Invitation to Doom

Al Qaeda Chief Ay­man al-Zawahiri has re­leased a video mes­sage which is an open invitation for mil­i­tant out­fits in South Asia to seize the reins of power and chal­lenge the writ of state.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Taha Ke­har

The rise in Is­lamic rad­i­cal­ism and mil­i­tancy is a creep­ing threat for South Asia.

Through a video re­leased on an on­line ji­hadist fo­rum, Al Qaeda Chief Ay­man al-Zawahiri an­nounced a South Asian branch for the global mil­i­tant or­ga­ni­za­tion. The new wing will serve as a cat­a­lyst that will strengthen the yoke of Is­lamic rad­i­cal­ism in the re­gion. How­ever, the decision is bound to stoke com­mu­nal ten­sions and nav­i­gate the re­gion to­wards an un­cer­tain fu­ture.

Ac­cord­ing to al-Zawahiri, the newly an­nounced wing will blur the ‘ar­ti­fi­cial bound­aries’ that di­vide the Mus­lims of the re­gion. Qae­dat al-Ji­had, a splin­ter group of the mil­i­tant or­ga­ni­za­tion, has been de­signed to ex­tend the reach of Al-Qaeda’s strug­gle to In­dia, Myan­mar

and Bangladesh.

How­ever, the over­all fo­cus of this mis­sion re­mains, at best, du­bi­ous. Con­ven­tional wis­dom would have us be­lieve that a po­lit­i­cal out­fit crumbles in the ab­sence of a leader. Al-Qaeda’s mis­sion to re­store a Mus­lim caliphate has been sig­nif­i­cantly com­pro­mised after Osama bin Laden’s cap­ture and sub­se­quent killing by U.S. com­man­dos in May 2011.

Ini­tially, the mil­i­tant group’s off­shoots in Africa and the Arab Penin­sula had given it a run for its money. How­ever, the rise of the Is­lamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria has led to its mis­sion be­ing ap­pro­pri­ated and revamped. The in­tro­duc­tion of a new wing with an am­bi­tious goal comes across as an at­tempt to re­store the mil­i­tant or­ga­ni­za­tion’s mo­nop­oly and bring it back into the lime­light.

In the video mes­sage, Zawahiri claims that the en­tity has been in the works for the last two years. Al-Qaeda has billed the new splin­ter group as an at­tempt to unite the mu­ja­hedeen in the In­dian sub-con­ti­nent and rein­vig­o­rate the Is­lamic caliphate. De­spite the fact that the mis­sion is based on a clear and con­sis­tent phi­los­o­phy, it takes ad­van­tage of the grow­ing preva­lence of com­mu­nal un­rest in Kashmir and Myan­mar.

Zawahiri’s call to wage ji­had and re­store the sovereignty of Is­lam fol­lows a fa­mil­iar rhetoric and com­pels Mus­lims to break away from the de­cep­tion of sec­u­lar democ­racy and the rule of law.

The 55-minute video mes­sage uses the cur­rent state of the world as the main plank to gain support for their cause and por­trays the anti-state sen­ti­ments in a num­ber of coun­tries in a rad­i­cal and sen­sa­tional man­ner. At a time when a right-wing agenda has be­come the or­der of the day in In­dia, Ay­man alZawahiri’s ex­hor­ta­tions to Mus­lims in In­dia will strengthen the po­lar­iza­tion based on re­li­gion. As a re­sult, Zawahiri’s call could tem­po­rar­ily serve the nar­row in­ter­ests of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s gov­ern­ment on the elec­toral front and pro­vide an im­pe­tus to Hindu con­sol­i­da­tion in In­dia.

Given the threat of fur­ther com­mu­nal un­rest, Shyam Saran – a for­mer In­dian for­eign sec­re­tary who heads the Re­search and In­for­ma­tion Sys­tem for De­vel­op­ing Coun­tries – ex­pressed his con­cerns over the spillover ef­fects of mil­i­tancy in Pak­istan and Afghanistan on In­dia. Saran con­demned Zawahiri’s mes­sage, terming it as an at­tempt to com­pete with the IS. He billed the com­pe­ti­tion as a fright­en­ing prospect that would weaken progress in the re­gion as it would use vi­o­lence as a yard­stick to de­ter­mine clout.

Th­ese warn­ings can­not be ig­nored sim­ply be­cause the Mus­lims in In­dia are gen­er­ally mod­er­ate. Although re­cent acts of ter­ror­ism in the coun­try – in­clud­ing the 2008 at­tack on the Taj in Mumbai by Pak­istani gun­men – were or­ches­trated by Mus­lims from abroad, the ex­pan­sion of Al-Qaeda will have strong im­pli­ca­tions for In­dian so­ci­ety. After all, young peo­ple are more sus­cep­ti­ble to ac­cept the rad­i­cal mind­set and or­ches­trate a dam­ag­ing

Ay­man al-Zawahiri’s ex­hor­ta­tions to In­dian Mus­lims will strengthen the po­lar­iza­tion based on re­li­gion, serve the nar­row in­ter­ests of the BJP gov­ern­ment on the elec­toral front and pro­vide an im­pe­tus to Hindu con­sol­i­da­tion in In­dia.

wave of mil­i­tancy.

In­ter­est­ingly, this is not the first time that Al-Qaeda has made an at­tempt to raise the stakes of Is­lamic ex­trem­ism in the re­gion. Nearly seven months ago, Zawahiri re­leased an audio mes­sage ad­dress­ing the Mus­lims of Bangladesh. Through the on­line mes­sage, he chalked out a strat­egy to in­duce a so­cial awak­en­ing in Bangladesh, In­dia and Myan­mar.

How­ever, Zawahiri’s lat­est video mes­sage will only be lauded as an open invitation to seize the reins and chal­lenge the writ of the state by mil­i­tant out­fits. Al-Qaeda’s mes­sage may of­fer a blan­ket jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for rad­i­cal­ism and trig­ger vi­o­lence. The main rea­son for this is that the mil­i­tant or­ga­ni­za­tion has di­rected its at­ten­tion to­wards volatile coun­tries that are sus­cep­ti­ble to disorder.

Law en­force­ment agen­cies in Bangladesh have made con­sis­tent ef­forts to re­sist the emer­gence of this trend. Shortly after the video was re­leased, The Dhaka Tri­bune, a news­pa­per in Bangladesh, spoke to Monirul Is­lam, joint com­mis­sioner of the De­tec­tive Branch of the Dhaka Met­ro­pol­i­tan Po­lice. The of­fi­cial – who had pre­vi­ously made ef­forts to quash the rise of ter­ror­ism in the coun­try – pro­vided as­sur­ances that the ac­tiv­i­ties of the mil­i­tants would be checked and un­der­mined. Monirul Is­lam raised doubts about the authenticity of the mes­sage. How­ever, the sig­nif­i­cance of a threat can­not be un­der­mined sim­ply be­cause it is dif­fi­cult to trust its source. At this crit­i­cal junc­ture, ter­ror­ism has emerged as a force to be reck­oned with. State ac­tors can­not un­der­mine its rel­e­vance at any cost.

Fur­ther­more, it is dif­fi­cult to ac­cept the ar­gu­ment that most mil­i­tant groups are frag­mented and have no of­fi­cial links with Al-Qaeda. This does not au­to­mat­i­cally re­duce the like­li­hood of mil­i­tant ac­tiv­ity in­creas­ing in the coun­try. In ad­di­tion, the ab­sence of a clear frame­work to im­ple­ment the in­ten­tions of the mil­i­tant or­ga­ni­za­tion can­not weaken the yoke of Is­lamic rad­i­cal­ism.

An­a­lysts be­lieve that the pres­ence of per­sonal ties be­tween Bangladeshi mil­i­tant lead­ers and Al-Qaeda can stoke ten­sions in the coun­try. They have raised some per­ti­nent points to ver­ify this the­ory. For in­stance, the Harkatul-Ji­had-al-Is­lami – the first mil­i­tant out­fit in Bangladesh – has al­legedly started build­ing links with Al-Qaeda. More­over, a new mil­i­tant group named He­fazat-e-Is­lam al­legedly al­lowed and helped Zawahiri to re­lease an audio mes­sage in Bangladesh.

De­spite the lack of or­ga­ni­za­tional links with Al-Qaeda in Bangladesh, mil­i­tancy and the rise of Is­lamic rad­i­cal­ism is a creep­ing threat that will give rise to a dan­ger­ous mind­set. Zawahiri’s video mes­sage serves as a por­tent of doom. It is based on the agenda to re­vive the scope of Al-Qaeda in the re­gion and con­se­quently stir up ex­ist­ing ten­sions by ex­ploit­ing re­li­gious sen­ti­ments.

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