Offensive against Daesh (IS)
Syria during 2015. There are several million people living in these areas. As evidence of its brutality, ISIS has released videos showing decapitation of hostages from US, Japan and other countries, sometimes by young executioners. It has been accused of killing numerous people belonging to non-Muslim minorities like Yazidis and Christians, and brutalities against women and others. IS has destroyed ancient monuments and relics of religious or cultural significance. It has won allegiance of some extremist groups in Libya, Nigeria and elsewhere. In fact, it claims allegiance of Muslims all over the world by virtue of being the Khilafat. However, no Muslim country has accepted this claim and all of them have strongly condemned the atrocities of IS.
It is notable that IS has attracted volunteers from countries in many parts of world, including US and European countries. According to statistics of a Western think tank, ISIS has 5,000 volunteers from Tunisia, 2,500 from Saudi Arabia, 2,400 from Russia, and 2,000 each from France and Jordan. There are said to be 500 recruits from Pakistan. Some of them are young men and women, attracted either by message of IS or having a personal revolutionary agenda of their own. Islamophobia in West is partially responsible for joining of IS by a number of Muslims in those countries.
Historically speaking, Islamist extremism has had several causes. Over the centuries, going back to the Khwarij who fought against Hazrat Ali (RA), there have been fundamentalist groups in Muslim societies, insisting on reestablishing ‘purity’ of the original Islamic model, by rejecting Email:firstname.lastname@example.org ‘corrupting influences’. The word ‘assassin’ traces its origin to the terrorist group of Hassan-I Sabah in the Middle Ages, who used assassins to kill leading Muslims of the day. Most such groups have exhibited a fanatical, self-righteous attitude and have sought to impose their narrow point of view by violent means.
Some extremist groups at the present time are Sunni Muslims inspired by Wahhabism, which emerged in 18th century Arabia and, its offshoot, the Salafi movement. Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) in Egypt had some similar views. In the 1980s, the Afghan Jihad against the Soviet military occupation brought volunteers from Arab countries and elsewhere. The US, which was motivated by its anti-Soviet agenda, provided them military support and training. In this context, Pakistan became the main conduit. The end product was that thousands of Afghan Jihadists were radicalized and militarized. They have evolved into violent militant groups of various kinds in different countries. Al-Qaeda became the most prominent amongst them after 9/11. More recently, IS has emerged as the most violent of these militant groups.
The Mosul military offensive mainly involves Iraqi troops, backed by US military advisers, and the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga, with some support of other countries in the region and beyond, who see IS as an enemy and threat. The offensive has made slow but steady progress, partially because the ISIS fighters are well dug in and have planted explosives all over. They are highly-motivated and also have many suicide bombers in their ranks. Moreover, the situation is complicated because Mosul is a key city with a majority Arab, Sunni population. The Shia-led Iraqi government is wary that if Kurd forces get inside the city, they might seek to make it part of Kurdish territory. Turkey also has some historical claims to this area, which creates anxiety in Iraq. All of them are against IS but have mutual issues between them.
The Mosul offensive should succeed in the near future but IS will continue to control large areas. It is a beneficiary of the prolonged civil war in Syria in which regional and world powers have been supporting opposite sides. In the resultant chaos, IS has flourished, particularly in the less populated desert areas of Syria. Incidentally, many IS members were professional soldiers in Saddam’s army. There are also reports that IS has received financial and other help from wealthy supporters in Gulf States.
The more fundamental question is how to tackle the phenomenon of extremism in Muslim societies, which has led to emergence of IS and other militant groups. Apart from a desire to impose their fanatical version of Islam on other Muslims, such extremist groups have also fed on some external factors viz. the perception that Muslims have been denied their due rights, e.g. in Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya, etc. Western backing for Israeli aggression against Arabs has outraged Muslim opinion. Also, in recent years, several Muslim countries have been the victim of aggression by non-Muslim states. Some Muslim groups are also reacting to Islamophobia in Western countries. A holistic approach has to be adopted to eradicate extremism in Muslim societies, to remove both its internal and external causes. — The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the ex-Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.