Proclamation of Caliphate by ISIS: Challenges for India

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“The legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organizations, becomes null by the expansion of the khalifah’s authority and arrival of its troops to their areas”- Abu Muhammad al-Adnani

On June 29, 2014 at the beginning of the Holy month of Ramzan (Ramadan), a group called the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL) (also known as ISIS), declared the establishment of an Islamic ‘Caliphate’ in the areas controlled  by it in Iraq and Syria. The Caliphate was subsequently rechristened ‘Islamic State (IS)’ and their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed ‘Caliph’.  The group’s spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani said in a statement, ‘He is the Imam and Khalifah (Caliph) for the Muslims everywhere,’ and asked all Muslim groups around the world to pay allegiance to him.  ‘It is incumbent upon all Muslims to pledge allegiance to (him) and support him…The legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organizations, becomes null by the expansion of the Khalifah’s authority and arrival of its troops to their areas,’ the statement added. Earlier in June, in a lightening advance, ISIS had captured areas in western and northern Iraq and amalgamated them with areas of northern and eastern Syria that had been under their control for nearly two years.

Charles Lister, Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Doha Centre, considers the announcement of the restoration of the caliphate as the most significant development in international jihadism since 9/11. The rise of ISIS and the proclamation has raised serious concerns not only in the Middle East but also around the globe.

How do these events affect India? Do we need to be concerned? In this blog post I try to address these questions.

Nostalgia of caliphate and international jihad

The idea of caliphate evokes a deep nostalgia for Islam’s glory and power in the minds of Muslims around the world, Indian Muslims being no exception. This coupled with the present state of the Muslim Ummah characterised by political instability, economic and technological backwardness and perceived domination of  Muslim regimes by the west, fuel a desire to ‘revert’  to the ‘golden’ age of the caliphate amongst many Muslims. Many Salafist theoreticians, prominent amongst them being Maulana Maududi and Syed Qutb in their writings have proclaimed the establishment of the caliphate as divinely ordained. They also lay down the ‘divine’ plan for the establishment of the caliphate. These Salafists divide history into two parts, the period of ‘jahiliyyah’ (ignorance) and the period of ‘Islam’. The present world is the world of ‘jahiliyyah’ which will be followed by the world of Islam. To achieve the world of Islam, ‘jihad’ has to be carried out in three stages, the first being the strengthening of one’s faith (adherence to Salafist Islam), the second ‘hijrat’ (moving from ‘infidel’ communities to ‘faithful’ communities) and third ‘jihad’.  It is not surprising then that the ISIS has been using social media and YouTube as propaganda tools that show Muslims from around the world congregating in the areas controlled by it, burning their passports (hijrat), pledging allegiance to the caliphate (IS), and eulogizing jihad. The video posted shows these jihadis from foreign countries threatening their country of origin with jihad once they return.

The virus of international jihad has not affected Indian Muslims much to the chagrin of international jihadist organizations like the Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda has generally failed to win recruits in India; so much so that an Urdu video posted on As-Shabab (media wing of Al-Qaeda) featuring the militant cleric Maulana Aasim Umar, in June 2013 asked the Indian Muslims in frustration, ‘Why is there no storm in your ocean?’ As per a newspaper report (‘Al- Qaeda’s Indian dilemma’, Tufail Ahmed, 27 June 2013, New Indian Express), ‘in the years after 9/11 only three Indians reportedly got entangled in international jihadi networks: Kafeel Ahmed, a Bangalore-born Muslim who was raised in Saudi Arabia, died carrying out a car bombing at the Glasgow airport; Dhiren Barot aka Abu Musa al-Hindi, a Vadodara-born Hindu who got radicalized in Britain, converted to Islam and is imprisoned over his role in jihad; Mohammad Niaz, who was arrested in Paris and is believed to have ties to the Students Islamic Movement of India. These cases of jihadi radicalization occurred abroad (not in India).’ However, the situation may have changed recently with some Indian nationals having joined the Al-Qaeda. Indians have been seen training with other Al-Qaeda terrorists in the propaganda videos released by As-Shabab.  Following the arrest of alleged Indian Mujahideen operative Yasin Bhatkal last August, investigators found evidence of two youths from Azamgarh in UP having gone to Afghanistan to join al-Qaeda and ‘fighting in Afghanistan-Pakistan border’.

The aim of the IS caliphate is to establish Islamic world domination of which India forms a part. The map released by the IS shows India under the ‘Islamic State of Khorasan’ which comprises areas of Iran, the Central Asian republics, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It would be worthwhile to mention here that the region of ‘Khorasan’ holds a very important place in the idea of Jihad and is rooted in ‘faith’. It is said that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) prophesized that ancient Khorasan would be the initial theatre of war for the ‘End of Times’ battles. This initial battle ground also incorporates ‘Ghazwa-e-Hind’, or the battle of India. Syed Saleem Shahzad in his book ‘Inside the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban’ argues that it is because of this belief that Al-Qaeda, despite being an Arab organization chose South Asia and Afghanistan as the areas to start its  jihadist struggle. He writes, ‘It is part of Islamic faith that the Prophet’s predictions will come to pass, and once the Muslim armies have won the battle of Khorasan and India, they will march to the Middle East to join forces with the promised Mahdi (the ultimate reformer), and do battle against the Antichrist and its Western allies for the liberation of Palestine.’

Radicalization of Muslim youth

The establishment of IS has raised genuine concerns in the Indian security establishment about the radicalization of Indian Muslim youth. The New Indian Express (Intelligence fears Iraq conflict tremors in India, 6 July 2014), quoting intelligence sources reported that ‘Indian agencies have also warned of Al-Qaeda al-Hind (AQAH) penetration and alleged tie up with SIMI and Indian Mujahadeen (IM) to carry out terror activities in India. An offshoot of Al-Qaeda, AQAH is said to be involved in recruiting terror cells in IM’s fertile ground in Bihar, UP and Rajasthan to carry out Jihad in Syria and Iraq.’

There have been reports of Indian nationals fighting with the ISIS in Syria and Iraq. A Tamil Nadu born Singapore resident,Haji Fakkurudin Usman Ali was reported to be fighting for the ISIS in Syria. Ali is believed to have been radicalised by another man from Tamil Nadu called Gul Mohammad Maraikar, who was deported to India recently. The Times of India (June 9, 2014) reported that Indian agencies were monitoring the activities of 18 Indian youth currently based in Iraq and Syria over their suspected involvement in sectarian violence in these countries. Similarly Indian Express (July 14, 2014), reported that four youths from Mumbai had joined the IS to wage jihad. Though the figures may not be large the government is wary that these youths, on their return may unleash violence in India.

As an on and off reader of Urdu newspapers, I find the attitude of the Urdu press to the IS generally ambivalent if not ‘favourable’. They have generally projected the IS in a favourable light. The comment by one of the nurses who returned to India wherein she said that they were treated well by their captors was given prominent front page coverage. However, reportage on the excesses of the IS, like killings of the Shias, destruction of their mosques and atrocities committed on minorities were generally muted and found limited news space. Such articles and op-eds may end up giving further legitimacy to the IS in the eyes of the Indian Muslims especially of the majority Sunni sect.

Jihad in Kashmir and cross border terrorism

The rise of IS may give a fillip to the jihadi forces in Kashmir and cross border terrorism. There are historical linkages between ISIS and Pakistani terrorist organisations. ISIS traces its origins to Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (JTJ) and later Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), founded by Abu Musab-al Zarqawi.  Zarqawi is said to have moved to Pakistan at the age of 23 to participate in the Afghan Jihad and lived in Hayatabad area of Peshawar. He was hosted by Lashkar-e-Janghvi (LeJ) and is said to have trained their cadres in his training camp on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. It was in Pakistan that he came in touch with Al-Qaeda leaders and also adopted the fundamentalist Salafist Islam. Later he developed differences with the top Al Qaeda leadership of Zawahiri and Bin Laden. They disowned him for the indiscriminate killings of Muslims in Iraq. During his stay in Pakistan (till 1999), is said to have deeply influenced the cadres of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Lashkar-e-Janghvi (LeJ). No wonder on his death by drone strike (7 June 2006), Jamat-ud-Dawa (renamed LeT) held a funeral meeting for him in absentia. (10 June 2007). The current leader if IS, Abu-Bakr al Baghdadi, is a disciple of Al-Zarqawi.

A study of the social media feeds of radical Sunni organisations like the Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Janghvi of Pakistan reveal that they are supportive of the IS. A splinter group of Taliban, Tehrik-e-Khilafat of Pakistan has already pledged allegiance to the IS and has promised to raise the Islamic flag in South Asia and Khorasan. The Chairman of the United Jihad Council (UJC), Syed Salahuddin has sought help from Al- Qaeda and other transnational jihadi organisations in their struggle to liberate Kashmir. ‘If Al-Qaeda, Taliban or any other organisation extends a helping hand to the Kashmiris, we will welcome it’, he said, accusing the Indian army of running a ‘reign of terror’ in Kashmir. Though the IS was not overtly mentioned, reading between the lines and the timing of the statement makes it clear that the exhortation was as much to the Al Qaeda/Taliban as to the IS.

Sectarianism and Shia Sunni conflict

The ISIS is a rabidly sectarian Sunni organisation. Post the takeover of major towns in western and northern Iraq, ISIS spokesperson Abu Muhammad al-Adnani pledged to transform Iraq into a living hell for ‘the Shia and other heretics’ and called upon the destruction of Shia holy sites of Najaf and Karbala. In response Ayatollah Sistani; Iraq’s highest ranking Shia cleric gave a call to arms to all able bodied Shias to protect these holy sites. This qualifies as his most radical fatwa to date. Ayatollah Sistani had urged restraint to his followers even during the US occupation of Iraq, his commitment unwavering even during the attack on Al-Asqari mosque in the Shia holy city of Samara.

Intelligence agencies fear that the ripples of this sectarian conflict may soon be felt in India. On June 19, 2014, Shia and Sunni youths clashed in the Sadatgunj and Talkatora areas of Old Lucknow over the activities of ISIS in Iraq.  Uttar Pradesh Local Intelligence Unit (LIU) reported that Shia organisations in several districts in UP were trying to persuade young boys to fight in Iraq by offering them monetary benefits. Times of India reported (June 26, 2014) that ‘an organization called Anjuman-e-Haideri has started recruiting volunteers pledging to protect Shia holy shrines in Iraq. Hasan Haider, an executive member of the group claims that more than 20,000 people have registered so far from all over India and, if granted visas, will go and serve in Iraq.’ Such sectarian conflicts do not augur well for peace in India.

Impact on Indian economy

Middle East is extremely important for India geo strategically; its stability in India’s core national interest.  India depends on the Middle East for much of its energy requirements and any increase in global oil prices may put a severe strain on India’s current account deficit and lead to inflationary pressure. India also has a large diaspora in the Middle East which remits nearly 30 billion dollars.  Any instability in this region does not augur well for India. So far, much to the relief of Indian policymakers the conflict remains confined to the Iraqi theatre. However the situation could change.  There are disturbing reports of ISIS participating in the current Israeli Palestinian conflict in Gaza. If the theatre of conflict expands and other countries drawn into conflict, Indian economy may be impacted negatively.

In conclusion it can thus be said that the rise of the IS poses major challenge to India’s internal security and economic interests. Indian security agencies need to adopt a proactive approach in responding to these security challenges. To check radicalization of the Musim youth, authorities have to initiate a dialogue with every sections/sects of the Muslim society. The Ulemas and elders of the Muslim community have a responsibility to check the growth of these radical tendencies. Thankfully, none of the Muslim leadership /Ulemas in India has supported the announcement of Caliphate by IS. India also needs to diversify its crude basket and remain engaged with the governments of the Middle East so that its energy supplies are not disrupted and the Indian diaspora remains safe.

 

 

 

Book Review: Fighting to the End, The Pakistani Army’s Way of War

Fighting to the end

 “Pakistan is international migraine” – Madeline Albright

It is a popular saying that while other countries have armies, in Pakistan the army has a country. Dr. Christine Fair, in this scholarly and well researched masterpiece of Pakistan’s defense literature brings out the strategic culture of the Pakistan army. Since the Pakistan army is the most organized and powerful institution in Pakistan, this strategic culture is the dominant strategic culture in Pakistan.  The book organized into eleven chapters deals with every aspect of this strategic culture; its genesis and evolution, ideological underpinnings, instrumentalities of operationalization, its regional and international ramifications as well as the foreign policy rhetoric and choices pursued by the state.

Dr Fair begins by describing Pakistan as an insecure state which views India as ‘its eternal foe that not only seeks to dominate Pakistan but to destroy it’. The genesis and the evolution of this strategic culture can be traced to the partition of the Indian subcontinent and the subsequent events that followed. For Pakistan the process of partition was unfair with a ‘moth eaten’ Pakistan created in 1947. Territories like Junagarh, Hyderabad and Kashmir were denied to Pakistan by Indian perfidy and British conspiracy. Constant references are made to the award of seven Muslim majority tehsils in Punjab by Radcliff (insistence of Mountbatten influenced by Nehru), especially of Gurdaspur which allowed India land route to Kashmir thereby facilitating its ‘occupation’.

Dr. Fair argues that Pakistan’s fear of India though couched in terms of security are not so. It is ideological. Pakistani army sees itself as the defender of Pakistan’s ideological frontier i.e. the two nation theory and its Islamic identity vis-à-vis ‘Hindu’ India. It believes that Pakistan is equal to India and seeks parity with the latter despite being much smaller geographically, demographically and economically. The conflict with India is defined in ideolological and civilizational terms making it incumbent upon the Pakistani army to resist what it perceives as Indian hegemony in the region and also India’s global rise. Interestingly, because of this victory and defeat at the hands of Indians is seen differently by the Pakistani army. Even after an outright defeat as in 1971, Pakistani army considered itself victorious because it survived to fight/challenge India another day. Defeat for the Pakistan army would thus be the day it accepts the status quo and Indian supremacy. It is this belief which propels Pakistan to take calculated risks for changing the status quo periodically but regularly. Apart from initiating three regular wars with India and the Kargil misadventure, Pakistan has constantly supported insurgencies in India (Naga, Mizo, Sikh) and waged proxy war in Kashmir. Interestingly while the American’s were training Pakistanis in guerrilla warfare to suppress and defeat insurgencies in the 1950’s, the then Pakistani defense literature was glorifying Vietnamese resistance and also ‘interested in understanding how Pakistan could wage one’. Operation Gibraltar in 1965 and Kargil intrusion in 1999 bear testimony to this thinking.

Pakistan has pursued a policy of strategic depth to limit Indian and Russian (also erstwhile Soviet) influence in Afghanistan.  Unlike the generally held view that the concept of strategic depth was enunciated by General Aslam Beg, Dr. Fair posits that this idea of strategic depth in Afghanistan is a colonial legacy which was carried forward by the successor state of Pakistan, even though it did not possess the resources of the Raj. To facilitate covert operations against the Doud government of Afghanistan, training camps were established by Bhutto to train Afghan Mujahedeen as early as 1973. This also explodes another oft repeated myth by the Pakistanis that the Mujahedeen were created by the US to further its own geo-political interests in Afghanistan.

The instruments used by Pakistan to seek strategic parity with India and to resist its rise has been to seek alliances and court international benefactors like United States, China and Saudi Arabia, nurture non-state actors and use terror as an instrument of state policy. Though the USA has been the largest largess provider for the Pakistani state, in Pakistani defense literature USA is portrayed as a perfidious ally. Pakistan constantly harps on the USA failure to overtly support Pakistan despite being an ally in the 1965 and the 1971 war with India, the sanctions imposed under Pressler Amendments (incidentally the passing of this amendment was hailed as a victory for Pakistani diplomacy) and turning its back on Pakistan after Soviet defeat in Afghanistan. No reference however is made of the differing geo-political objectives of the two nations. While Pakistan purportedly became an ally of the US to challenge communism, its goals remained purely India centric. Failure to get active US support in its conflicts with India has been a constant sore point with the Pakistanis. In contrast to the USA, China is projected as an all weather friend. Chinese failures to support Pakistan’s objectives and goals are generally glossed over.

With the overt nuclearization of the subcontinent, Pakistan has pursued a policy of Jihad under the nuclear umbrella against its adversaries. It has supported terrorism against India from its soil and sought to undermine US strategic interests in the region. The possession on nuclear weapons has facilitated nuclear risk taking by Pakistan. By keeping its nuclear doctrine ambiguous and not defining its nuclear threshold it has achieved its twin objectives of deterring India from escalating the conflict as well as drawn international actors like the USA into limiting the conflict. It also rightly believes that being a nuclear power restrains USA from completely abandoning Pakistan.

The question then remains is can the strategic culture of the Pakistani army be changed? Scholars have argued that with the strengthening of democratic institutions in Pakistan, this narrative would be challenged. Some (Ahmed Rashid, Raphel) have argued that a grand bargain with India through the resolution of the Kashmir dispute (to Pakistan’s satisfaction) may facilitate such a change. Dr Fair appears to take a pessimistic view and does not foresee any change happening in the near or distant future.  Dismissing the grand bargain theory she describes Pakistan as a ‘purely greedy state’ which is defined by Charles Glaser as a state ‘fundamentally unsatisfied with the status quo, desiring additional territory even when it is not desired for security.’ Any appeasement of this ‘greedy state’ might aggravate the problem rather than solving it. She further argues that even if Pakistan undergoes a permanent democratic transition it does not obviously follow that ‘civilians will abandon the persistent revisionism with respect to India. This is because of the deep presence of army’s strategic culture, based on the ideology of Islam and two nation theory, within Pakistan’s civil society, political culture and bureaucracies’. A case in point is the Abbotabad attack by USA, which provided the civilians an opportunity to assert some control over the army, instead they chose to rally around the latter. Some scholars argue that the India centric doctrine of the Pakistani army has now changed and it has acknowledged internal threats as the main challenge. While Pakistani army may at times acknowledge internal threats but it successfully ‘externalizes’ those threats to the enemies (India) of Pakistan, who are held responsible for creating and aggravating these threats. This in turn brings the conventional focus back to India for the army and also buttresses its role as the premium institution in the country which can manage these threats.

One interesting and novel fact brought out by Dr. Fair is the changing recruitment pattern of the army. Her research shows that in 1972 the army officers came from only few districts of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), but by 2005 practically all districts of Pakistan were producing officers. Her field work suggests that many of these officers do not share the ‘core values’ of the Punjabi dominated strategic culture of the Pakistani army with the same intensity. How this changes the nature of the discourse of this strategic culture in future remains to be seen.

The book provides important policy prescriptions for both India and United States. She argues that USA should stop ‘attempting to transform the Pakistani army or Pakistan for that matter. It is unlikely that the United States can offer Pakistan any incentive that would be so valuable to Pakistan and its security interests that the army would abandon the varied tools it has developed to manage its security competition with India, much less consider a durable rapprochement.’ The realities for India are starker. ‘The Pakistan army will continue to weaken India by any means possible, even though such means are inherently risky. In the army’s eye, any other course will spell true defeat.’ It is time that the Indian policy planners stop being wooly eyed about Pakistan and face facts.

This book is a must read for all policy planners in India and the United States. This would help them shed many of their illusions and accept realities howsoever uncomfortable.

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