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India must press for Naik’s return

Shantanu Mukharji |

Despite India’s proactive diplomatic efforts, Zakir Naik, wanted in India for several cases and for spewing venom through his hate speeches fomenting communal discord, continues to be harboured in Malaysia eluding the Indian security agencies.

Naik, who relocated in Malaysia from Saudi Arabia, is now firmly ensconced on Malaysian soil and looks poised never to come back to India inspite of sustained efforts by the Indian establishment to have him deported and face charges.

Some time back he was conspicuously seen getting photographed with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad ostensibly to give a signal to the Indian government that he enjoys patronage of the highest in Malaysia and no amount of efforts by India to extradite him would yield results. Similarly, he got photographed with Mahathir’s political foe and immediate predecessor Najib after arriving in Kuala Lumpur from Saudi Arabia. Such photo opportunities help the cause of Naik as they boost his morale and dispel his sense of insecurity.

All said, the security hazards posed by Zakir Naik merit close examination. His profile and activities are expected to influence areas adjacent to Malaysia like southern Thailand, already reeling under Saudi-sponsored radicalism with heavy doses of ultra indoctrination in the affected areas.

To dwell on the issue under reference, in the southern tract of Thailand including Yala, Narathiwat and other areas, we see the Patani United Liberation Organisation (PULO) active in pushing the Wahabi ideology promoted by Saudi radicals. However, for tactical reasons PULO for the time being is moving slowly with its agenda but massive funding from Saudi Arabia continues to flow. It is only a matter of time before its activities gather vigour.

Meanwhile, once again for tactical reasons, hotspots like Sathorn have given rise to a few fragmented groups including GMIP, BBMP, Barisan Revolusi Nasional. Their Imams are while leading prayers promoting their radical agenda through passionate preachings. In this context, it is pertinent to mention the name of Ridwan Islamuddin Hambali who happens to be the only member of Al Qaeda shura and who for his undesirable activities was arrested in Thailand in the past. He is also strongly believed to be an active member of the Jemaiah Islamia being the operational chief of subversive activities in the region. This outfit was directly responsible for the Bali bombings of 2002.

There is yet another active body called the Yala Islamic College, totally funded from the Middle-east. It has nearly 2,000 students and most of its financial assistance comes from elements in Qatar, Kuwait and other Gulf countries that support Wahhabism. Dr Ismail Lutifi, who is chief of this faculty, is himself a product of Saudi Arab’s Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University.

Insiders in the Malaysian security setups disclose that Zakir Naik is in touch with some of these organisations as well as with a select band of hardcore Islamists in southern Thailand to propagate his radical Islamic agenda. This is a disturbing trend.

What appears advisable at this juncture is for India to intensify its diplomatic pressure on Malaysia for early deportation of Zakir Naik to India. It is undoubtedly a tall order and Malaysia is unlikely to give in to the Indian pressure. Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, reacting to India’s vociferous protests, had told the Malaysian legislature that no preferential treatment would be accorded to Zakir Naik in Malaysia. But soon after we saw a beaming Naik hobnobbing with those who are influential in Malaysia.

Now that certain parts of Thailand look vulnerable, it would be pragmatic to also exert pressure on Thailand to sever any link that may exist between its radicalised region and Naik. Thailand should independently mount pressure on Malaysia highlighting Naik’s presence on Malaysian soil and the hazards it entails.

Recently Prime Minister Modi met his Thai counterpart on the sidelines of BIMSTEC summit. We don’t know the contents of the talks but it is assumed that security cooperation was discussed. Such interactions should be used to highlight the threat Zakir Naik poses in the region. ASEAN could also be taken on board. Such multi-pronged pressures may prove useful in keeping Zakir and his activities under check. His deportation will be a huge setback to other terror-linked fugitives hiding elsewhere.

The writer is a security analyst and former National Security Advisor to Mauritius. He had served in Thailand in the past. The views expressed are personal.