Myanmar’s military-backed drug production and trafficking cartels as well as Rohingyas in Bangladesh have established nexus with the members of Tablighi Jamaat in trafficking and distribution of Yaba (a type of drug also known as Captagon, which is produced in Myanmar, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Syria).
According to information, as majority of the Tablighi members wear Arabian attire, it is very much convenient for them to hide Captagon pills in their pockets, while female members of Tablighi Jamaat hide the drug beneath burqas. Tablighi men collect Yaba pills from their Myanmaris or Rohingya contacts in Bangladesh-Myanmar border and then carry and circulate it throughout the country. For carrying, every Tablighi man gets BDT 10 for each pill, while one man or woman can carry up to 500 pills by hiding those inside their pockets or burqas. As the members of Tablighi Jamaat are beyond suspicion of the law enforcement agencies, Tablighi members do not face any obstacle is continuing such illegal activities.
True face of Tablighi Jamaat
In India, the academic and journalistic discourse on jihadi terrorism mostly revolves around transnational and Pakistani terrorist organizations. Meanwhile, non-violent and semi-violent Islamist groups such as Jamaat-i-Islami, and its proxy charitable fronts in the US, UK, and Canada, along with groups such as the Popular Front of India and the Social Democratic Party of India have so far, more or less, managed to escape the attention of intelligence and security agencies.
However, after a number of critical investigations recently revealed Jamaat-i-Islami’s role in radicalizing the society and aiding terrorist organizations in Kashmir, impelling the Home Ministry to ban it, other lawful Islamist groups, also masquerading as peaceful, social organizations, are finally the subject of investigations by India’s intelligence agencies. One noteworthy example is Tablighi Jamaat (TJ), which has, impressively, operated across the length and breadth of India for decades, loudly recruiting millions, and yet somehow avoiding the notice of the law enforcement agencies, despite laying a fertile ground for the spread of jihadist ideology.
Ironically, in the West, TJ has been carefully watched by law enforcement agencies, aware of its links to terror, for the last two decades, despite TJ taking care to operate more carefully and in greater secrecy.
TJ is an offshoot of the fundamentalist and hardline Deobandi sect of Islam. A global missionary movement, TJ operates the largest Islamic network in the world, with perhaps as many as 70-80 million members spread over 150 countries. Its ijtemas (religious gatherings) in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh attract the largest number of Muslim devotees after the Haj.
TJ claims to be a quietist, apolitical organization. In the popular perception, TJ is a guileless missionary organization simply preaching Islam through door-to-door mobile bands. In reality, TJ preaches a regressive, extreme religious outlook. It serves to Islamize existing Muslim communities, encouraging Muslims to embrace a more ascetic, Deobandi strain of Islam, in which every aspect of a Muslim’s life is dictated by TJ rules.
The essence of TJ’s philosophy is the importance of protection from the fitna [test] of the outside world, through intense piety and adherence to TJ’s very particular strain of Islam. Only once the ummah has undergone the “purification of self“, TJ believes, can the spread of Islam to non-Muslims, through jihad or otherwise, take place. In essence, TJ’s work is predicated on the idea of inevitable conflict with the non-Islamic world. French TJ expert Marc Gaborieau goes further, and has suggested that the supreme goal of TJ is nothing less than a “planned conquest of the world in the spirit of Jihad”.
TJ’s influence is widely felt. In Bangladesh, TJ works to rid Muslim communities of perceived Hindu heritage and influence, which, the Hudson Institute claims, has exacerbated significantly the Islamization of Bangladeshi society. According to a senior police officer in North Kashmir, the terror group Hizbul Mujahidin sends potential recruits on a 40-day TJ religious training program, after which they are permitted to join the organization. TJ cadres visiting Kashmir from Northern and Eastern India face no resistance or opposition from local groups such as Jamaat-e-Islami and violent Islamists, reportedly because TJ has assisted them with the movement of money and messages, especially during Kashmir’s frequent internet shutdowns.
Further, reports claim TJ is also involved with the radicalization of youth in Kashmir’s Deoband seminaries. In the past, several seminaries were banned after they were found to be sending students for terrorist training. Marhama village, in the Anantnag district, where the Pulwama suicide bombing conspiracy was hatched, has a powerful Deoband madrasa, whose faculty includes TJ preachers. As former Islamist Bashir Ahmad notes, the area is a stronghold of Deobandi terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed.
One prominent Barelvi Sunni Muslim leader from Uttar Pradesh, who has studied the functioning of TJ on the ground for the last 25 years, told us that TJ recruits, after taking part in the obligatory travelling missionary work for set periods of time (a practice common to TJ members all around the world), are often sent to join prominent Islamist organizations such as the Popular Front of India, Social Democratic Party of India, and Jamaat-e-Islami.
Barelvis have good reason to be concerned about the missionary arm of their Deobandi rivals. TJ cadres have long been significantly involved in the occupation and takeover of Barelvi mosques in villages and cities across India. Initially, TJ tries to infiltrate the local mosque committee with its members. If successful, they re-register the mosque as Deobandi, relying on the endorsement of Waqf boards, which are largely controlled by Deobandis. Failing that, TJ establishes a rival, anonymous mosque committee of their own, and attempt to supplant the existing committee, once again relying on the Waqf boards’ approval. Either way, Barelwi imams and management are ejected, leading frequently to violent clashes between the two groups.
In the National Capital Region, TJ cadres have ensured the Deobandi takeover of 150-200 Barelwi mosques. In Gujarat, the TJ and Deobandis have taken over 80% of the mosques. In one such incident in Jaipur, where TJ cadres violently captured Karbala mosque, criminal investigations were initiated. However, law enforcement agencies failed to follow through, apparently only because TJ is not a formally registered organization.
Deobandis teach and practice a fundamentalist, exclusivist form of Islam, which blends easily with extremism and terror. As TJ’s seizures of mosques continues, so does the threat of Deobandi influence. And that threat is just not an Indian issue; TJ and hardline Deobandis are a global problem.
What is Yaba or Captagon?
Captagon was first manufactured in 1961 as an alternative to amphetamine and methamphetamine used at the time to treat narcolepsy, fatigue, and the behavioral disorder “minimal brain dysfunction”. Dexamphetamine was already being used by the military to enable soldiers to stay awake for long periods of time and to “enhance courage and bravado”. Captagon was supposed to be a milder version of these medicines. But by the 1980’s the US government declared it a controlled substance with no currently accepted medical use. Manufacturing of the drug ceased in the 1980’s.
However, illegal manufacture has continued, and has recently escalated in the past few years in Europe and the Middle East. Some sources suggest Captagon is one of the more popular recreational drugs among affluent youth in the Middle East.
No doubt the “Captagon” used by the Islamic jihadist forces (ISIS, ISIL or Daesh) and other extremist groups to enhance their soldier’s abilities today is far removed from the Captagon of the eighties. Instead of just two main ingredients, illegal manufacturing likely combines several highly addictive stimulants with compounding actions into one destructive little pill. This “new age” Captagon, as with any highly addictive substance, is likely to cause irreversible changes in brain circuitry that govern impulse control and judgement, taking away a person’s ability to reason or think rationally.
Captagon has been touted by media as “The Amphetamine Fuelling Syria’s War” or “The Jihadists’ Drug”.