Indian security forces as well as local paramilitary groups have been accused of mass human rights abuses, including torture and sexual abuse. (Sources: Council on Foreign Relations, Combating Terrorism Center, Al Jazeera, Independent, Diplomat)

Northeast India

Since independence in 1947, the Indian government’s routine response to unrest in Northeast India has been to deploy the military to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The Indian government has made few attempts to address the root causes of insurgency in the region, such as grievances over poverty and discrimination, or integrate the culturally distinct Northeast with the rest of India. In 1958, the Indian government passed a highly controversial law called the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the state of Manipur, which gave unconditional permission to Indian security forces to shoot on sight, arrest individuals without a warrant, and conduct searches without consent. Despite heavy criticism of the law, AFSPA was eventually extended to all seven Northeast Indian states. (Sources: Indian Defence Review, BBC News, FirstPost)

Although a political agreement effectively ended violence in the northeastern state of Mizoram in 1986, similar agreements have yet to permanently resolve the conflicts in the states of Nagaland and Assam. Nagaland remains in a state of suspended conflict despite more than 80 rounds of peace talks between the Indian government and NSCN-IM, the primary insurgent group operating there. However, counterinsurgency operations in the state of Tripura in the 2000s saw success when they were paired with efforts to rehabilitate militants and reintroduce them into society. By 2011, violence there had effectively ended, and AFSPA was lifted in Tripura in 2015 after having been in effect there for 18 years. (Sources: Indian Defence Review, Indian Express, Hindu, FirstPost, BBC News)

International Counter-Extremism

As a founding member of the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), India participates in GCTF and United Nations counterterrorism forums and promotes multilateral efforts to combat terrorism. India works with neighboring countries such as Bangladesh to prevent illicit border activities, and regularly cooperates with the United States on domestic and bilateral counter-terrorism initiatives. In July 2016, the two countries developed a U.S.-India Counterterrorism Joint Working Group and finalized a bilateral agreement to facilitate the sharing of terrorism screening information. India has also worked with the United States to implement U.N. Security Council counterterrorism resolutions and sanctions domestically. (Source: U.S. Department of State)

India has not joined the U.S.-led Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS or attempted to combat ISIS on a more global scale, but it has publicly acknowledged the threat that ISIS and other terrorist groups pose to global security. India also complies with U.N. sanctions against al-Qaeda and ISIS-linked individuals and entities. (Source: U.S. Department of State, Diplomat)

India has also amended its domestic AML/CTF legislation to comply with international regulations. India is a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and two regional AML/CTF organizations––the Eurasian Group on Combating Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism and the Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering. (Source: U.S. Department of State)

Public Opinion

Islamic Extremism

Public concern over the threat of Islamic extremism in India is high. According to a 2013 Pew Research Center poll, 82 percent of Indians view Islamic extremist groups as a threat, with 67 percent labeling them as a “major threat.” Only three out of 40 countries polled had a higher percentage of citizens who labeled Islamic extremist groups as a “major threat.” According to a 2017 poll, 66 percent of Indians believe that ISIS specifically poses a major threat to the country. (Sources: Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center)

Although India has the second-largest Muslim population in the world with at least 180 million Muslims, there is little support among them for radical Islamic groups and practices. A 2009 New York Times article reported that there was a growing trend among Indian Muslims to refuse to bury the bodies of suicide bombers, and that in general they “are not afraid to speak out against religious extremism in their midst.” (Sources: Pew Research Center, New York Times, New York Times)

Kashmir Insurgency

In general, Indian citizens from nearer Kashmir and Pakistan appear to view terrorism as a larger problem. A 2017 Pew Research Center poll suggested that 81 percent of citizens from the north of India viewed it as a “big problem,” compared with 74 percent elsewhere in the country. In 2010, two years following the 2008 attacks perpetrated by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in Mumbai, a plurality––42 percent––of Indians named LeT as the greatest threat facing the country. 33 percent named Pakistan as the great threat, which, according to the report, was likely related, as 58 percent responded that they believed Pakistan supported extremist groups like LeT. (Source: Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center)

In the same 2017 Pew Research Center poll, 62 percent of Indians responded that they viewed the situation in Kashmir specifically as a “big problem,” and 63 percent supported the use of more military force there. A 2012 poll revealed that 77 percent of Indians thought it was important to resolve the Kashmir dispute. However, opinions differed greatly––especially within Jammu and Kashmir itself––as to how the conflict should be resolved. A 2010 Chatham House survey suggested that although 43 percent of individuals living in Jammu and Kashmir supported independence, nearly all of that support came from individuals living in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley, where somewhere between 74 and 95 percent of individuals favored independence. In contrast, almost no individuals living in the Hindu-majority Jammu area of the state favored independence. A 2016 Deutsche Welle report suggested that many Muslims living in other parts of India are also in favor of greater Kashmiri autonomy. (Source: Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, BBC News, Pew Research Center, Deutsche Welle)

Hindu Extremism

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the political party of the Sangh Parivar Hindu nationalist movement, enjoys widespread public support in India. The party won by an “unexpectedly wide margin” with 31 percent of the vote in India’s 2014 general elections, enough to win a majority and bring Prime Minister Narendra Modi to power. As of 2017, Modi enjoyed extensive support in India. A Pew Research Center poll that year revealed that 88 percent of Indians held a favorable view of him, with 69 percent holding a “very favorable view.” (Sources: Hudson Institute, Guardian, Times of India, Pew Research Center)

Naxalites

According to a 2009 report from the Economist, the Indian government has strived to influence public opinion against Naxalite left-wing rebels through propaganda campaigns. For example, the government has sponsored newspaper advertisements that proclaim that Naxalites are “cold-blooded murderers.” According to a 2012 Pew Research Center poll, 71 percent of Indians view Naxalites as a threat to India, with 44 percent labeling them as a “very serious threat.” (Sources:  Economist, Pew Research Center)

Northeast India

The insurgencies in Northeast India are largely rooted in popular grievances over widespread neglect, poverty, and discrimination in the region. According to Indian journalist Rajeev Bhattacharyya, much of the local population is fatigued by the insurgent activities in the region that have been going on since 1947. Nonetheless, the population still largely feels alienated and neglected by the Indian government. (Sources: Indian Defence Review, Diplomat)