India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) revealed the arrest of Habibur Rahaman, alias Habib, a terrorist handler for the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) group. He was arrested at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport on August 6. Originally from Odisha’s Kendrapara District, Habib had been residing in Saudi Arabia for quite some time, hatching plots to hurt India right under the Saudi regime’s nose.
Habib’s capture and the revelation of him having a Saudi link should compel India to again review its policies with Saudi Arabia, maybe along more aggressive lines.
It is being said that the Government of India, has so far, not sought an explanation from Riyadh, nor called in the Saudi envoy with the aim of issuing a firm demarche, leading observers and analysts of India’s Middle East policies to correctly question what they see as a soft, lukewarm and contradictory reaction.
Saudi Arabia is one of India’s top crude oil suppliers and critics of New Delhi’s current Middle East policies are categorical that business interests are taking an unhealthy priority over issues of national security in bilateral ties.
The arrest of a terrorist with a Saudi link must not be seen as an aberration. Historically, there are both religious as well as financial linkages.
For instance, terror outfits like the Jamaat-ud-Dawa and the Lashkar-e-Taiba have been alleged to have solicited funds from supporters in Saudi Arabia to execute their terror plans in India, the 26/11 Mumbai attack in which 166 people, Indians and foreigners both, lost their lives.
Wahhabism, the ultra conservative, austere, fundamentalist and or puritanical Islamic doctrine and religious movement founded by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, has been making deep inroads in Kashmir through the Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith, which describes itself as a religious and welfare organisation.
Saudi Arabia is also known to be wary and worried about the close ties between India and Iran. Tehran’s outreach to the Shia community in India is a particular concern for Riyadh, which would be keen on redressing this imbalance by giving more religious muscle to India’s Sunni majority population, which currently stands at around 70 percent of the country’s total Muslim population.
A visit to Kerala will reveal that Saudis allegedly control nearly 75 mosques in this southern state which sends tens of hundreds of its people to the Gulf for employment. Architecturally also, these mosques resemble those in the Saudi Kingdom.
Indian intelligence reports reportedly accessed by Wikileaks reveal the names of at least 40 different Saudi charitable bodies located in various parts of Saudi Arabia whose alleged primary job is to raise money for funding terror activities on Indian soil. According to these reports, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is also not far behind on this score. Naturally, denials will be forthcoming in the strongest possible terms from the powers that be in both Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.
Both India and Saudi Arabia have a Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in the exchange of intelligence related to money laundering, terrorism financing and related crimes. Riyadh has reassured New Delhi repeatedly about its commitment to curb and end this scourge of terrorism. India has a similar committed agreement with the UAE, but it seems to no avail.
In a recent diplomatic blow to India, the UAE deported Farooq Devdiwala, a member of D-Company and of the Indian Mujahideen to Pakistan, despite the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) demanding that he be extradited to India to face the law for various crimes. Devdiwala is known to be in contact with ISI members as well as terror cells in Pakistan.
India and Saudi Arabia are not natural allies, but if Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wants to improve relations with the former, he will need to show the former that he is walking the talk on counter-terrorism. Similar overtures would also have to be made by the UAE.