Geopolitics

Specter of ISIS on South Asia
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 03 Feb , 2015

The terror attack on Charlie Hebdo office in Paris made global headlines, as did its aftermath with three million copies of the magazine’s subsequent issue with more cartoons sold like hot cakes, last few online going for 700 pounds sterling, French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle sailing off to support air strikes against the ISIS and over 1000 websites reportedly hacked in France.

…the current Pakistani dispensation has shown that they will continue to terrorize India despite the Peshawar massacre – no matter what happens to Pakistan.

As this war blows on, so does the Great Game using every possible resource less conventional conflict. If the dramatic collapse of oil prices has surprised the world, there is growing belief it is Saudi Arabia-OPEC contrived to attack the Iranian economy – leader of the Shia world, while it also provides the double whammy to the Russian economy coupled with additional sanctions much to the glee of America even though the side effects of this strategy will likely be adverse to the US oil industry domestically and in terms of their foreign investments, and similarly to the EU. The enlarging Sunni-Shia conflict would inexorably get sucked into the Great Game, proxies, economics, energy and media already being optimized in the latter.

The fact that the West has optimized the use of media for global perception management is well known. Even as US General Mark Kimmit and officials and scholars from EU spoke at the International Conference on Terrorism at Baghdad on 12-13 March 2014, there was little mention of ISIL, more Al Qaeda, but it was apparent later that the ISIS was already being trained by former British military veterans inside Turkey and by US instructors in Jordan. Lately, Western media has been highlighting a heightening war between the ISIS and Al Qaeda but according to one report there has been reconciliation between the Al Qaeda and ISIS in the Middle East.

The ISIS has reportedly formed a Strategic Planning Committee which is negotiating with all Sunni Muslim terrorist organizations to bring them under a common umbrella. This includes both the Taliban (Pakistan Taliban and Afghan Taliban) plus other terrorist organizations of South Asia. The implications are a larger ISIS-Al Qaeda-Taliban Frankenstein with smaller organizations in tow  – like the LeJ, Arab Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), LeT, even HuM and supported by the ISI of Pakistan notwithstanding this will ISIS-ize / Talibanize Pakistan and subject Shias of Gilgit-Baltistan to blood bath. If Zulfikar Ali Bhutto said they will make the bomb even if they have to eat grass, the current Pakistani dispensation has shown that they will continue to terrorize India despite the Peshawar massacre – no matter what happens to Pakistan.

The pamphlet appealed to the local population for supporting its struggle for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate.

A report last week in the Associated Press quoted Afghan officials confirming that the ISIS is active in southern Afghanistan, particularly Helmand; recruiting fighters, flying black flags and even battling Taliban militants. The report refers to General Mahmood Khan, the Deputy Commander of ANA’s  215 Corps in saying that in the  past week ISIS representatives have been  fanning out across the province to recruit people albeit this has not been encouraged by local Taliban commanders who have reportedly asked locals not to join ISIS. The report goes on to say that some parts of Helmand have seen fierce fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces since US troops pulled out more than six months ago. But more significantly, it also talks of a recent video released that purports to show militants from both Afghanistan and Pakistan pledging support to the ISIS. The truth may lie somewhere in between considering the ISIS-Al Qaeda link, Al Qaeda support to Afghan Taliban and Pakistan Taliban support to ISIS.

BBC reported last year that in a bid to extend its influence in the South Asian region, the ISIS had distributed radical ideology pamphlets in Peshawar and border provinces of Afghanistan, with copies sent to Afghan journalists working in Peshawar. The pamphlet appealed to the local population for supporting its struggle for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate. A number of hardliner Wahabi-Salafi groups operating in Af-Pak region backed by Saudi Arabia, including in Nuristan and Kunar Provinces of Afghanistan, have pledged support for ISIS, with the TTP following suit.

There also are groups like the Ahrarul Islam (splinter group of TTP) and the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) also working on the lines of the ISIS, not respecting national boundaries and wanting a global Islamic World. While the ISIS is busy penetrating and investing in  southern and eastern Afghanistan, what has apparently gone unnoticed is the innocuous report of late 2014 of an ISIS delegation visiting Baluchistan. There was no elaboration but conclusions can be drawn with the border between Baluchistan and Afghanistan being porous. The implications for Iran are obvious even though Iran is helping Iraq battle the ISIS while parleys about Iran’s nuclear program linger on with increased western doubts and acrimony.

The Afghan Army is not likely to submit to the ISIS-Al Qaeda-Taliban pressure but if this radical alignment solidifies then given the armament and experience of the ISIS, the situation could become much more volatile.

In Pakistan, Shia massacres have been occurring since long, especially with support from the ISI to subjugate Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) area where the population is denied basic rights and local organizations having appealed to the United Nations that they don’t want to be part of Pakistan. Many media reports talked of Al Qaeda and TTP capturing Pakistani military patrols, separating Shias, lining them and shooting them in the head.

Post the 2004 Indo-Pakistan ceasefire declaration, Pakistan moved major terrorist camps into the GB area to mix the local Shia population with Sunni radicals but the strategy was largely unsuccessful. Sporadic Taliban attacks have also occurred periodically in GB area. TTP getting a foothold in GB area implies TTP will facilitate the ISIS embed in GB. The LeJ and ASWJ already have strong presence in GB and can be banked upon for support by the TTP and ISIS. With such move, the ISIS and Taliban would not only go after the Shia community in the area but would heighten terrorism in Xinjiang by supporting the ETIM. But most significantly, they would then be able to foray into Central Asia, which hitherto fore was considered secure till Kabul and Northern Afghanistan remained the bulwark to deny this.

Above does leave China’s economic corridor through Pakistan in a tight spot though China will like to buy out its safety and exploit her decade plus links with the TTP. But there are no guarantees what will happen next, given China’s clamp down in Xinjiang and the Great Game shifting to Af-Pak. Afghanistan is yet to fully stabilize politically. After three months of wrangling, President Ashraf Ghani has now nominated ministers for his new cabinet to establish a working government. The list will now go to the Parliament for approval. The Afghan Army is not likely to submit to the ISIS-Al Qaeda-Taliban pressure but if this radical alignment solidifies then given the armament and experience of the ISIS, the situation could become much more volatile. Besides, if the Sunni and the non-Sunni element is played up then Afghanistan’s erstwhile internecine war between the Pashtun and Northern Alliance may flare up with the ISIS-Al Qaeda-Taliban juxtaposed in the conflict. This may also lead to defections in the Afghan security forces and tribal chiefs taking sides.

The ISIS-Al Qaeda-TTP nexus will likely be headquartered in North Waziristan and as it devours Pakistan, India would not be free from the ripple effect.

In India, there have been statements in the past of no ISIS threats. But an NIA report of last year talked of more than 300 Indian youth having been recruited by the TTP (aligned with ISIS) and being trained in Pakistan, Iraq and Syria to become Fidayeen. There was the episode Britain’s Channel 4 unmasking the 24 year old Bengaluru base executive Mehdi Biswas acting as Twitter handler of ISIS under alias Shami Witness with 17,000 followers, who may be one among many and has recruited many.

That a former NSA says that there may be as many as 100 individuals engaged in similar activities is easy to comprehend. Organizations like the IM and SIMI would obviously be in contact with ISIS, in addition to the Pakistan based terrorist organizations. Apparently, ISIS already has support base in Maldives. The ISIS-Al Qaeda-TTP nexus will likely be headquartered in North Waziristan and as it devours Pakistan, India would not be free from the ripple effect.

The latest news is a report by Reuters about arrest of an ISIS leader in Lahore, believed to be the commander Pakistan’s ISIS branch. He was arrested along with two accomplices who have been recruiting and sending radicals to Syria. Arguably, India has been subject to terrorism for past three decades plus but the advent of ISIS in Af-Pak region including GB area raises the threshold beyond what may have been experienced till now, what with the larger radical mass with ISIS as the nucleus and ISIS prowess in cyber-terrorism and access to WMD material. These need to be taken into account while speedily establishing the missing credible deterrent against sub-conventional and asymmetric war.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is a former Lt Gen Special Forces, Indian Army

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2 thoughts on “Specter of ISIS on South Asia

  1. Agree with Lt. Katoch insights. The ISIS threat to India can be serious if the current terrorism structure in Pakistan is morphed into ISIS. The two nations that have berthed the ISIS are Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Both are the source and inspiration for the Jihadis under the garb of Wahhabism which has been poisoning the minds of young through madrassas funded by Saudi. They may deny it all they want but their handprint is quite visible. The Indian planners need to do serous thinking and chart out a plan to deal with the worst. There is no substitute for building the security forces to deal with ISIS threat at the length and breath of the borders. The lethality of firepower should be superior to anything that the terrorists can bring. Technology of detection and interdiction should receive the highest priority. All sectors of Indian society must be involved in playing a role and become informed of the dangers. The legislation side of the governance should clear the hurdles for the law enforcement to work effectively and be armed with additional powers in sensitive areas like Kashmir, North East and border areas for early detection of anti-national activities. Most of all India need to approach this as security challenge requiring non-stop preparation to be ready to deal the hammer blow to the enemy when needed. Enough of the politically correct terminologies of the politicians. The enemy is from the dark age, disqualified to be called human, rising out of the cesspools of radical religious mind warp.

  2. Saying that the specter of ISIS is in South Asia is like saying that the ghost of the Indian Army is at Wellington Barracks. ISIS is just one more Regiment of Islam with a larger number of battalions than others such as Al Shebab, Boko Harama or Jaish e Mohammed. Al Qaeda was a Saudi funded Staff College for guerrilla warfare set up by the US and Pakistan. It was not only armed by the US but received training from guest faculty rounded up by the CIA from the Baader Meinhof, the Irish Republican Army and the Basque Insurgents for the purpose of of both skill in IED/Bomb/Booby Trap making and tactics . The Taliban are citizens of the Nation of Islam recruited and indoctrinated in Mosques and Madrassas funded by Petro Dollars (Saudi-Qatari-Kuwaiti) around the World. Pakistan is the Islamic Bomb and Terror wielding sword arm of the Saudi Caliphate. I have been saying this for more than thirty years, but, such is the power of Saudi funded Anglo-American propaganda that everybody still thinks of each of these Arabic names as a small and manageable renegade gang rather than as a regiment of the army of Islam.

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