The politics of Kashmir is the driving force behind UK terrorism
Virtually every major religious plot or operation targeting civilians in the UK is associated with paramilitary training by Pakistani militias operating in Kashmir.
Chetan Bhatt, Director of the Centre for the Study of Human Rights at LSE, has analysed the evidence linking this disputed territory on the borders of Pakistan and India with UK terrorism, and argues that the politics of Kashmir, rather than simply the global influence of Al Qaeda, has been a driving force.
In an article published in the journal Ethnic and Racial Studies, Professor Bhatt explores the background of Dhiren Barot, often described as the most significant Al Qaeda figure captured in the UK. He was born in India in 1971 and grew up in a cul-de-sac near the centre of Kingsbury, a northwest London suburb. Around 1992, he converted to Islam, though whether he adopted a religion or embraced a political ideology is open to debate.
In 2006, he pleaded guilty to planning a series of attacks targeting civilians in London using limousines filled with explosive fuels. Currently, he is an 'AA' high risk prisoner on a thirty-year sentence without parole.
Barot had argued that any project that can be carried out in the UK means that it is extremely possible to do the same in other parts of the world. This is because security in the UK is probably the tightest in the world, according to him.
His treatise about his experiences as a fighter for a militia active in Kashmir was published by a Birmingham bookshop and is widely circulated in the UK. Its formal operational language is quite different from what is often seen as the irrational fanaticism of 'jihadis'. He openly calls his plans 'terrorist' and describes the Madrid public transport bombings and the death of 191 commuters as a 'respectable' operation.
As early as 1999, before the invasion of Iraq and the 9/11 attacks, Barot was promoting terrorist operations in western countries. In the late 1990s he and others regarded Taliban Afghanistan as a near perfect state and society, and an ideal base for military training that had to be protected from western interference. Hence, the attention of key western countries had to be deflected away from Afghanistan through operations undertaken on their soil.
The overwhelming view is that there is a global terrorist network which penetrates diasporas in the west. Professor Bhatt disputes this view and cautions against generalizations about 'global terrorism' and 'global terror networks.' He argues against the common view that it is simply the impact of salafism or salafi-jihadi ideology in south Asia that has generated these violent tendencies. In Pakistan itself, there is a fast moving and changing situation, though the military-militia dynamic has remained a consistent presence, he says.
A string of high profile trials in Britain of those arrested under expansive UK counter-terrorism legislation have apparently demonstrated associations between 'clusters' of UK-based terrorists. But Professor Bhatt argues that 'much of the apparent configuration of UK clusters has resulted from intelligence obtained from Pakistan's intelligence services, through the confessions of a few key individuals or through confessions obtained through torture.'
Several key clusters demonstrate associations with each other via Pakistani militias operating in Kashmir. Direct associations with 'Al Qaeda' have been either shown or regularly alleged, as in the 2005 bombings and the 'fertiliser' plot, the 2006 transatlantic airline plot, the 2007 Birmingham 'Muslim soldier beheading' plot and the 2007 Glasgow airport attack. However, what is meant by 'Al Qaeda' can be a figure from a militia operating in Kashmir, argues Professor Bhatt.
He says it is important to register the political potency of Kashmir for UK citizens whose parents or grandparents may have come from south Asia.
He writes: 'Kashmir's 'liberation' is comprehensively entwined with secular Pakistani nationalism and regional Muslim religious absolutism. Kashmir is similarly prominent in secular Indian and Hindu religious nationalism…It can also lead to the view that partaking of armed 'jihad' in Kashmir is a noble venture, irrespective of whether the venture is religious or secular.'
Professor Bhatt argues that there Is a consistent pattern of association between operations in the UK and elsewhere and training by either the Harakat-ul Mujahideen / Jaish-e Mohammad or Lashkar-e Tayyiba militia 'families'. These, together with extremely violent organisations like the Sipah-e Sahaba, operate relatively freely (often as welfare fronts under new names). Some of them have strong political support.
Barot's book is about his experiences in Kashmir and it eulogises the Lashkar-e Tayyiba (LeT), the most powerful militia operating in Kashmir. Barot's book also speaks highly of the Harakatul Ansar, Harakat-ul Mujahideen (HuM) and Al-Badr, militias operating in Kashmir which range from Deobandi to Islamist.
He concludes: 'Evidence for the training of British citizens by Pakistani militias operating in Kashmir is consistent…Militias largely created and partially managed by the Pakistani secret state have trained British youths who want to undertake anti-civilian operations in the UK.'
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Professor Chetan Bhatt