New Delhi has to be prepared for new Pakistan-based jihadi threats

zawahriThe Islamic State of Iraq and Shams (ISIS) is neither a magical nor a mythical creation but the creation of vested interests. The Afghan Mujahedeen, followed by al-Qaeda and the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), were creations of the Cold War. The Taliban followed. There was no al-Qaeda in Iraq when US troops landed ostensibly to eradicate it and the non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

Al-Qaeda in Arab Peninsula (AQAP) happened subsequently. In short, the ISIS menace today is a result of assaults on Syria since 2011. The organisation may have its ideological territorial battles with AQ fronts like the Jabat al-Nusra in Iraq and Syria, but the truth is that the ISIS was helped along by the West and other Arab nations — notably Saudi Arabia and Qatar, both close to the West and fearful of Iran — with money and arms training to try and dislodge Bashar Al Assad in Syria.

It may be argued that since the West indirectly created the problem, they should be solving the problem. Unfortunately, this is not how the real world functions. As US President Barack Obama underlined in his strongest statement yet about fighting ‘ISIS’s brand of evil together’ from the UN in New York on Wednesday, ISIS and al-Qaeda now pose a menace to the rest of us, India included. ISIS may be attracting a great deal of attention in the West because of the beheadings and kidnappings of foreigners and other Sunni non-conformists, and is not concentrating on India and other regions yet.

It is more likely that other terrorist organisations could copy ISIS tactics in Afghanistanto frighten Indians away. India will have to be prepared to handle this.

The most lethal weaponry will not ensure a military annihilation of the enemy. But the menace has first to be contained militarily before it can be defeated ideologically. Meanwhile, ISIS has acquired a state, the Islamic State (IS) led by Abu Bakr Baghdadi,who heads a brutal vicious ‘regime’ in the name of purifying Islam. Islamic nations are not sure how they want to respond to this — with military strength or through appeasement and acquiescence. The battle against this is going to be equally brutal.

Switch off their oxygen

The world does not need international real-time coverage of this fight. What the world needs is an international coalition that has an immutable definition of terrorism with no caveats, which ruthlessly starves the ISIS of finances, weapons, recruits, food and propaganda. If a sanctions regime has legitimacy, it is here.

Meanwhile, the September 3 video release featuring Ayman al-Zawahiri’s announcement of forming a new branch in the Indian subcontinent could be the result of turf battles between al-Qaeda and IS. We must, however, remember where this is coming from and recall that it is Pakistan, with the help of Taliban in Afghanistan, which is associated with the birth, growth and rise of al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda may have developed its branches or assigned franchise to different parts of the Arab world and into Africa, but its main players remained safe in Pakistan.

The more urgent problem for India is going to be the renewed talk by al-Qaeda about its alleged interest in India. Noted expert Tufail Ahmed points out that al-Qaeda and its associates have remained active in our neighbourhood and the Arab peninsula. In fact, an anti-Indian group was noticed in mid-2013. This group, Ansar ut-Tauheed fi Bilad al-Hind (Supporters of the Islamic Monotheism in India), had trained some Indians in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region. Whatever be the number of terrorist-jihadi organisations active in Pakistan and Afghanistan, their essential feature is the control and direction that the Pakistan military exercises on them as it does on others.

Pakistan-in-waiting

Pakistan has begun preparations to take control of Afghanistan once the Americans leave. This also means excluding Indian influence from Afghanistan. Apart from bolstering and strengthening its assets like the LeT, the Haqqani Network in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the Quetta Shura of Mullah Omar, renewed threats from al-Qaeda have been thrown in.

According to Arif Jamal, author of Call for Transnational Jihad: Lashkar-e-Taiba 1985 to 2014, the LeT today comprises about 3,00,000-5,00,000 active members under arms.

Global ambition

This is an alarmingly large number and as long as Pakistan and the LeT agree that the targets are only Afghanistan and India, this will work. But once the jihadis wish to pursue their global ambitions, the LeT could easily be a threat even to Pakistan. Also, the LeT is an Ahle Hadis outfit and ideologically closer to the Wahabbi al-Qaeda. Which makes these threats continue to be lethal.

The US-led bombing of ISIS has begun. But its chances of a complete success remain bleak. The inevitable collateral damage will create new terrorists as one hears of jihadis morphing with new groups like the Khorasan. There is no substitute to human intelligence and boots on the ground. ISIS may even have made its appearance in Pakistan.

The threat to India and Indian interests will still come from Pakistan-based terrorist forces. The name of the terrorist regiment or the colour of its uniform is not important. Conceivably, the first test for the Modi government will be in Afghanistan.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author.
Courtesy ORF

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