Avoid mis­takes of Pun­jab and Kash­mir with ISIS

Largely un­re­ported in the me­dia, In­dian na­tion­als who joined ISIS con­tinue to be killed in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and even the Philip­pines.

The Sunday Guardian - - World -

In the United States, those with­out med­i­cal in­sur­ance have to wait un­til an ill­ness turns crit­i­cal for them to be ad­mit­ted to a hos­pi­tal, de­spite health­care in such cases be­ing sev­eral times more ex­pen­sive than when an ail­ment is bat­tled at an early stage. Sim­i­larly in India, very of­ten a se­cu­rity threat de­vel­ops in a cli­mate of of­fi­cial de­nial, of­ten for decades, before erupt­ing. Take Kash­mir, where the Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Ab­dul­lah ac­cord fa­cil­i­tated the en­try of Wah­habi groups into the Val­ley be­gin­ning in the 1970s. Sev­eral hun­dred re­li­gious schools men­tored by re­li­gious rad­i­cals were set up, even as hun­dreds were al­lowed to re­turn from the Pakistan-con­trolled side to those parts still left in India. These were largely left alone by se­cu­rity agen­cies as be­ing merely “pi­ous youth”, yet it was these in­di­vid­u­als who par­tic­i­pated in the geno­cide of Pan­dits in Kash­mir. For close to two decades end­ing in 1989, the steady in­doc­tri­na­tion of Kash­miri youth by Wah­habi groups, in­tent on du­pli­cat­ing the Afghanistan strat­egy in India, was un­der­played by se­cu­rity agen­cies. In Pun­jab as well, J.S. Bhin­dran­wale was spon­sored by no less than a Union Home Min­is­ter, be­cause he op­posed the po­lit­i­cal and per­sonal ri­vals of Zail Singh within both the Congress as well as the Akali Dal. Those ac­tive in the ISI-spon­sored Khal­is­tan move­ment in Canada, the US and the UK were al­lowed free en­try into the Pun­jab to spread their toxic mes­sage. For­eign fi­nanciers and pub­li­cists for Khal­is­tan should have their visas can­celled. Those re­cruited by ISIS across India should not be in­dulged as “pi­ous” or “mis­guided” youth, but as vec­tors of ter­ror need­ing to be sani­tised before caus­ing mass ca­su­al­ties.

ISIS rep­re­sents a more po­tent threat to the sta­bil­ity of India be­cause of the bound­ary-less ap­peal of the core doc­trine of the move­ment, which is that its lead­er­ship alone has the knowl­edge and the will to pre­vail over its foes and to pro­vide a gov­er­nance sys­tem that it claims would ap­prox­i­mate that of the golden age of Is­lam. The takeover this year of Marawi in the Philip­pines by ISIS may in­spire clus­ters else­where to at­tempt sim­i­lar land grabs in lo­ca­tions where they con­front in­ad­e­quate or in­com­pe­tent se­cu­rity forces. Takeovers of towns even for a few weeks would cre­ate a desta­bil­is­ing dy­namic and spread of the move­ment within sev­eral coun­tries where un­em­ploy­ment and mis­gov­er­nance are rife. Add to that the po­ten­tial for small groups of re­cruits any­where in the world to com­mit lo­calised acts of mass ter­ror. These in­clude the 80-plus at­tacks—with close to 700 ca­su­al­ties— car­ried out in Europe and North Amer­ica since 2015. The re­gion around India has al­ready been sys­tem­at­i­cally in­fil­trated by ISIS through groups such as the Jun­dul Khal­ifa Bi­lal al Hind and the Wi­layat Kho­rasan. Se­cu­rity agen­cies need to keep pace with such an ex­pan­sion. While two dozen mod­ules in India have been dis­cov­ered and de­stroyed, it could be that ISIS is still in the process of build­ing up its net­work in India, before it be­gins launch­ing at­tacks on the scale seen in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Se­cu­rity agen­cies need to work out coun­terof­fen­sives that mul­ti­ply the use of cy­ber and psy­war before ISIS grad­u­ates from the stage of build­ing up its ca­pa­bil­i­ties to join­ing in the ISI’s ex­ist­ing non-con­ven­tional war against India.

ISIS, the lat­est avatar of global Wah­habi ter­ror, is dis­tin­guished by the so­phis­ti­ca­tion of its so­cial me­dia us­age and reach. Given the de­ter­mined use of en­crypted meth­ods of com­mu­ni­ca­tion by ex­trem­ists, it is cer­tain that a large pro­por­tion of new re­cruits to ISIS in India are as yet un­known to the se­cu­rity agen­cies. Con­ser­va­tive (of­fi­cial) es­ti­mates are that around 400 In­dian na­tion­als have been con­firmed as hav­ing been re­cruited into dif­fer­ent cells of ISIS, but the num­ber is al­most cer­tainly much more. Worse, more than 4,700 rad­i­cals from Malaysia, In­done­sia, Mal­dives, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan have been con­firmed as hav­ing joined ISIS bat­tle groups in Syria, Iraq and Libya. For them, India is a tempt­ing al­terna- tive tar­get, now that the or­gan­i­sa­tion is be­ing pushed back from the ter­ri­tory it has con­trolled since 2014.

Among t he r ea­sons against tak­ing in Ro­hingyas is the fact that the ter­ror hubs in Bangladesh are as en­thu­si­as­tic as their coun­ter­parts in Afghanistan and Pakistan in plan­ning for “bring­ing back through ji­had the glory of the past” to India. Largely un­re­ported in the me­dia, In­dian na­tion­als who joined ISIS con­tinue to be killed in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and even the Philip­pines. A re­cent ca­su­alty was a youth from Kasar­god in Ker­ala, Mo­ham­mad Mar­wan. Over the past two years, es­ti­mates by global se­cu­rity agen­cies com­pute the num­ber of In­dian cit­i­zens killed dur­ing con­fronta­tions with ISIS as be­ing in ex­cess of thirty.

The ear­lier his­tory of down­play­ing threats in Pun­jab and Kash­mir un­til it was too late to save hun­dreds of lives should not be re­peated in the case of ISIS. The virus needs to be elim­i­nated while still in its ini­tial stages of pro­gres­sion, as oth­er­wise it could mu­tate into forms that may take decades to over­come.

Con­ser­va­tive (of­fi­cial) es­ti­mates are that around 400 In­dian na­tion­als have been con­firmed as hav­ing been re­cruited into dif­fer­ent cells of ISIS, but the num­ber is al­most cer­tainly much more.

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