Publications

Photo Source: The Express Tribune

Three issues/questions are pertinent in this context: is the Daesh, with its base in Syria and Iraq is looking for new recruits and regions, or are the individuals and groups in South Asia see the IS as an opportunity and using its banner as an IS franchisee? Second, what circumstances in South Asia enable our youths to get influenced by the IS? Third, is the region helpless in addressing the IS threat, or, are there certain inherent strengths in our society to fight radical groups and ideologies? 

Conflict Reader # 18, 1 April 2017

ISIS
Fighting the Daesh: A Regional Counter IS Strategy

CR Comment

D. Suba Chandran
Professor
International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP)
National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore

Recent terrorist attacks in Kabul, Sehwan and Dhaka from Afghanistan to Bangladesh have been claimed by the Islamic State/Daesh. The region cannot be a mute witness to the emergence of the IS in South Asia, for it would lead to their consolidation further and subsequently their expansion. An early counter strategy is imperative; the region should come together and chart out a strategy. 

Three issues/questions are pertinent in this context: is the Daesh, with its base in Syria and Iraq is looking for new recruits and regions, or are the individuals and groups in South Asia see the IS as an opportunity and using its banner as an IS franchisee? Second, what circumstances in South Asia enable our youths to get influenced by the IS? Third, is the region helpless in addressing the IS threat, or, are there certain inherent strengths in our society to fight radical groups and ideologies? 

IS and Us: The Franchise and Franchisees
In terms of structure and outreach, there is a substantial difference between al Qaeda and the IS. While al Qaeda attracted individuals and groups from different countries to a particular location/region, for example Afghanistan, the IS phenomenon is doing the opposite. Individuals and groups from the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia flocked to al Qaeda and fought its battles - in Afghanistan, and then later in the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies (FATA) in Pakistan. In a sense, al Qaeda acted as a black hole, absorbing the militants from different regions. The IS phenomenon is the opposite. Instead of (or, along with) attracting individuals and groups to Iraq and Syria, the IS is using them to organise terror attacks in their respective countries. 

It also appears, that more than the IS looking outside Syria and Iraq, individuals and groups are looking at the Daesh as a credible banner for three specific reasons. First, al Qaeda is losing its prominence in the terror pantheon, especially after the killing of Osama bin Laden. Al Qaeda has been unable to regroup; lack of credible leadership and constant pressure from the US has forced al Qaeda into a descending road. 

Second, IS is a new group in the terror pantheon, with a larger image. Though in recent weeks, there have been serious reverses for the IS in Syria resulting in loss of territories, the group did make remarkable advances during 2016, creating an illusion of invincibility to those who want to pursue its path.

Third, for reasons that are yet to be properly researched and documented, the IS succeeded in creating a domino effect, in terms of foreign fighters. From UK to Indonesia, the IS managed to get fighters; this process was not planned. Even the IS should have been surprised by the traffic into Syria from different parts of the world. The above movement was well captured in the Social media and in the process helping the IS. Had it not been for the Social media, the IS would have never succeeded in getting the publicity and its subsequent recruitment.

Enabling Factors: Why is the IS alluring?
Unlike al Qaeda, the IS is alien to South Asia. Both Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda were known for their presence in the region; they were also known for its linkages with local groups – the Taliban being the most prominent of it. More importantly, a section from the intelligence agencies made use these groups for political and strategic calculations; and so were some of the intelligence agencies at the international level, especially the CIA.

IS does not enjoy the above support, that al Qaeda had. Yet, it allures youths and groups from South Asia. How?

First, the phenomenon of online radicalization. Undoubtedly, this is one of the evil effects of technology and the global outreach of information. All one needs is a decent phone with basic internet connection. Gone are the days of accessing computers in libraries and internet cafes. Each individual is a walking internet café, with access to information on real time basis, making it difficult for agencies of law.

Second, inability of the State to understand, address and prepare counter measures further accentuates the above process of online radicalization is. While the individual is in the 21st century, making use of technologies of today and tomorrow, our agencies of law are still bound by 19th century British laws, and following policing protocols of the previous centuries. Both the law and the enforcers are in a time warp. South Asia needs better legislations to govern the internet, and equally importantly, also need enforcing officials who would understand the magnitude of the problem. The era of policing with a stick is awfully outdated today to address online radicalization.

Third, the latest trends in offline radicalization at the social level in South Asia. Increasingly, our society is becoming sectarian; in this context, the IS looks more appealing for those individuals and groups buoyed by sectarian ideology. It is not that South Asia did not have sectarian fault lines earlier; it is much more pronounced now.

Fourth, the group dynamics within South Asia is more conducive to the IS, especially in the Af-Pak region. Post Osama al Qaeda and post Omar Taliban are unable to keep the local groups cohesive; repeated military offensives by the State led Pakistan, Afghanistan and the international troops have also been successful in breaking the group coherence. The factions and the process of fragmentation have created small groups. These factions see the IS tag operationally useful and a financial opportunity. 

Finally, the growth of IS cannot be seen in isolation. It finds support in an environment already infused with a radical ideology. South Asia is shy to address, at times even accept that there is a serious problem with an influx of radical ideology stemming from West Asia. The entire region is witnessing this; while we as a region appreciate the inflow of remittances from West Asia, we have to make cold calculations on the nature and extent of radical ideology stemming from there into South Asia.

A Counter IS Strategy
A counter IS strategy has to start with addressing the above five issues – from online radicalization to street level sectarian violence. 

Second, strategists would emphasis on building a “counter narrative” to the IS. We should aim to build the mainstream narrative, and not a counter one. In fact, it is the failure of our mainstream that has provided the space to the periphery to move and create a narrative. The best way to counter the IS to make the main narrative stronger.

The above would bring us to the third point – playing on our strength. The Sufi nature of our society in South Asia is the biggest asset for the region to build any counter narrative. In fact, if we succeed in strengthening our Sufi nature, the other will automatically subside. 

From Sehwan in Sindh to Baba Ghulam Shah in Rajouri to Ajmer Sharif in Rajasthan, our strength remains in the Sufi nature of our society. Perhaps, the IS and other militants understand the strength of Sufism, hence they are targeting it in the recent years. From Data Darbar to Lal Shabaz Qalandar, our enemy seems to be aware of our strength. Do we?
 
The above commentary was originally published in the Daily Times, 30 March 2017 

Other Publications

Early Warning Conflict Alert
January 2019 | Brief

South Asia: Five Conflicts to Watch in 2019

read more
Sri Lanka
November 2018 | Brief

Reconvene the Parliament and Respect the Constitution

read more
Myanmar
October 2018 | Analysis

The UN, Myanmar and the Rohingyas

read more
Kashmir
September 2018 | Analysis

Building Peace Momentum in J&K

read more
Af-Pak
May 2018 | Brief

Will Pakistan walk the Afghan Talk?

read more
Balochistan
May 2018 | Analysis

Who is targeting the Hazara? And Why?

read more
Radicalism Project
April 2018 | Analysis

“I am not Malala”: Deciphering the anti-Malala Sentiment in Pakistan

read more
Afghanistan I Sectarain
April 2018 | Analysis

The Sectarian Spiral in Afghanistan: Who? And Why?

read more
Sri Lanka
March 2018 | Analysis

The Anti-Muslim Violence in Sri Lanka

read more
Maldives
March 2018 | Analysis

The Political Crisis in Maldives

read more
Gender Violence
January 2018 | Analysis

South Asia's Kasur Problem: Hypocritical Civil Society, Insensitive Investigation, Indifferent Judiciary and a Hard State

read more
Regional
January 2018 | Analysis

South Asia's Conflict Peripheries

read more
Bilateral I Indo-Pak
January 2018 | Analysis

Will the Indo-Pak Relations improve in 2018?

read more
Myanmar
December 2017 | Analysis

South Asia's Rohingya Predicament

read more
Radicalism Project
November 2017 | Brief

The State surrenders to the Mullahs: Why did the Military aid? And why did the Government agree?

read more
Balochistan
November 2017 | Analysis

The Slow Burn: One Province and Five Actors

read more
Radicalism Project
November 2017 | Analysis

The Ghost of Mumtaz Qadri

read more
Peace Alert
November 2017 | Analysis

Towards an Inclusive Kashmir Dialogue

read more
Af-Pak
October 2017 | Analysis

Joshua and Caitlan: Story of Victims, Rescuers and Perpetrators

read more
Radicalism Project
October 2017 | Analysis

The Islamic State in South Asia: Why are the State and Society reluctant to acknowledge?

read more
Myanmar
September 2017 | Analysis

The Rohingya Politics: Between Strong Military, Weak Government, Rakhine Faultlines and Ma Ba Tha

read more
Myanmar
September 2017 | Analysis

The Rohingya Conflict: The Burning Villages, Social Media and the Internationalization of Violence

read more
Pakistan
August 2017 | Analysis

Jirga and Gender Violence

read more
Society
July 2017 | Analysis

Pashtunwali, Kashmiriyat and Sufi: Are our Social Codes under Stress?

read more
Sectarian
July 2017 | Analysis

Pakistan's Parachinar Problem

read more
Afghanistan
June 2017 | Analysis

Afghans’ Kabul Problem

read more
Pakistan
May 2017 | Comment

Fighting Taliban and the Islamic State: Don't prioritize

read more
India-Pakistan
April 2017 | Comment

Cross-LoC Interactions: Low Hanging Kashmir Fruit

read more
Pakistan
March 2017 | Brief

The Raddul Fasaad Fallouts: Will it succeed where Zarb-e-Azb failed?

read more
Pakistan
March 2017 | Comment

Deep-rooted Misogyny: Offend her; she will forgive in the name of tradition

read more
Pakistan
February 2017 | Comment

Court, Society and Valentine Day: Is expression of love against our culture?

read more
Pakistan
February 2017 | Brief

Hafiz Saeed Detention: Tactical Choice or Strategic Decision?

read more
Pakistan
January 2017 | Analysis

Terror revisits Parachinar: Kurram Agency’s Ten Year Sectarian Itch

read more
Pakistan
January 2017 | Analysis

State vs Militant Groups: What if the Genie has a mind of its own?

read more
Pakistan
January 2017 | Analysis

Sectarian Violence: No More Deja Vu

read more
Af-Pak
January 2017 | Comment

Pakistan’s Afghan Policy: What Shapes? Who Shapes? And through What Strategies?

read more
Pakistan
January 2017 | Analysis

Saudi Arabia, Iran and the ISIS: Pakistan’s Middle East Conundrum

read more
Pakistan
December 2016 | Analysis

Honour Killing: No Honour, Only Crime and Evil

read more
Pakistan
December 2016 | Analysis

Foreign Fighters: Why Pashtuns and Punjabis?

read more
Af-Pak
December 2016 | Analysis

Across the Durand Line: Who is in Control?

read more
Af-Pak
December 2016 | Analysis

Zarb-e-Azb: Pakistan, Afghanistan and the TTP

read more
Pakistan
December 2016 | Comment

And Now, They Are Coming For Our Children

read more
Af-Pak
December 2016 | Analysis

A Tale of Two Taliban: Linkages between Afghan and Pakistan Taliban

read more
Af-Pak
December 2016 | Analysis

Torkham Clashes: Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Durand Line

read more