It seems like such a long time ago. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh proudly telling his British counterpart that despite having the second largest population of Muslims in the world, no Indian is part of the worldwide al Qaeda fraternity. When the US President came calling early this year, we again celebrated our al Qaeda free status notwithstanding the protesting Muslims on the streets, some urging George Bush to go back. He went back, of course, after a ‘successful visit’ feeling reassured that as far as his Global War on Terror and exporting democracy in the Middle East is concerned, India could be counted on as an ally. And indeed the largest democracy in the world clasped the hands of the oldest very warmly. But since those days of innocence, much blood has flown down Ganga and Jamuna, confluence of which is also reflective of the two major communities in India: Hindus and Muslims.
Today, the security community of India is debating the presence of al Qaeda in India, especially after a hoax caller in Srinagar said as much after the terrorist attack in Mumbai. Indian National Security Advisor, M.K. Narayan went to the extent of qualifying al Qaeda threat by saying in a television interview that Lashkar-e-Taiyyaba (active in Kashmir) is a manifestation of al Qaeda in India, implying that through LeT, al Qaeda threatens the rest of the country and not just Kashmir.
Unlike in the past, when India was just an inconsequential blip on al Qaeda radar, in the last few months both Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al Zawahiri have been issuing statements mentioning India as an enemy in league with the US and Israel. So when Muslims worldwide are exhorted to rise against the US and Israel combo, now India too figures in their list of enemies. As of now, the main reason for this appears to be the Indo-US defence agreement of 18 July 2005 which paved the way for a strategic partnership between the two countries. Irrespective of the content and scope of the agreement, there has been tremendous hype about it in the media, which obviously enlarged India’s presence on al Qaeda radar. So much so, that in April 2006, in one of his regular dispatches to al Jazeera, Zawahiri criticised the Indo-US nuclear agreement. And for the last few months, al Qaeda sightings by way of anonymous phone calls and threats have been reported, the most high profile being the advisory issued by the US against possible attacks in India by al Qaeda just a few days before August 15. Cashing on this fear psychosis, somebody sent a note to the Agra police, ostensibly on behalf of al Qaeda threatening to blow up the Taj Mahal. That none of these threats are being taken lightly shows that the government is indeed worried about al Qaeda targeting India.