A New Threat to New Delhi

Article excerpt

Byline: Jeremy Kahn

The Jaipur attacks may have had a surprising source: Bangladesh.

The streets of Jaipur, India's fabled "pink city," ran red with blood in mid-May after seven bombs planted on bikes exploded in a crowded market, killing 61 people and injuring close to 100. It was the latest in a string of attacks to rock India's heartland in recent years. Most have been linked to Islamic militants allegedly supported by Pakistan.

This time, an unknown group called the Indian Mujahedin claimed responsibility for the blasts. E-mails sent to TV networks and a Hindu political party included videos showing one of the bicycles used in the bombings, its serial number clearly visible. But many security experts think the group is actually a front, a ruse meant to put an indigenous face on a foreign-based organization.

Among the chief suspects is Harkat-ul-Jihad-i-Islami, or HuJI for short. HuJI has been blamed for bombings before, including blasts in Uttar Pradesh and Hyderabad last year that killed scores. It's also thought to be tied to a 2002 attack on the American Center in Kolkata. If authorities are right about the group, they have a dangerous new trend on their hands. For HuJI is not based in Pakistan--India's rival and the source of most Islamist terror in the past--but in Bangladesh: India's other large Muslim neighbor. "Bangladesh is becoming a haven for transnational Islamists," says Brahma Chellaney of the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi. "It is in danger of becoming another Pakistan."

The threat isn't entirely new; for years, separatists fighting India have used bases in Bangladesh's lawless and impoverished hinterland, slipping across the porous 4,000-km border at will. What is new, however, is that these secular insurgents are now being joined by Islamic militants, a trend that's accelerated since 2004, when Pakistan began reining in terrorists on its own soil under an agreement with India and under pressure from Washington. Deprived of their old bases, some of these groups--which allegedly still get aid from elements in Pakistan's intelligence services--have now decamped to Bangladesh, where they've found a wellspring of recruits among the country's increasingly disaffected population.

Some of these groups, including HuJI, have also allegedly received protection from mainstream Bangladeshi political parties, including the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which governed the country from 2001 to 2006. Col. Gurinder Singh of the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses in New Delhi says that Bangladeshi politicians have found it increasingly useful to fan anti-India sentiments and to blame New Delhi for Bangladesh's economic and political chaos. …