The IS leadership appreciated that to capture territory and to hold ground against a modern state , it has to have enough resources to sustain a long drawn out battle, which is only possible if it can garner enough resources which will ensure its financial sustainability. Therefore, it created a wide network of its cadres for resource mobilisation. This included extortion, sale of petroleum products, levying taxes on people in captured territories and sale of antiques. At one time, it is estimated that the IS earned a whopping $ 3 million a day. Some estimates put their total foreign exchange reserves at $ 2 billion. This healthy financial state permitted the IS to run municipalities, schools, colleges, hospitals, besides providing subsidised food grains to the elderly.
At one time, it is estimated that the IS earned a whopping $ 3 million a day. Some estimates put their total foreign exchange reserves at $ 2 billion.
Needless to say, in all their conquered territories, the IS enforced strict Sharia’h. Another facet of the IS governance is its mastery of the web for use of social media like internet, face book, twitter, You Tube, etc. Their well-oiled propaganda machinery has enabled it to cast its net far and wide, in order to attract fresh recruits from across the continents. The IS also publishes an e-magazine, Dabiq ( it is named after a village in Syria where according to traditional Islamic belief the end- of- the- time battle will be fought).
Over the last one year, IS did not confine its activities to Iraq alone. It took advantage of the civil war that broke out in Syria in late 2011, consequent to the strong arm tactics adopted by its long term ruler, Bashar al Assad, against his political opponents. Free Syrian Army (Free Syrian Army) set up by various countries, with the active assistance of the U.S., however, did not live up to its promise of emerging as a unifying force against the Syrian state. This was mainly due to the fact that its main supporters, i.e., Turkey, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and the west, rather than fighting to achieve a common objective, had their individual agendas. This ensured that FSA remained a fractious coalition, posing little threat to Assad. Internecine conflict fuelled by big power rivalry, lasting over five years, created chaotic conditions inside Syria with no group either totally decimated or even remotely victorious. Outside interference, coupled with corrupt, inefficient, sectarian and authoritarian leadership within, has created a situation where it is literally ‘free for all’. Consequently, some foreign jihadis stepped into this cauldron that was already occupied by home grown terrorist groups. This provided an opportunity to IS to fish in the troubled waters.
The IS chief, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, created a new Command to fight in Syria, called Jabhat Al Nusra. The command of this force was handed over to Abu Mohammad Al Jawlani, an experienced field commander of Syria. The force relied on old tactics of using suicide bombers, particularly in Damascus. However, soon thereafter, Abu Mohammad Al Jawlani fell out with his bosses in IS due to the differences in the tactics to be used in Syria. This compelled him to align with Al Qaeda, which resulted in his connections with the IS getting severed.
IS continues to remain a serious military threat to Bashar Al Assad because of its greater resources, superior network and regular flow of recruits that it continues to attract.
Consequently, while Al Jawlani continued to get fresh recruits, thanks to AL Qaeda, the supply of financial assistance from IS dried up completely, forcing him to resort to extortion, kidnapping and aligning with other jihadi groups. Over time, lack of financial resources adversely affected his field operations, forcing his cadres to desert him to rejoin IS. Thereafter, IS decided to, once again, carry out its operations directly and independently, under its own banner. Between end 2014 and early 2015, the momentum of operations maintained by the IS clearly indicated that the IS was on course to overrun not just the Nusra and Al Qaeda, but also the Kurdish territory.
However, later, because of some operational reverses suffered by it, its momentum broke and this resulted in a tactical stalemate. Nevertheless, the IS continues to remain a serious military threat to Bashar Al Assad because of its greater resources, superior network and regular flow of recruits that it continues to attract. Another strong point in favour of the IS is that it has consolidated its gains by holding on to the captured territory, including some governorates which help it to generate revenue.
IS has been wise enough to use the malignant effects of big power rivalry in the Middle East to its advantage. Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia, in order to protect their strategic interests, did not think twice before getting involved in the sectarian strife that resulted in Iraq, post Saddam Hussein’s removal. IS took advantage of the internecine conflict among the Arabs.
Even today, Turkey is looking the other way when IS is making use of its logistic assistance, because Turkey feels it can use the IS to destroy the Kurds. Financial considerations too have played a part in IS being able to sell its oil to Turkey at far cheaper rates than those prevailing in the international market. This way, the IS has built up a substantial kitty of foreign exchange.
Al-Baghdadi announced that the lands his group had conquered were now part of the new Islamic State and announced himself as the ‘Caliph’. Under his leadership, IS has emerged as the biggest terrorist threat the world has seen.
Most countries thought nothing of the threat posed by the IS to their own regimes, as long as their support to IS meant that their narrowly defined national interests were being protected in the bargain. Creating and promoting terrorist groups like Taliban, LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammad, etc., in South Asia and now many other groups in Syria, by the U.S-Pakistan-Saudi Arabia- UAE combine, has spawned a network of international jihadis who have turned into a Frankenstein, posing a serious threat to their own benefactors. This is not the first time that the support rendered to such non-State actors by a State has proved counterproductive to such states, extracting a huge price in terms of human casualties and soaring expenses for ensuring protection against strikes by such groups. Be it the U.S. nurturing Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, or Pakistan mentoring Taliban, or Turkey assisting the IS, the result is more or less the same. The chickens do eventually come home to roost.
A few words about the brutal, but charismatic leader of IS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi are in order. Bhagdadi was captured by American soldiers in 2004 during a raid aimed at arresting his friend, Nessayif Numan, in Fallujah in Iraq. On his arrest, Baghdadi, it is believed, registered under his real name, Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim Al Badr. He was held for 10 months in a military prison in the south of the country, perhaps in Abu Graib. However, he was not considered an insurgent and was, accordingly, listed a ‘civilian detainee’. His occupation was given as ‘Administrative Work’. He registered himself as married, with one of his uncles listed as his ‘next of kin’. He is believed to be 45-years old and has a wife and a young son. Friends of al-Baghdadi considered him to be a talented footballer, with one former team-mate even describing him as the ‘Lionel Messi of our team’. His friends also remembered him as a shy and unassuming young man who was interested in religious studies, before his radicalisation into a dangerous extremist.
He was seen publicly in a slick propaganda video last July for the first time in years, sporting a long beard and black robes to deliver a sermon. Speaking in Mosul’s central Mosque, al-Baghdadi announced that the lands his group had conquered were now part of the new Islamic State and announced himself as the ‘Caliph’. Under his leadership, IS has emerged as the biggest terrorist threat the world has seen. It was rumoured that he was killed or wounded in a US airstrike last November, but the group quashed this by releasing an audio recording purporting to be him. In this recording he encourages militants to attack Saudi Arabia. A $ 10 million bounty has been announced on al-Baghdadi’s head after the US State Department listed him as a ‘Specially Designated Global Terrorist’.
…India cannot become complacent on this score, as jihadi terrorism is a fact of today’s world and jihadi organisations continue to leave no stone unturned to brain wash young people and attract Muslim youth to join the jihad.
On many social networks, Abu Bakr Al Bagdhadi’s picture appears as part of a group with many U.S. officials, including with U.S Presidential candidate against President Obama in 2008 elections, Mr John McCain. Even though Baghdadi does not appear to be the most prominent of the group of persons in the picture, the fact is that he was considered important enough to meet a high ranking U.S. visitor like Mcain.
One of the biggest strategic challenges that India faces today is to counter the propaganda of the IS to lure the home grown jihadi terrorist’s to align with or join the IS. While even small European countries with minuscule Muslim populations have contributed significant number of Jihadis to the IS, Muslim youth of India have not done so in any significant numbers. Be it in Kashmir, Afghanistan, Al Qaeda or IS, Muslim Indians have shunned these jihadi organisation till now. This is commendable and speaks volumes about the community’s desire/ability to stay away from these undesirable elements.
In a way, it is a tribute to India’s democratic and truly secular traditions which have permitted Muslims in India to enjoy religious freedom and power to exercise political choice through universal suffrage. However, India cannot become complacent on this score, as jihadi terrorism is a fact of today’s world and jihadi organisations continue to leave no stone unturned to brain wash young people and attract Muslim youth to join the jihad. Besides, one cannot forget the resources being spent by those pushing Wahabi and Salafi ideologies, particularly in India, where millions of Muslims belong to the tolerant Hanafi school of Muslim theology. The phenomenon of adopting practices based on exclusivity, gender inequality and increased sense of victimhood are quite visible and must remain a matter of concern. Nearly 7 million Indians in the Middle East are also an easy prey for those wanting to expand their recruitment base among the Indian expatriates.
Close cooperation between the Gulf countries, where Indian Diaspora exists in large numbers, and the Indian Government, will go a long way in keeping a tag of those who have been radicalized and are only a step away from actually joining these well known jihadi organizations.
Muslim youth today is best placed to make use of the numerous opportunities that an emerging super power like India offers. But it must be ensured that they develop a stake in it rather than being sidelined due to various reasons.
Monitoring of cyber space, disrupting recruitment networks, identifying and drying up funding channels with international assistance, are some of the other means through which India can prevent its youth from falling a prey to the vigorous drive launched by IS to recruit fresh material for replacing its casualties. It is essential for the State to encourage those sections of Muslim society whose traditional belief and practice of folk Islam are in keeping with the age- old Indian tradition.
Unfortunately, post independence, Indian political parties, in order to create Muslim vote banks, have pandered to the radical Muslim Mullahs, thereby sidelining the moderate and forward-looking Muslims. As noted Muslim scholar, Sultan Shaheen says, “The India establishment only engages with the bearded mullahs even if they are obscurantist.” Muslim youth today is best placed to make use of the numerous opportunities that an emerging super power like India offers. But it must be ensured that they develop a stake in it rather than being sidelined due to various reasons.
An important contributory factor towards the building of the sense of victimhood among the Muslims is the unscientific methodology adopted by the police while investigating terrorist violence in India. It is a fact that sometimes innocent youth will be picked up for questioning by the police in the aftermath of a terrorist act. However, police must immediately release those who are innocent and proceed against those against whom they have sufficient proof. This is necessary to infuse confidence in the fair play of our police forces.
Under no circumstances must the State be seen to be discriminating in the name of religion or anything else. Muslim theologians, political leaders, scholars and intellectuals need to give serious thought to issues like emphasising the grievances of perceived victimhood, make concerted efforts to enter into serious discourse on issues troubling the Uma, both within itself (inter-sectarian) and with other religions (inter-religious).
Muslim theologians, scholars, religious leaders and community elders must appreciate that glory of Islam in the modern world can no longer be achieved through sword but through education, that helps develop scientific temper.
In the end, it will be disastrous to miss the trees for the woods. It is an established fact that Islamic terrorism traces its historical roots to the development of Wahabism, which is sectarian, exclusivist and supremacist in its core beliefs. After their capture of power in Saudi Arabia, enormous effort and resources have been spent by the House of Saud to unleash the process of redefining Islam as an ideology.
Every Islamic movement since 18th century has had the sole objective of capturing, or at best, sharing state political power to further Wahabi-Salafi sectarian view of Islam. It is these Islamic movements which have finally culminated into the IS declaring territory under its control as a Caliphate. It must be added that every Islamic movement since the beginning of last century has tried to re-establish a Caliphate, the last of which was abolished by Turkish leader Kemal Attaturk in 1920-21, to usher in a modern secular state.
Modern Islam is presently grappling with an inner conflict, i.e., on the one hand it wants to embrace technology and take advantage of its associated advantages, and on the other, it wants to embrace the practices of Islam that prevailed in seventh century. Muslim theologians, scholars, religious leaders and community elders must appreciate that glory of Islam in the modern world can no longer be achieved through sword but through education, that helps develop scientific temper. It needs to be emphasised that Islam’s syncretic traditions (unique to Indian subcontinent) alone has the power to stand up to the ill conceived philosophy of Islamic radicalism and the force of conviction to reverse the use of terrorism as a policy of discourse.