East­ward Bound

The Is­lamic State (IS) has launched a drive east­wards to in­flu­ence the large Mus­lim pop­u­la­tions in the re­gion.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Dr. Raza Khan

The IS looks for new ter­ri­to­ries to con­quer.

The Iraq and Syria-based mil­i­tant­ter­ror­ist group, the Is­lamic State (IS), has been able to get a toe­hold in Afghanistan and de­spite the deep de­sire of its lead­er­ship to ex­pand to Pak­istan, In­dia and Bangladesh, the out­fit has so far has not been able to es­tab­lish an elab­o­rate net­work in the three South Asia coun­tries. How­ever, there is al­ways a huge po­ten­tial for the IS to ex­pand in Afghanistan, Pak­istan, In­dia and Bangladesh.

The de­sire to ex­pand to­wards South Asia and South East Asia is inherent in the agenda of the IS, which wants to es­tab­lish a global Is­lamist caliphate in the world. In this scheme of think­ing of the IS, all the four coun­tries, Afghanistan, Pak­istan, In­dia and Bangladesh, are of cru­cial sig­nif­i­cance. The rea­son is the pre­dom­i­nantly Sunni Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion of th­ese coun­tries save In­dia, which is home of to one of the largest Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties in the world but is dom­i­nated by a huge Hindu ma­jor­ity.

The Mus­lim pop­u­la­tions in all th­ese four coun­tries as well as the Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties in In­dia com­prise

mostly young men and women who are largely dis­sat­is­fied due to bad so­cioe­co­nomic con­di­tions of their coun­tries. More­over, Afghanistan and Pak­istan have served as the ral­ly­ing ground for the Al Qaeda in the re­cent past and the IS knows this quite well.

The IS, which is also known by the names of Is­lamic State in Syria and Le­vant (ISIS) and Daesh in Ara­bic, has the most vis­i­ble pres­ence in Afghanistan. It has es­tab­lished strong sanc­tu­ar­ies in the east­ern Nan­garhar prov­ince bor­der­ing Pak­istan’s Khy­ber Agency as well as Zabul in South Afghanistan and Ku­nar in the north­east along the Pak­istani bor­der. A siz­able, if not large, num­ber of men, mostly for­mer Afghan Tal­iban fight­ers, have joined the IS in Afghanistan. In the be­gin­ning a for­mer Afghan Tal­iban com­man­der, Ab­dul Rahim Mus­lim Dost, be­came the de facto head of the IS in Afghanistan. How­ever, the cen­tral com­man­der and the so-called ‘Caliph’ of the IS based in Iraq and Syria, Abu Bakr Al Bagh­dadi, re­fused to es­tab­lish sep­a­rate chap­ters of the group in Afghanistan and in the South Asian coun­tries. In­stead, in early 2015, he es­tab­lished a re­gional chap­ter, cross­cut­ting sev­eral coun­tries of the IS and termed it the Wilayat-e-Khurasan. Khurasan is the an­cient name of the re­gion com­pris­ing Afghanistan, Pak­istan, Cen­tral Asia and parts of In­dia and Per­sia. Bagh­dadi made Saeed Orakzai, a for­mer Tehreek-eTal­iban Pak­istan (TTP) com­man­der from the Orakzai agency of FATA as the head of Wilayat-e-Khurasan.

A num­ber of TTP com­man­ders also joined the IS in Afghanistan, in­clud­ing for­mer spokesman, Shahidul­lah Shahid. How­ever, Saeed Orakzai was killed in an op­er­a­tion on the Pak­istanAfghanistan bor­der by Pak­istani se­cu­rity forces while Shahidul­lah and sev­eral other top com­man­ders of the IS based in Afghanistan were killed in drone at­tacks in­side Afghanistan. Af­ter th­ese losses and at­tacks on its rank and file, the IS has been in dis­ar­ray in Afghanistan. In or­der to es­tab­lish a firm base, the IS started a turf war with the Afghan Tal­iban. The IS com­mand knows that its best bet in Afghanistan could be for­mer and present Afghan Tal­iban com­man­ders, who are some­how dis­sat­is­fied with the strate­gies of their lead­ers. That is the rea­son that the IS com­man­ders like Bagh­dadi and spokesman Al Ad­nani started ridi­cul­ing the Tal­iban founder Mul­lah Omar and his Is­lamist cre­den­tials. Con­se­quently, a turf war started be­tween the Tal­iban and the IS which has so far claimed the lives of dozens of fight­ers from both the sides.

The rise of the IS in Afghanistan is prima fa­cie sur­pris­ing. There have been re­ports that the Afghan in­tel­li­gence agency, the Na­tional Di­rec­torate of Se­cu­rity (NDS) was be­hind the steady growth of the IS in Afghanistan. The NDS wants to use the IS against its bête noire, Afghan Tal­iban and to con­duct ter­ror­ist at­tacks in­side Pak­istan. As the Afghan se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment is dom­i­nated by the for­mer com­mu­nist era (1973-1992) of­fi­cials, they have a nat­u­ral affin­ity to­wards the IS, which in Iraq is manned by a large num­ber of for­mer com­mu­nists from Sad­dam Hus­sain’s Baathist Party. How­ever, this is a very dan­ger­ous strat­egy which may not at­tain the de­sired re­sults but fur­ther push the re­gion into tur­moil.

IS in Pak­istan is in a bud­ding stage. Dozens of young Pak­istan men and women may have joined the group but it has not been able to flower into an elab­o­rate out­fit. How­ever, more con­cern­ing are the re­ports of Lashkar-e-Jhanghvi (LeJ) and Pak­istan­based Ira­nian-Sunni mil­i­tant out­fit, Jun­dul­lah, join­ing the IS. The com­mon ground for the three groups is their anti-Shi­ite ori­en­ta­tion and agenda. The killing of LeJ head, Malik Ishaq, along with his two sons in July 2015 in a pur­ported po­lice ‘en­counter’ while be­ing trans­ported with a po­lice es­cort in Muz­za­far­garh (Pun­jab) seems to be the re­sult of his group re­port­edly join­ing the IS.

The Pak­istani Army Chief Gen­eral Ra­heel Sharif has made it equiv­o­cally clear that his forces would not let even a shadow of the IS on Pak­istan. But with a huge Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion, the ma­jor­ity of which com­prises young men and women and a large num­ber of whom are part of the ex­trem­ist religious mi­lieu, there is great po­ten­tial for the IS to get re­cruits and fund­ing from Pak­istan. The per­va­sive­ness of the rad­i­cal Is­lamist nar­ra­tive in the coun­try due to de-con­tex­tu­al­ized and selec­tive ex­e­ge­sis of the holy scrip­ture by ex­trem­ist groups for vested in­ter­ests, could also drive many to join the IS. It is sur­pris­ing to note that the largest and dead­li­est ter­ror­ist net­work in Pak­istan, the TTP, has dis­missed the agenda of the IS and termed the tac­tics of the group as ‘un-Is­lamic.’ The an­nounce­ment from the TTP some months back that it did not rec­og­nize the Is­lamic State (IS) top com­man­der, Abu Bakr Al Bagh­dadi‘s self-ap­point­ment as a ‘caliph’ of the Mus­lims across the globe as be­ing le­git­i­mate. The TTP made the an­nounce­ment in a re­cent state­ment re­ported by in­ter­na­tional me­dia. The state­ment read: “Bagh­dadi is not an Is­lamic Khal­ifa be­cause his se­lec­tion is not ac­cord­ing to Is­lamic rules,” adding that the IS leader had lit­tle con­trol in Mus­lim coun­tries like Egypt, Libya, Ye­men and Afghanistan. “Bagh­dadi is not Khal­ifa (caliph) be­cause in Is­lam, Khal­ifa means that he has com­mand over all the Mus­lim world, while Bagh­dadi has no such com­mand; he has com­mand over a spe­cific peo­ple and ter­ri­tory,” the state­ment fur­ther stated.

Af­ter this an­nounce­ment by the TTP, it could now be ex­pected that at least for the time be­ing the largest ter­ror­ist and in­sur­gent group in Pak­istan would not forge an al­liance with the IS. This would have been dis­as­trous for Pak­istan and would have un­leashed an un­prece­dented reign of ter­ror in the coun­try. Nev­er­the­less, the foot­prints of the IS in Pak­istan have al­ready been ev­i­dent as the in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the Safoorah Goth in­ci­dent in Karachi re­veals. The IS in Pak­istan is far from be­ing a re­al­ity but there is a great po­ten­tial for the group to grow de­pend­ing upon two key fac­tors - the qual­ity and quan­tity of coun­ter­mea­sures from the govern­ment and the will­ing­ness of splin­ter groups of the TTP to join the group. On one oc­ca­sion, six key com­man­ders, in­clud­ing Omar Khalid Khurasani, a deputy of the TTP founder Bait­ul­lah Mehsud, an­nounced their join­ing IS but there were also re­ports that they re­joined the TTP. Any­how, if more and more fac­tions and in­di­vid­ual mil­i­tants emerg­ing from the TTP join the IS, this

would wreak havoc in Pak­istan.

The IS has not es­tab­lished a strong or­ga­ni­za­tion in In­dia so far but the group has very clear in­ten­tions to ex­pand to that coun­try. In De­cem­ber 2015, the IS vowed to ex­pand its fight to In­dia, cit­ing prophe­cies that re­fer to a global war. The threat is made in a new man­i­festo ti­tled “Black Flags from the Is­lamic State” re­leased on­line on mil­i­tant web­sites. “The Is­lamic State would now ex­pand be­yond Iraq and Syria,” states the man­i­festo. “It would now ex­pand into… In­dia, Pak­istan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan (and sev­eral other coun­tries).” From the word­ings of the IS fu­ture plans for the re­gion, it is quite clear that the IS has not yet ex­panded. From ex­pan­sion the IS lead­er­ship may mean es­tab­lish­ing a strong and elab­o­rate net­work. While re­veal­ing plans re­gard­ing In­dia, the IS has an­a­lyzed the sit­u­a­tion there af­ter cer­tain hard-hit­ting poli­cies and mea­sures re­gard­ing Mus­lims by the Hindu na­tion­al­ist govern­ment of Prime Min­is­ter Modi.

The IS man­i­festo re­gard­ing In­dia says: “A move­ment of Hin­dus is grow­ing who kill Mus­lims who eat beef. The peo­ple who fund th­ese or­ga­ni­za­tions want to grow a huge fol­low­ing of Is­lam-haters who can turn into po­ten­tial re­cruits for fu­ture wars in their coun­tries”. It fur­ther stated: “Pres­i­dent (mis­tak­enly re­ferred so) Naren­dra Modi (sic) is a rightwing Hindu na­tion­al­ist who wor­ships weapons and is pre­par­ing his peo­ple for a fu­ture war against Mus­lims. They have a political wing for the pro­pa­ganda to get more re­cruits and armed mili­tia who can start a ter­ror cam­paign against their num­ber 1 en­emy — the Mus­lims.”

This man­i­festo must ring alarm bells in Delhi where the BJP govern­ment of PM Modi has been tak­ing sev­eral anti-Mus­lim mea­sures which would in­crease un­rest among the mil­lions of Mus­lims in In­dia. The IS has a huge po­ten­tial to get re­cruits and fi­nances from among In­dia’s de­jected In­dian Mus­lim youth, whose num­ber is in the mil­lions. If a few thou­sand In­dian Mus­lims would join the IS, it would be cat­a­strophic for the coun­try. In Novem­ber, some for­eign in­tel­li­gence agen­cies com­piled a re­port on the IS which they also shared with the In­dian govern­ment, claim­ing that thus far 23 In­di­ans had joined the IS in Syria and Iraq of which six got killed in fight­ing. The dead were iden­ti­fied as Athif Vaseem Mo­ham­mad (Adi­l­abad, Te­lan­gana), Mo­ham­mad Umar Sub­han (Ban­ga­lore, Kar­nataka), Maulana Ab­dul Kadir Sul­tan Ar­mar (Bhatkal, Kar­nataka), Sa­heem Fa­rooque Tanki (Thane, Maharashtra), Faiz Ma­sood ( Ban­ga­lore, Kar­nataka) and Mo­ham­mad Sa­jid alias Bada Sa­jid (Aza­m­garh, Ut­tar Pradesh).

Bangladesh seems to be the only South Asian coun­try which has the strong­est pres­ence of the IS. The IS it­self rec­og­nizes and links a num­ber of at­tacks on for­eign­ers in Bangladesh to its sleeper cells. The group ded­i­cated a full ar­ti­cle to their ac­tiv­i­ties in Bangladesh or "Ben­gal" as it refers to the coun­try, in a re­cent edi­tion of its on­line pro­pa­ganda mag­a­zine Dabiq. The ar­ti­cle ti­tled The Re­vival of Ji­had in Ben­gal claimed that while IS was busy pre­par­ing for fur­ther at­tacks, the sec­u­lar Awami League govern­ment of Hasina Wa­jid con­tin­ued to “twist the facts” on the ground and play a blame game that there was no IS in her coun­try. Sur­pris­ingly, the Ja­maat-e-Is­lami Bangladesh, many of whose lead­ers have been ex­e­cuted or in­car­cer­ated by the Hasina Wa­jid sec­u­lar govern­ment, has also been crit­i­cized by the IS and termed its lead­ers as mur­taddin (apos­tates).

The ar­ti­cle also con­sid­ered the banned Is­lamic mil­i­tant out­fit Ja­maatul Mu­jahideen Bangladesh (JMB) a “proper ji­had or­gan­i­sa­tion in Bangladesh based on the Qu­ran and Sun­nah.” There is greater like­li­hood for the JMP to join hands with Bangladesh. At a time when at­tacks on for­eign­ers and Bangladeshi sec­u­lar and non­re­li­gious writ­ers and in­tel­lec­tu­als are grow­ing un­der a tidal wave of religious ex­trem­ism, the agenda of the IS for Bangladesh could have an in­ter­ac­tive ef­fect, lead­ing to en­trench­ing of the group in Bangladesh and con­duct of more ter­ror­ist at­tacks.

South Asia is a choices re­gion for the IS to ex­pand but this would de­pend on the re­spec­tive govern­ment, as to whether they have what it takes to quar­an­tine their ter­ri­to­ries from the east­wards ex­pan­sion of the IS.

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