IN­TER­NA­TIONAL Method in Mad­ness

The foot­print of the IS con­tin­ues to ex­pand while ma­jor Mus­lim coun­tries are locked in never-end­ing dis­putes.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By S.M.Hali The writer is a prac­tis­ing jour­nal­ist. He con­trib­utes to the print media, con­ducts a TV show and pro­duces doc­u­men­taries.

Fri­day June 26, 2015 was one of the blood­i­est Fri­days in re­cent history. On the sec­ond Fri­day of the holy month of Ramadan, a volley of terror at­tacks struck across three con­ti­nents, leav­ing dozens dead in Tu­nisia, Kuwait and France, just days af­ter the mil­i­tant group Is­lamic State (IS) is­sued a call to arms. Only a year af­ter Abu Bakr al-Bagh­dadi’s self-procla­ma­tion as Caliph of a world­wide Caliphate, the IS urged ji­hadists to strike in the holy month of Ramadan to wreak havoc on the “apos­tates” seek­ing mar­tyr­dom declar­ing that they are 10 times more likely to be ac­cepted into par­adise in the holy month. While the IS la­bels the west as apos­tates in a generic term, in a the­o­log­i­cal mo­ti­va­tion it has de­clared the Shias too as apos­tates thus jus­ti­fy­ing tar­get­ing them. In fact the IS is try­ing to cre­ate dis­cord be­tween Shia and Sunni pop­u­la­tions for its po­lit­i­cal gains.

The spate of vi­o­lence came at an opportune mo­ment be­cause IS was un­der pres­sure, hav­ing lost ground in Syria, Iraq and most re­cently, Libya. This gave the group a greater in­cen­tive to hit back and re­gain mo­men­tum.

The over­all im­pact on the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion must be viewed in light of the agenda of the IS. Un­like Al-Qaeda, which is more of an ide­ol­ogy, the IS is in­tent upon ac­quir­ing ter­ri­tory to es­tab­lish the “Is­lamic State”. To date the IS, mostly com­pris­ing Sunni Arabs, has con­trol over ter­ri­tory oc­cu­pied by ten mil­lion peo­ple in Iraq and Syria, as well as lim­ited ter­ri­to­rial con­trol in Libya, Egypt and Nige­ria. The group also op­er­ates or has af­fil­i­ates in other parts of the world like its re­cent ingress into South Asia, specif­i­cally the re­gion called Kho­rasan, lay­ing claim to ter­ri­tory in Afghanistan, Iran, Pak­istan and parts of In­dia. Dis­turbingly, young vol­un­teers in­clud­ing fe­males have joined the group from Europe, USA, Far East and Aus­tralia while splin­ter groups from Tehreek-e-Tal­iban Pak­istan (TTP) and dis­grun­tled mem­bers of the Afghan Tal­iban have also de­clared al­le­giance to the IS. The Afghan province of Nan­garhar is wit­ness­ing a turf war be­tween the Tal­iban and the IS fight­ers and iron­i­cally, now US drone at­tacks are tar­get­ing the en­e­mies of the Tal­iban, the IS, lest they es­tab­lish their foun­da­tions in the re­gion. Some terror at­tacks in Pak­istan also in­di­cate IS foot­print.

Com­ing back to the Mid­dle East, where the IS is cur­rently en­trenched,

its aim is tot desta­bi­lize the Arab world and fish in trou­bled wa­ters where tur­moil an­dan strife al­ready ex­isted, like Syria, Libya, Ye­men and now Egypt. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, the strat­egy of the IS is to ex­pand the ter­ri­tory un­der its con­trol and widen its reach to ev­ery con­ti­nent to lever­age its abil­ity to in­tim­i­date the world. Abu Muham­mad al-Ad­nani, the chief spokesman for IS, has re­leased a state­ments urg­ing ji­hadists to at­tack Western tar­gets. IS does not want democ­racy to suc­cess­fully take root in Arab coun­tries and is also tar­get­ing coun­tries it per­ceives to be close to the west.

Fol­low­ing the Arab Spring of 2011, Tu­nisia has emerged as one of the most lib­eral Arab Spring coun­tries. Its re­cent elec­tions por­tray a ro­bust democ­racy, where so­cial pol­i­tics have an affin­ity for the west, thus mak­ing it a prime tar­get. Tourism is one of the ma­jor sources of rev­enue for Tu­nisia and an at­trac­tion for the west. It suf­fered the Bardo Mu­seum at­tack in March, which had an IS foot­print all over. The latest as­sault in which a Tu­nisian stu­dent opened fire on hol­i­day-mak­ers at a sea­side ho­tel is likely to crip­ple the tourist trade. Although the IS did not claim re­spon­si­bil­ity but the syn­chro­nized tim­ing of the at­tack points fin­gers to­wards the IS. The aim is to per­haps cre­ate chaos and con­fu­sion in Tu­nisia just like the IS man­aged to take ad­van­tage of the murky sit­u­a­tion in Libya by adding to the may­hem and bed­lam, then of­fer­ing se­cu­rity to the res­i­dents, mak­ing them more open to­wards the Is­lamic State.

The at­tack on Kuwait has a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive since the coun­try was very sta­ble and wealthy like Saudi Ara­bia but tar­get­ing Shia mosques is de­signed to cre­ate a wedge be­tween the Shias and Sun­nis and also gain sym­pa­thy of the ma­jor­ity Sunni pop­u­la­tion in both coun­tries. The King­dom of Saudi Ara­bia and State of Kuwait are on the hit list of the IS. Saudi Ara­bia is in­fa­mous for per­se­cut­ing the Shia mi­nor­ity thus the IS may be on the one hand send­ing a clear mes­sage to the House of Saud while on the other, it is en­hanc­ing the ap­peal of the ide­ol­ogy of IS, which seeks to es­tab­lish a caliphate and top­ple the monar­chy. It is again no co­in­ci­dence that the young engi­neer who opened fire at two mil­i­tary fa­cil­i­ties in Chat­tanooga, USA, killing four Marines and in­jur­ing three oth­ers, has been iden­ti­fied as Muham­mad Youssef Ab­du­lazeez, a nat­u­ral­ized US citizen from Kuwait who could have acted un­der di­rec­tions from the IS.

It is im­per­a­tive to ex­am­ine the ter­ri­to­rial claims by the group out­side Syria and Iraq. Abu Bakr al-Bagh­dadi an­nounced in Novem­ber 2014 new wilay­ats, or prov­inces: in Libya (Wi­layat al-Bar­qah, Wi­layat al-Tarab­u­lus, and Wi­layat al-Fizan), Al­ge­ria (Wi­layat alJazair), Egypt (Wi­layat Si­nai), Ye­men (Wi­layat Sanaa), and Saudi Ara­bia (Wi­layat al-Hara­mayn). In Jan­uary 2015, the new province of Wi­layat Kho­rasan was added while in March 2015 another new province was de­clared in and around North­ern Nige­ria (Wi­layat Gharb Afriqiya), and a North Cau­ca­sus province (Wi­layat Qawqaz) was an­nounced in June 2015.

At the mo­ment, sixty coun­tries are in al­liance with the USA to check the on­slaught of the IS but so far the coali­tion has re­fused to com­mit ground troops and is en­gaged in aerial tar­get­ing from dif­fer­ent air­borne plat­forms, which has failed to achieve the de­sired ef­fects. The Is­lamic world is un­for­tu­nately di­vided. Tur­key re­fuses to out­rightly sup­port an anti-IS op­er­a­tion in Syria till its con­tro­ver­sial ruler Bashar al-Asad is de­posed. Iran is sup­port­ing Shia mili­tias in Iraq and Syria to con­front the IS but the Saudis’ dis­trust of Iran con­strains their be­com­ing al­lies. Egyp­tian forces are en­gaged in try­ing to dis­lodge the IS from Si­nai but to no avail so far. In Afghanistan, the Tal­iban are bat­tling the IS but si­mul­ta­ne­ously they are con­duct­ing their spring of­fen­sive against the Afghan gov­ern­ment, which is adding to the crit­i­cal di­vide in the war rav­aged coun­try, rather than unit­ing them to chal­lenge the threat. Pak­istan is still in a state of de­nial re­gard­ing the ex­is­tence of IS anon its ter­ri­tory. The over­all mi­lieu makes it ripe for the IS to at­tain ingress as well as ex­tend its ap­peal to ap­par­ently ed­u­cated and en­light­ened Mus­lims both in the Ori­ent and the Oc­ci­dent to be­lieve in the es­tab­lish­ment of a salafi­ji­hadism – an ul­tra-con­ser­va­tive and trans-na­tional Caliphate gov­erned by sev­enth cen­tury laws . No won­der then that the IS fo­cus on Mus­lims - car­ry­ing out in­di­vid­ual ji­had, as op­posed to col­lec­tive ji­had – is hav­ing the de­sired ef­fect in the US and else­where. The trio of at­tacks men­tioned ear­lier and more re­cent events are mak­ing the sit­u­a­tion grim, mer­it­ing in­stant col­lec­tive at­ten­tion rather than pay­ing lip sym­pa­thy only.

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