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.
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
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.