of a resurgence in cooperation between Islamic extremists and radical
communists -- faint in some places, more pronounced in others -- are
emerging. While much of the current focus is on parts of Europe, South
Asia could emerge as the principal arena for a communist-jihadist
Depending on whom you talk to, an alliance between Islamic extremists
and radical communists is either more sinister war-on-terror hyperbole
or a clear and present danger. At the most basic level, the two groups
are divided by their outlook on the supreme being. For Islamist
extremists, killing in the name of and dying for God is an investment
in the hereafter. But the communist's variety of death and destruction
is motivated by a worldview rooted in materialism.
Yet the two philosophies clearly have much in common. Both profess a
disdain for the excesses of Western capitalism packaged as
globalization. Like Marx and Lenin of the last century, today's
jihadists have a utopian vision of a chaste internationalism. Their
glorification of death is an act of piety.
Both groups also are strategic pragmatists. They have a history of
joining hands with unlikely allies to destroy the primary enemy of the
day. Like Joseph Stalin's alliance with America and Britain to defeat
Hitler, jihadists had worked with the United States to defeat the
Soviets in Afghanistan.
Earlier this year, media organizations in India's Jammu and Kashmir
state received a video recording in which al-Qaida purportedly declared
war on the country. New Delhi has long blamed the Pakistani military's
Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) for fomenting violence in the
Himalayan territory, which Islamabad has claimed since both nations
gained independence from Britain 60 years ago. But the timing of
al-Qaida's threat worried many Indians. It came amid a resurgence of a
Maoist insurgency across vast swathes of the world's most populous
Known locally as "Naxalites," after the district of Naxalbari in the
northern state of West Bengal where they mounted an uprising in 1967,
Indian Maoist rebels were virtually wiped out in a massive government
crackdown in the 1970s. Since last year, however, they have
spread across rural and impoverished hinterlands
in at least 11 of India's 28 states, prompting Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh to equate Naxalism with terrorism as the two big threats to the
country's internal security.
Indian Maoist groups have strenuously denied ties to Islamist
extremists. Skeptics contend that Indian law-enforcement authorities
may be whipping up fears of a non-existent alliance to bolster their
authority and influence. In May, India's Home Minister, Shivraj Patil,
acknowledged his government had no hard evidence of a formal
association. But, he said, the government possesses enough
circumstantial information to suggest coordination.
A report prepared by Indian security agencies two years ago suggested
the Maoists may be using other Indian separatist groups to get arms and
ammunition from the ISI -- a link that continues to be highlighted by
the Indian media with each rebel attack.
As India and Pakistan trade tirades, the issue has gone beyond the two
nuclear-armed rivals. Some Indian analysts claim that almost all recent
terrorist strikes on their country had links to neighboring Nepal,
where Maoists have such sway that the country's mainstream political
parties invited them to
join the government
earlier this year. Islamic militants involved in terrorist attacks in
India, the South Asia Terrorism Portal points out, either used Nepal as
a transit point between Pakistan and Bangladesh or masterminded
operations from Nepalese towns.
Days after deadly bombs ripped through commuter trains in India's
financial hub of Mumbai in July last year, Nepalese police arrested two
Pakistani nationals in a Katmandu hotel for their alleged involvement.
New Delhi regularly accuses Pakistan of using Bangladesh and Nepal as
bases for anti-India subversion, a charge Islamabad, Dhaka and Katmandu
deny equally assiduously.
Bangladesh, which won independence from Pakistan in 1971, has seen a
growing Islamist presence in politics. Indian officials accuse that
country's intelligence services of promoting armed wings of these
political parties to perpetuate hostility toward their giant neighbor.
Although Nepal is a predominantly Hindu nation, its small Muslim
population is heavily concentrated along the 1,000-mile open and
largely unregulated border with India. Meanwhile, Nepal's decade-long
Maoist insurgency claimed 13,000 lives before a tentative peace was
reached last year. After signing a peace treaty with the government,
Maoist leader Prachanda conceded at a conference in New Delhi that
Pakistan had offered to arm and train his group, which he said he had
In the past, however, the Maoist leader's rhetoric has been similar to
the pronouncements of Islamist groups like al-Qaida. Two years ago,
while still fighting to overthrow Nepal's monarchy and multiparty
democracy, Prachanda called his struggle "a totally new 21st century
war [against] the evil of the imperialist world, the hypocrisy of
so-called democracy that a superpower like the U.S. represents." He
enjoined like-minded groups from around the world to join in his epic
That kind of summons has largely ebbed. But after joining the peace
process, some reports indicate the Nepalese Maoists continue to attend
secret meetings of South Asian allies, joining in pledges to turn the
region into a revolutionary zone. The former rebels may have laid down
their guns, but Nepal's mainstream political parties as well as
principal donor governments accuse them of continuing a campaign of
abduction, extortion and intimidation.
Some Indian security officials believe former Nepalese insurgents are
actively involved in Maoist attacks in their country. By making new
demands in Katmandu earlier this month that have
delayed previously scheduled elections, the Maoists have bolstered suspicions of their real motives.
In February, Indian police arrested an alleged Nepalese Maoist
gunrunner who, they said, offered clues of ties between the Maoists and
Islamic militants. Although the Nepalese Maoists denied having ties
with the man, Indian security agencies consider him a key link to a
network of terror in and around India.
One arrest, to be sure, may not amount to definitive proof. Yet the
motive and opportunity for cooperation between Islamist and communist
radicals may be too compelling to ignore.
Sanjay Upadhya is a Nepalese
journalist who divides his time between the United States and Nepal. A
Fulbright Scholar at New York University from 1993-96, he has worked
for the British Broadcasting Corporation, the Times of London, Inter
Press Service and the Khaleej Times.