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ACPR Research


Islamic Extremism and Subversion
in South Asia

Ajai Sahni and K.P.S. Gill
Policy Paper No. 117

(In the book Muhammad's Monsters, David Bukay, (ed.),
AR: Balfour Books and Israel: ACPR Publishers, 2004, 300 pages.)


The idea that there has been a "shift" in the "locus of terrorism" towards South Asia is currently being vigorously propounded. This paper would analyze trends in terrorism and sectarian violence in this region in the context of the hypothesis that it is more accurate to speak of the spread or expansion of the sphere of terrorism, rather than any "shift". Indeed, as terrorists secure even limited successes in one region, their methods are adopted in others, threatening an ever-widening spectrum of nations and cultures.

Extremist Islam is at the heart of this malignant expansion and, while terrorist activities and safe havens may manifest apparent and transient shifts as a result of tactical and strategic exigencies, the locus of the ideologies that inspire this brand of Islam has remained firmly fixed.

South Asia comprises the largest concentration of Muslims in the world, and has a long history, both of communal confrontation and violence, on the one hand, and of co-existence within an eclectic culture that has accepted differences, on the other. This duality is ingrained in the unique and diverse set of practices and beliefs that comprise Indian Islam. But Indian Islam is, today, under a deep and penetrating attack, a "hardening" of beliefs that may lend itself to the extremist jihad in an uncertain future. This is compounded by a process of "encirclement" and massive demographic shifts that deepen the danger, particularly along India's Eastern borders.

This paper would assess the threat of Islamic terrorism within the context of these broad parameters. Specifically, it would focus on the following:

  1.  The geopolitical context of the Islamic Extremist threat to South Asia.

  2. Islam in South Asia - demographics, politicization, schools and overview of sectarian conflicts.

  3. Extremist Islamic Terror in South Asia, including the role of Afghanistan/Pakistan; the conflict in Kashmir; and the growth of militant Islam in other parts of the subcontinent, including India's Northeast.

  4. The strategies of subversion, including patterns of demographic shift, the systematic establishment of mosques and madarsas, and the "hardening" of Islam throughout the region.

  5. International support and linkages of Islamic Extremism in South Asia.

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