There was a recent news that said the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) plans to take over large parts of the world, including almost the entire Indian subcontinent, within the next five years. The plan is detailed in a book entitled Empire of Fear: Inside the Islamic State by Andrew Hoksen. It has a map, which throws light on the ISIS plans to establish its authority over the Middle East, North Africa and most of the Indian subcontinent and parts of Europe by 2020. According to another news item, a recruitment document purportedly written by ISIS terrorists and obtained by the American media outlines a strategy to draw the US into an all-out war by attacking India. Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution, said that “attacking India is the Holy Grail of South Asian jihadis”.
How serious is the threat? Opinions would differ, but it would be an invitation to disaster if India did not prepare for the contingency of an ISIS onslaught. We have to remember that the ISIS continues to expand its area of influence notwithstanding aerial strikes by US-led coalition forces. It is estimated that since September 2014, the coalition has flown 6,000 sorties and killed no less than 15,000 ISIS fighters, yet the caliphate’s strength has grown from around 20,000-30,000 to as many as 70,000 soldiers. The figure includes 20,000 foreigners described as ‘the largest convergence of Islamist terrorists in the history of the world’—larger than what we saw in Afghanistan!
The ISIS is no longer a distant phenomenon. It has reached our neighbourhood. The Pakistan Taliban has declared its allegiance to the ISIS. In Bangladesh, there have been arrests of individuals engaged in recruiting Bangladeshis for the ISIS. According to an analyst, the growing influence of the ISIS in Bangladesh “potentially signals more trouble ahead”. In Maldives, entire families have left the country to participate in the battles being waged by the ISIS. Actually, the ISIS has made its presence felt in India already, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir, where its flags are displayed by Kashmiri youths now and then.
The government of India is unfortunately living in a state of denial. The official view is that very few Indians have gone to join the ISIS. True, but as stated in the US Country Report on Terrorism for 2014, ‘given India’s large Muslim population, potential socio-religious marginalisation and active ISIL online propaganda efforts, there remains a risk of increased ISIL recruitment of Indian nationals”. What should worry our policy makers is that if and when the ISIS targets India directly, it would have full support of transnational terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Hizbul Mujahideen and Jaish-e-Muhammad as also the indigenous outfits like the Indian Mujahideen and Students Islamic Movement of India.
There is enough evidence to suggest that the Indian Muslims are gradually getting radicalised. This was demonstrated in the response to the January 7 terror attack on Charlie Hebdo. Tufail Ahmad, a former journalist with the BBC who carried out a review of Facebook comments made by Muslim youth on the Paris shooting, found that “the geography of this radicalisation in India is indeed very wide, fertile and raw”. Comments celebrating the killings were made by Muslim youths living in cities across the country. Hasan Suroor has also said that “the nature of Indian Muslim radicalisation stands dramatically transformed with jihadi groups looking upon India as a fertile new ground for recruitment”.
The government of India needs to draw a comprehensive strategy to deal with the developing threat. The only positive step, albeit belated, it has taken so far is to collect information about de-radicalisation programmes in other countries and examining their suitability in India’s context. However, much more needs to be done. The battle has to be fought in the minds of the people. A counter-narrative must be developed. The Grand Imam of Egypt’s Al Azhar mosque has said that extremism is the result of “bad interpretations of the Koran and the Sunnah”. The moderate Muslims of India should be encouraged to speak. The madarsah system of education will have to be mainstreamed. And, above all, India’s internal security architecture will need to be reinforced.
Singh is a former DG BSF and DGP UP, and an expert on internal security