Splintered ISIS will bedevil India
Indian Intelligence agencies have revealed that at least 23 Indians have joined the ISIS and six of them have died
This is not at all surprising given the psychological, historical and ideological appeal that of ‘Caliphate’ has exerted on the Muslims of the Indian sub-continent. Even Mahatma Gandhi pandered to the idea of Caliphate when he supported the Khilafat Movement(1921-1926) for political exigencies. This agitation, based on Pan Islamic fundamentalist platform served as a major impetus towards Muslim separatism and establishment of Pakistan.
Indicators reveal that despite the overconfidence that regimes of South Asian countries have displayed regarding their insulation against the idea and phenomenon of the ISIS, at the subterranean levels in Muslim societies the idea has caught the imagination of sizeable segment of the youth.
In Pakistan, as per a survey conducted by an agency ‘Pew Research Survey’ of Muslim majority countries, 62 per cent Pakistanis when asked for their opinion about the ISIS said ‘don’t know’, nine per cent said that they were ‘favorable’ and 28 per cent were ‘unfavorable’. This data in respect of other countries is as follows:-
The huge‘don’t know’ category is a cause of concern as it comprises silent sympathisers and potential recruits. In other Muslim majority countries, this category is significantly lower .
There are mixed signals emanating from Pakistan with regards to the ISIS which is clearly a sign of duplicity, intrinsic to statecraft of the country. The Foreign Secretary Aizaz Choudhary ruled out the possibility of ISIS presence in Pak, but the provincial government of Balochistan in a secret communication to the federal government, copy of which is doing the rounds of the Pakistani media,has warned about a massive recruitment drive underway by ISIS in Pakistan. It has reported that some 12000 youth have been recruited by the organisation in Hangu and Khurram Agency. Further, the intelligence input suggests that the ISIS is in contact with elements within other militant organisation like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Ahlus Sunnahwal Jamaah (ASWJ), urging them to switch loyalities, and join hands against Pakistan.
As per the report the ISIS plans to destroy military installations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwain retaliation to ongoing operations Zarb-e-Azb by Pakistan military.
For assessing the threat of ISIS in Pakistan it is important to understand the dynamics of jihadi militancy in that region, the genesis of which lies in creation of jihadi machinery assembled by Pakistan with the financial and material support by the US and Saudi Arabia, to defeat the Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 80s. Their indoctrination was based purely on the theme of pan-Islam and caliphate. After the Soviet forces withdrew and America abandoned the region to the devices of Pakistan, the Pakistan military-intelligence complex split the jihadi machinery into two segments. The Pan-Islamic segment like the Al-Qaida and the Taliban were given the necessary support for claiming territory of Afghanistan as reward, and the other segment comprising of militant organisations like LeT and JeM were redirected towards India.
These organisations became a parallel arm of Pakistan military.
The catchment area of recruitment for these organisations is the same as the military i.e. predominantly Punjab. The pay of these Jihadis is almost at par with a regular solider. It is not uncommon feature in a family for one brother to be serving with regular military and the other one in the ranks of these militant groups. These groups have been the tools of proxy war against India.
The India centric orientation of these groups is however under threat by the pan-Islamic ideology of the ISIS. The nervousness with regard to ISIS shows on Hafiz Saeed. He and the military-intelligence establishment of Pakistan seem to be worried about the prospects of these jihadis gravitating towards ISIS,after all nothing attracts jihadis as much as the cause of Caliphate and Ummah. As a consequence India may expect an increase in the scale and intensity of attacks by jihadi groups in the near future, as a desperate measure to keep their jihadi flock together. The other enterprise of rewarding the pan-Islamists with Afghan territory has also failed, and therefore these elements too may grow exasperated of their patrons, i.e. Pakistan and join ranks with the ISIS in pursuit of Islamic Caliphate. Some of them have already turned hostile to Pakistan and were responsible for the attack on Army Public School in Peshawar in December 2014, thus impelling Pakistan military to launch Operation Zarb-e-Azb. The Director General of Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) of Pakistan, Gen Asim Bajwa, has ruled out the deployment of Pakistan military against the ISIS on the plea that 1,82,000 troops are already committed along the Afghan border.
In Bangladesh, Sheikh Haseena has cracked down ruthlessly and comprehensively against Islamic fundamentalist organisations, like Jagrata Muslim Janta Bangladesh (JMJB) and other affiliates of Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI). These radical organisations had mutated into terror outfits and over a period became politically intertwined with the opposition, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). The JeI in addition commands a huge economic empire. It may be recalled that on August 17, 2005 the JMB had detonated 459 bombs in Bangladesh’s 64 districts, whose leader was Bangla Bhai.
Bangladesh being the 7th most populist and 3rd largest Muslim country in the world has always been vulnerable to Islamic radicalism. The politics of Bangladesh had become increasingly murderous, given the strong BNP—ISI (Pakistan) links. It was a do or die situation for Sheikh Haseena. During her tenure many leaders having terrorist links have been hanged through the due process of Law, as opposed to Military Courts of Pakistan. They include Siddiqueul Islam alias Bangla Bhai, Commander of Al-Qaida affiliated JMJB (hanged 2007); Abdul QaderMolla, war criminal and JeI leader (hanged 2013); Mohammad Kamaruzzaman, war criminal and Assistant Secretary of JeI (hanged 2015), Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed, war criminal and former JeI leader and Minister of Social Welfare (hanged recently in 2015); and Sallahuddin Qader Choudhary, war criminal, seven term member of Parliament and member of BNP (hanged recently in 2015).
With the radical groups in disarray, it was expected that Pan-Islamic groups in ISIS will make inroads with its concomitant impact on the eastern states of India like Assam and West Bengal. The ISIS in its online magazine ‘Dabiq’ has claimed that it has appointed a new regional leader based in Bangladesh. As per some reports, JMB has pledged allegiance to the ISIS. Recently, the ISIS has claimed responsibility for killing a 57-year-old Italian priest in the Dinajpur. Another Italian aid worker Cesare Tavelle was killed in outskirts of Rangpur in September this year. Five days later, a 66-year-old Japanese Hoshi Kino was killed by unidentified assailants. The ISIS accepted its role in all these attacks.
The scourge of ISIS has arrived strongly in the tranquil island nation of Maldives. The political instability in the country has given rise to politically motivated murderous gangs, who also have made their tryst with jihad. Radical Islam is sweeping the country. It is estimated that about 100 Maldivian youth have joined the ISIS in Iraq and Syria since 2013. This is a very high number given the Maldives population base of three lacs. At least, five Maldivians have been killed fighting for the ISIS. The radicalisation of Maldives by the ISIS and other jihadi organisations could spell doom for the Island’s economy. Maldives is heavily dependent on tourism, which provides 60 per cent of foreign exchange and accounts for 28 per cent of the economy.
The ISIS has induced intense churning process in the jihadi discourse in the South Asian Region. Factions of several terrorist organisations have already pledged their allegiance to the organisation or the Caliphate. These include Pakistan based groups such as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Tehrik-e-Khilafat, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Heroes of Islamic Movement in Khurasan and Al-Tawhid Brigade in Khurasan in Afghanistan, and Ansar al-Tawhidfi’Bilad al-Hind in India.
The collapse of stable regimes in the Middle East one after another due to machinations by the Western Countries created power vacuums, rapidly being filled by the ISIS. Ironically, during two years of anti-ISIS bombing by the US and its allies, the ISIS swept through large parts of Middle East and established a Caliphate.
Russia too intervened as it did not want to be economically strangled because of pipeline politics. In this regard, it has suffered hugely on account of Ukraine. One of the major factors of this Syrian crisis is the strategic competition between the West and Russia to supplant the existing Russia—Ukraine—Europe pipeline with the proposed Syria—Qatar—Europe pipeline through the Mediterranean. For Russia, the issue is one of economic life and death. The prevailing Russian economic situation with a shrinking economy of -3.83 per cent is alarming. The only thing apart from defence industry, they have is oil and gas. Therefore, the Russians are likely to contest West Asia doggedly.
As per the Russian Defence Minister, air strikes have already destroyed most of ISIS heavy weapons and ammunition dumps. It is also being claimed that more than 60 per cent of the ISIS logistic infrastructure and fighting wherewithal have been destroyed by Russian action. Apparently, now with the secret understanding possibly out of some strategic bargain, between the West and Russia, the respective efforts to destroy the ISIS have been joined, and the so-called Caliphate is likely to be demolished. Nevertheless there are many strategic imponderables.
Most likely, the ISIS would melt away and operate in penny packets in future. These penny packets operating in various autonomous modes may subsume many local jihadi groups and labour to attract new adherents and recruits to their ideology, which has been propagated through social media to devastating effects. These autonomous entities may be very difficult to monitor. In the near future, it will be instructive to see as to how Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Maldives respond to the splintered and nebulous ISIS, welded together by this powerful Pan-Islamic ideology. With these countries geopolitically impinging directly on India, the new ISIS phenomenon should be of greatest concern to the Indian security apparatus.
By RSN Singh