By: Our Correspondent

The bombing
of four Indian cities in as many months, including the capital New Delhi,has
forced India to take a new look at its counter-terror strategies.

Claiming responsibility for
these attacks was a relatively new group calling itself the Indian Mujahideen,
and the name was purposely taken to give a sense that it is of Indian origin.
However, the police crackdown after the Delhi blasts have unearthed a series of terror
cells, the majority of whom are linked to the Azamgarh district of Uttar
Pradesh, a north Indian state. One conclusion that can be drawn from this is
that Jihadi elements are working in tandem with organized crime. Notorious
gangsters such as Abu Salem belong to this district and have been
associated with underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, now based in Pakistan, who has been declared an international
terrorist by the United

Police have identified the
Indian Mujahideen operatives killed in the September 19, Delhi shootout as Azamgarh
residents Atif Amin alias Basheer Mohammad and Mohammad Fakruddin. A third man
who was injured has been identified as Saif Ahmad, also a resident of Azamgarh.
Investigators believe that these terrorists were key actors in an Uttar
Pradesh-based network which constituted the logistical backbone of the Indian
Mujahideen's nationwide operations.

Police also believe most
members of these cells are foot soldiers acting on the orders of leaders based
in neighbouring countries. The Indian Mujahideen group, which includes the
elusive Abdul Subhan Qureshi alias Tauqeer, Aftab Ansari and others, is
controlled by Aamir Reza, a high-ranking functionary of both the Lashkar-e-Toiba
(LeT) and Harkat-ul-Jehadi-Islami (HuJI), from his hideout in
Pakistan. The Delhi Police believes
Abu al-Qama, Lashkar-e-Toiba's commander based in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) is now
responsible for its India operations, and is the man who
directs the Indian Mujahideen through Aamir Reza. Only lower rank commanders
such as Tauqeer are actually based in India.

Tauqeer, is believed to have
taken over as the leader of the
Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) after the arrest of Safdar Nagori in
March. He is also associated with the Indian Mujahiddin which is seen as a
hard-line section of SIMI. Currently, both LeT and SIMI are two of the 34
terrorist organisations banned under provisions of the Unlawful Activities
(Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967. Though LeT is banned in Pakistan, it is
still active there, with all infrastructure intact, through its front,

Indian security agencies
believe SIMI is also working in India through its 50 fronts. While
four of these fronts operate at national level, the remaining 46 are active in
eight different states. The agencies suspect they are all being used for the
carrying out SIMI's activities, including the collection of funds, circulation
of literature and regrouping of cadres. Twenty-three out of the 46 are active in
Kerala, followed by eight in Maharashtra, seven in West Bengal, three in Bihar,
two in Uttar Pradesh and one each in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Delhi.

These lower rung commanders
of the Indian Mujahiddin are often well educated and are involved in recruitment
of cadres for the Jihadi group. They indoctrinate youths in minority communities
through videos of Osama bin-Laden and the Gujarat riots.  Tauqeer maintained contact only with
Atif (killed in the Jamia Nagar encounter on September 19) and Sadiq Sheikh,
another IM member arrested by Mumbai police. Recruits were targeted that are
suave, well spoken, sophisticated and good looking, so they do not look suspicious. Another
member of the group, Sadiq indoctrinated his colleagues from Azamgarh (including
Atif), and it was he who decided the targets and who would carry out terror

In the past three years
Uttar Pradesh has witnessed the most terror attacks outside Jammu and Kashmir. But a
majority of the cells busted were also tracked in other states – mainly
Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. According to
Indian home ministry figures for 2004-07, while 10 out of 39 cells were cracked
in UP, the remaining 29 were based elsewhere. While this demonstrates the spread
of the jihadi network, it also indicates that several cells, like those led by
alleged Delhi
bomber Atif, and Maulvi Bashir who was linked to the Ahmedabad blasts, escaped

The wave of terror attacks
in the months before the upcoming national election likely to be held in
April-May 2009 has put the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA)
government in a tight spot. These attacks have allowed the Hindu nationalist
Bharatiya Janata Party to take potshots at the government, accusing it of being
soft on terror. It also blamed the government for repealing the Prevention of
Terrorism Act (POTA), which it sees as a major deterrent against terrorism.

The government knows that if
such attacks are not stopped immediately, it would be seen as loosing its grip
over the problem, which may cost it dearly during the elections. It is already
being criticised for not having a coherent counter-terror strategy, with parties
on the left claiming the current attacks are a result of India's engagement with
the US and Israel. The Communist Party (Marxist) says India
is now part of the US-Israeli war against "Islamic

India has been a terror
target for many years, but despite this no serious attempt has been made to
streamline the unfocussed internal security structure. Intelligence agencies
have failed to produce results on par with their western counterparts, and even
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has admitted that there are vast gaps in the
country's intelligence and that needs to be overcome.  

Local cells have always been
involved in small-scala attacks, but never on the current scale.
India now faces the challenge of how
to tackle the problem without further alienating its minorities. Though tension
has existed in the past, Indian Muslims have not previously acted against the
state outside of Jammu and
Kashmir. But the emergence of groups like the Indian
Mujahideen indicate this is changing.

Meeting immediately after
the Delhi
blasts, the government mulled introducing tougher terror laws. It is notable
that the US and the
United Kingdom opted for such
laws in the aftermath of the 9/11 and London
blasts, whereas India has chosen to repeal its terror
law. Moreover, a similar law, MCOCA, on the lines of POTA is in existence in
Maharashtra and Gujarat had demanded approval
for GCOCA.

However, no consensus could
be reached. Divisions emerged within the Congress Party itself and many pointed
out the misuse of POTA in operation. It was also feared that the imposition of
such a law could further alienate India's Muslim minority.

Some also point out that
terror incidents are taking place not because of a lack of POTA, but because
existing laws are not being implemented efficiently. This has also raised the
issue of police reforms and the strengthening of intelligence agencies. The
nationwide nature of this problem has raised the demand for a "federal agency"
rather than leaving it to the less effective individual states.

India also recognises
the predominantly cross-border nature of the attacks, and so no effective
solution can be reached without engaging Pakistan in
talks. Hence Singh raised the subject with President Asif
Ali Zardari of Pakistan when they met in the US recently. But
the government is under no illusion that Zardari is in control of the situation
in Pakistan. It knows not even former
president Pervez Musharraf, with all his power and influence, could deliver
on his promises. Still, the Indian government is serious on desiring engagement
with Zardari on the assumption that he may recognise moving against Jihadi
forces is in his own best interest. It is also felt that an engagement with
India can enhance Zardari's domestic
image and give him the confidence that he needs in order to operate in the power
vacuum that has developed there.

With Islamic
radicalism sweeping Afghanistan, Pakistan and even Bangladesh, some spillover is not unexpected in
India. But while the problem is still
small-scale, it does not mean the government can afford to be complacent in its
response to radicalism. The attacks have highlighted the need for improvements
in the police force and a better intelligence network, and that there should be
a federal agency coordinating their work and pursuing cases more vigourously
involving the various different states.

The time has come for the
government of India to take a
fresh look at its domestic counter-terror strategy before Jihadis can find their
feet and create a situation like Pakistan or Afghanistan.