By K.N. Pandita
India could be one of several new theatres targeted by al-Qaeda’s newly-appointed chief Ayman al-Zawahiri ”to establish his authority over the jihadist group and its allies,” intelligence sources say. Hatred against India runs deep amongst Pakistan’s Islamists, and targeting it could prove a means for leaders like Fakir Muhammad to win domestic legitimacy, as well as draw cadre away from organizations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba that Pakistan claims to have reined in since the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. Fears that al-Qaeda will choose India as a theatre to expand have been mounting since last summer, when al-Zawahiri’s former deputy released an audiotape claiming responsibility for the 2009 bombing of a café in Pune. “I bring you the good tidings,” al-Masri said in the audiotape, “that last February’s India operation was against a Jewish locale in the west of the Indian capital.” Muhammad Ilyas Kashmiri, a Pakistani jihadist, reported — but not proven —to have been killed in a drone strike earlier this year, was announced to have set up a special unit to stage the Pune bombing and future strikes. Al-Zawahiri was among the first international jihadist leaders to mention India, writing in a manifesto published in 2001 that his cadre had “revived a religious duty of which the [Muslim] nation had long been deprived, by fighting in Afghanistan, Kashmir, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Chechnya.”
The theme was taken up by bin Laden himself in 1996, when he issued a declaration condemning “massacres in Tajikistan, Burma, Kashmir, Assam, the Philippines, Pattani Ogaden, Somalia, Eritrea, Chechnya, and Bosnia-Herzegovina.” Later, in September 2003, al-Zawahiri again invoked India to warn Pakistanis that their President, General Pervez Musharraf, was plotting to “hand you over to the Hindus and flee to enjoy his secret accounts.” Al-Zawahiri is also said to be close to Hikmatyar group in Afghanistan, generally believed to be the recipient of ISI’s largesse.