The massive crowd that gathered at Minar-e-Pakistan, Lahore at the funeral of the firebrand, radical Ameer of the political party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), Khadim Hussain Rizvi shocked many observers of Pakistan who considered his sect, the Barelvis, quietist and peaceful. Seen as adhering to Sufi Islam and revering saints and the Prophet, many believed they represented the moderate face of Islam providing an antidote to radical Islam.
The Barelvi movement was founded by Ahmed Raza Khan of Bareilly in the late 19th century as a reaction against the reformist Deoband, Ahl-e-Hadith and Ahmadi sects of Islam. Unlike the latter who emphasize upon the ‘humanness’ of the Prophet, the Barelvis consider the Prophet as God’s light (Noor), ever present (hazir-o-nazir), and having knowledge of the unseen (ilm-e-ghaib). They are the lover of the Prophet (Ashiq-e-Rasool) and for them the protection of his sanctity and veneration for him are non-negotiable. The Barelvis have a long history of supporting murder and violence when they believe that the Prophet has been insulted. In British India (1929), they eulogized Ilm-ud-Din as a holy warrior (ghazi) when he murdered the Hindu publisher of the book ‘Rangeela Rasool’ which was considered libelous towards the Prophet. They were most vocal in their condemnation when caricatures of the Prophet were published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2006. In 2008 they hailed Amir Cheema, the Pakistani immigrant to Germany, as a hero when he attempted to assassinate the German publisher of these caricatures. The Barelvi ulemas condemned Governor Salman Taseer when he argued for amending the blasphemy law in Pakistan. When Taseer was murdered by his bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri, not only did they defend Qadri but also pleaded for his release. Fatwas were issued against offering funeral prayers for Taseer based on which the Imam of Badshahi mosque refused to lead the ritual prayers for Taseer. The violent sit-in in Faizabad led by TLP this month, demanding the expulsion of the French ambassador from Pakistan was in protest against the re-publication of cartoons of the Prophet in France.
The TLP led by Khadim Hussain Rizvi has its genesis in ‘Tahreek-e-Rihai-Mumtaz Qadri’, a movement launched to secure the release of Mumtaz Qadri, the earlier mentioned murderer of Governor Salman Taseer. Building his politics around the twin emotive issues of the finality of the Prophet-hood of Mohammad (khatam-e-nabobat) and strengthening of blasphemy law (tauheen-e-risalat), this charismatic leader established instant connect with his followers through his demagoguery, easy accessibility and smart use of social media platforms. After Mumtaz Qadri was hanged in 2016, the movement was renamed ‘Tahreek-e-Labbaik-ya-Rasulallah’ (TLYRA) which finally converted itself into a political party, TLP. It contested the 2018 elections and surprised many by bagging 2.2 million votes, emerging as Pakistan’s fifth largest political party and the third largest in Punjab. It also won two seats in the Sindh provincial assembly. This political performance was creditable considering that the Barelvi religious political parties like Jamat-e-Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP) had remained fringe players in the space occupied by religious political parties which was dominated by Deobandi parties like Jamat-e-Islami (JI) and Jamat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI). The partisanship that the ‘deep’ state of Pakistan showed towards the radical Deobandi groups at the cost of the Barelvis, further aggravated their marginalization. This emboldened the Deobandi extremist groups like Sipah-e-Sahaba (SS) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), who considered the Barelvis to be heretics to attack Barelvi shrines (Abdullah Shah Ghazi, Data Durbar, Sakhi Sarwar, Shahbaz Lal Qalandar) and murder their religious and political leaders. The LeJ practically wiped out the entire leadership of the Barelvi Sunni Tehreek in 2006 in the Nistar Park attack in Karachi, where nearly 50 Barelvi leaders were killed. Saleem Qadri, the Chief of Sunni Tehreek (ST) was killed in 2001 and Allama Sarfaraz Naeemi in 2009.
After he burst onto the political scene in 2011, Rizvi organized several violent rallies, sit-ins and blockades against the perceived dilution of the twin laws of blasphemy and finality of Prophet-hood. Most of his rallies and sit-ins ended with the government conceding to his demands, which showed their weakness and further emboldened him. When the Election Bill, 2017, proposed changing the wording of the oath from ‘I swear’ to ‘I declare’, Rizvi and his followers held a sit-in at Faizabad arguing that this diluted the finality of Prophet-hood of Muhammad. The then PML (N) government sought the help of the army to disperse the protestors, but they declined showing their tacit support for the sit-in. The beleaguered government capitulated, accepting all demands of Rizvi. Not only was the proposed amendment reversed, the Law Minister, Zahid Hamid who had piloted the amendment resigned and all cases against the protestors were dropped. The ‘deep’ state’s support to the sit-in was further confirmed when Director General (DG), Rangers Punjab, Major General Azhar Navid Hayat was seen handing over cash filled envelopes to protestors. The Supreme Court of Pakistan, taking suo-moto cognizance of the Faizabad sit-in, castigated the armed forces and its agencies for acting in a partisan manner during the protest. A couple of days before his death, Rizvi had again been leading a protest movement against the re-publication of the cartoons of the Prophet in France. Reports state that the government, in an agreement with the TLP had conceded to all their demands.
The question which many ask now is about the future of TLP and the issues championed by Rizvi. Ironically, while Rizvi riled against the dynastic character of the mainstream political parties in Pakistan, much like them his elder son Saad Rizvi has been named the new ‘Amir’ (Chief) of the party. How far he can keep the party united remains to be seen. The TLP witnessed factionalism in 2017 when Asif Ashraf Jalali broke ranks with Rizvi after Rizvi unilaterally called off the Faizabad sit-in. As for the issues championed by TLP i.e blasphemy laws and finality of Muhammad’s Prophet-hood, both these issues enjoy widespread support in Pakistan. Minorities and Ahmedis are regular targets of these laws. The crisis of governance, declining credibility of mainstream political parties, a failing economy, rising urbanization, unemployed and underemployed young population and above all support of the ‘deep’ state to radical groups will ensure that parties like TLP will sooner than later convert their street power into substantial electoral victories. This does not portent well either for Pakistan or for the region.
So the truth is finally out. Testifying before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Advisor to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on foreign affairs, Mr. Sartaj Aziz confessed that the dossier on the so called Indian involvement in promoting terrorism in Pakistan given to the United Nations and the United States did not contain any ‘material evidence’ but instead contained ‘patterns and narratives’ of Indian involvement. This was stated in response to the demands of the members of the committee that the dossier and the evidence of Indian involvement be shared with them. Sartaj Aziz refused to share with them the dossier and stated that ‘The dossiers have been meticulously prepared, but material evidence cannot be shared for the sake of protecting the sources’.
The so called dossier was initially prepared by Pakistan for handing over to the Indian National Security Advisor (NSA), Mr. Ajit Doval during the meeting of the National Security Advisors (NSAs) of India and Pakistan (as was agreed to in the meeting between the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan on the sidelines of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) conference in Ufa, Russia). It was reported (Economic Times, July 14, 2015; Pakistan PM’s NSA Sartaj Aziz says to hand over dossier on alleged Indian ‘interference’) that the Pakistani Establishment had told ET that this dossier had ‘solid evidence’ and had already been shared with some countries. Since the meeting was subsequently cancelled, the so called dossier was later presented to the UN Secretary General by Ms. Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations and by PM Nawaz Sharif to John Kerry, US Secretary of State. This dossier was never shared with any Pakistani journalist or analyst and this is what a pro-establishment anchor Dr. Shahid Masood had to say about the dossier. Have a look:
Even the United States refused to acknowledge the dossier or the charges mentioned therein. Spokesman for the United States Department of State, John Kirby stated that he was not aware of the receipt of any such dossier. John Kerry (who is generally considered to be a Pakistan sympathizer), upon his meeting with the Pakistani PM, made no mention of the dossier and tweeted that he and PM Sharif discussed ‘security, regional and global issues’. America further snubbed Pakistan and asked it to put in ‘additional effort to target all terrorists in its territory.’
Of late the Pakistani establishment has been crying hoarse over Indian involvement in supporting terrorism in Pakistan. It accused India of funding the Pakistani political party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) led by Mr. Altaf Hussain, supporting and funding the Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP), Pakistan and the Baloch Nationalists. The so called dossier was said to have been prepared as conclusive evidence of these involvements. The Pakistani establishment picked up the story of India having funded the MQM with a view to promote terror in Karachi from a report about the confessional statement of MQM leader Tariq Mir who was stated to have confessed before the London Metropolitan Police of having been provided funds by Indian agencies. The existence of any such confessional statement (as shown in the Pakistani media) was denied by Alan Crockford, the spokesman of the London Metropolitan Police who stated that ‘no such document is part of the record’. Interestingly, initially the story of Indian funding to MQM was broken in a BBC report by Owen Bennet-Jones. This story by Mr. Bennet-Jones remains in my eyes one of the shoddiest and most one sided works done by BBC and undermines its credibility and reputation. Here is how the (so called) expose begins, ‘Officials in Pakistan’s MQM party have told the UK authorities they received Indian government funds, the BBC learnt from an authoritative Pakistani source.’ So the entire expose rests on an ‘unnamed’ Pakistani authoritative source and the source from MQM. No cross verification of facts needed from the London Metropolitan Police! Since the latter denied it, the whole expose falls flat. You can have a look at the report and judge for yourself:
Pakistan has for long accused India of supporting Baluch nationalists who are waging a war for independence from Pakistan. It has accused the Indian consulates in Afghanistan of being conduits to support this war. To any student of international politics, it would appear preposterous that the Iranians would allow the Indian consulate in Zahedan to be used to foster an independence movement in Pakistani Baluchistan for this would invariably have a collateral impact on their restive Sistan Baluchistan province. Much hue and cry was made in 2009 over a statement by Dr. Christine Fair as proof of Indian support to Baloch terrorism wherein she had said (in the Foreign Policy roundtable), ‘Having visited the Indian Mission in Zahedan, Iran, I can assure you they are not issuing visas as their main activity.’ Masters as they are in the art of distorting facts, Pakistanis picked upon this statement as proof that India was supporting terrorism in Balochistan through Iran. In an interview to Outlook magazine subsequently, Dr. Fair categorically denied that India was supporting terrorism in Balochistan. She said, ‘I never said there was active support for terrorism, that is something that the Pakistanis attributed to me.’
Similarly, during the sidelines of the Non Aligned meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt in 2009 when the then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met his then Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani, Pakistani media went on overdrive reporting that a Pakistani PM had provided a dossier to Manmohan Singh on the Indian involvement in Baluchistan. It was reported that it was this dossier and the proof provided therein, that had forced the Indian PM to acknowledge the Indian involvement. It was because of this that Balochistan had found a reference in the joint declaration issued after the meeting. This joint declaration was much criticized in India. Later on though it was acknowledged by none other than the then Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, that no such dossier had ever been given to the Indian PM. In an interview to the Outlook magazine he stated, ‘No we didn’t (hand over a dossier). Actually, we flagged the issue of Balochistan. We asked for a positive attitude and asked for non-interference inside Balochistan.’
It is worthwhile to note that Baloch separatist leaders like Hyrbyair Marri have repeatedly and categorically stated that Baloch people are not in favour of seeking Indian help for Baloch independence (Dawn, October 10, 2015; ‘Will never seek help from India: Hyrbyair Marri). He stated “I have never sought help from them, nor will I in the future.” Interestingly while Pakistan was preparing the so called dossier (in August), Brahmdagh Bugti, the Chief of Baloch Republican Army (BRA), announced his decision to open a dialogue with the Pakistani government. He stated that he was ready to negotiate with the Pakistani establishment and was ready to coexist with Pakistan. Here is what he said in his BBC Urdu interview:
If India was controlling these Baloch nationalists, how could it allow Brahamdagh Bugti to negotiate with Pakistan with a view to bring peace to Balochistan, especially when the relationship between the two countries is at the moment close to its lowest? Is it any secret as to what Pakistani agencies end up doing to Hurriyat moderates who show flexibility and willingness to negotiate with India? What happened to Abdul Majid Dar and Abdul Gani Lone?
The most preposterous claim made by the Pakistani establishment is that India supports the Tehrik e Taliban (TTP), Pakistan. Post the tragic attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, General Asif Bajwa, the Chief Military Spokesman accused India of funding the TTP. That the Taliban had been created and supported by Pakistan has been acknowledged by the then President of Pakistan, Parvez Musharraf and is now on record. In an interview to the Guardian (13 February 2015, Musharraf: Pakistan and India’s backing of ‘proxies’ in Afghanistan must end), he stated that Pakistan supported the Taliban to undermine President Karzai. That the TTP is rabidly anti India has been stated time and again by the spokesmen and chiefs of Taliban themselves. In an interview to The News, (December 23, 2008), the Chief of TTP, Baitullah Mehsud had committed that ‘thousands of our militants are ready to fight alongside the army if war is imposed on Pakistan (by India)’. Hassan Abbas, the former Pakistani security officer in his book, The Taliban Revival writes that in November 2008, post Mumbai attacks, fearing surgical strikes from India, Pakistani intelligence had declared Baitullah Mehsud and Mullah Fazlullah, both senior commanders of TTP as ‘patriotic’ at a special confidential media briefing. He writes that leading Pakistani journalists were told by the Pakistani intelligence, ‘We have no big issues with the militants in FATA. We have only some misunderstandings with Baitullah Mehsud and Fazlullah. These misunderstandings could be removed through dialogue.’
Similarly, after an attack on the Pakistani side on the Wagah border (November 2014), TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan tweeted that India was as much a target for them as Pakistan and threatened to attack PM Modi. See here:
Why the Pakistani insinuations?
Why is it that the Pakistanis have now suddenly ratcheted up the insinuation that Indians are involved in terrorism in Pakistan without any conclusive evidence? In the eyes of this author, there is method to this madness. Here are the reasons:
First, is the issue of ‘equivalence’. Pakistan seeks equality with ‘Hindu’ India in all spheres. As India has, much to the chagrin of Pakistan, successfully managed to convince the international community of being a victim of Pakistani sponsored terrorism, Pakistan wants to paint itself as a ‘victim’ of Indian sponsored terrorism so as to develop a false moral equivalence between the two countries. Unfortunately for Pakistan, there are not many takers of this argument and it is still seen by the international community as principally a ‘sponsor’ rather than a ‘victim’ of terrorism.
Second, Pakistan remains deeply concerned about the developing strategic relations between India and the United States. Pak PM Nawaz Sharif expressed concern during his US visit (September 2105) that American support to India was affecting the strategic balance in South Asia and requested the United States to side with Pakistan against India and to pressurize the latter to negotiate on Kashmir.
Pakistan’s ambivalent attitude towards terrorism and its selective targeting of terrorists has gradually changed the narrative in the United States which now has started to look at Pakistan more as a part of the problem than the solution. Mention should be made here of the candid admission by Sartaj Aziz that Pakistan should not target those militants who do not threaten its security. ‘Why should America’s enemies unnecessarily become our enemies?’ he asked in an interview to BBC Urdu in November 2014. ‘Some of them are dangerous for us and some aren’t, so why should we make enemies of them all?’ he asked while speaking of the Haqqani network. Though the US establishment is still to get over its old habit of seeking to ‘buy’ off better behavior from the Pakistani establishment, more and more voices of the futility of this approach are now being heard. A corollary to this is that India receives a more sympathetic hearing to its narrative of Pakistani sponsorship of terrorism. USA has been pressurizing Pakistan to act against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack and also against the D Company.
Third, the Pakistanis believe that since the mid of this year, the geo-strategic and geo-political situation/ dynamics had gradually and irretrievably turned in their favour. Their all-weather friend China had recently announced an investment of 46 billion dollars in Pakistan and President Ghani of Afghanistan had gone out on a limb to repair the relationship with Pakistan reversing many of his predecessor’s so called pro-India policies. President Ghani had not only decided to put on hold Karzai’s request for Indian weapons to fight the Taliban, but had also sent six Afghan army cadets to Pakistan for training, visited the Pakistan army HQ (November 2014) and signed an agreement with the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to combat terrorism. In return it was expected that Pakistan would use its influence to reign in the Taliban and bring them to the negotiating table. The United States and China too were supportive of Pakistan in the belief that it could help in a negotiated settlement of the Afghan imbroglio by bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table. All this helped create a mistaken sense of bravado and arrogance in the Pakistani establishment that they were indispensable to the achievement of the geo-strategic objectives of major powers and so could adopt a more belligerent attitude towards India. (That the subsequent events like the failure of the Murree talks and the Kunduz attack by the Taliban made Ghani realize the futility of his outreach to Pakistan and the limitations of Pakistani influence on the Taliban itself is another story.)
Fourth, is the oft repeated Pakistani establishment’s strategy of ‘externalizing’ its internal problems. Since the launch of operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan, incidents of terrorism have gone down in the country but there still have been some spectacular terrorist attacks by the TTP like the unfortunate attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar (December 2014) in which 132 innocent children were killed and the attack on the Air Force Base in Badaber (September 2015) in which 29 people were killed. Dr. C. Christine Fair in her book ‘Fighting to the End: Pakistan Army’s Way of War’ mentions that in the face of internal threats and challenges, the Pakistani Army seeks to externalize (mostly successfully) these threats to the enemies (India) who are held responsible for creating and aggravating these threats. This in turn not only brings the focus back to India but also buttresses the Pakistan army’s role as the premium institution in meeting these threats. As mentioned earlier, it is not for nothing that the DG, ISPR Gen. Bajwa was quick to blame India after these attacks.
Fifth, is the personality of the present Army Chief of Pakistan General Raheel Sharif. He is a hawk on India. He hails from a family of ‘martyrs’ and his brother Rana Shabbir Sharif was killed in the 1971 war with India and is the only recipient of both the Sitara-e-Jurrat and the Nishan-e-Haider. In fact, on his elevation to the post of COAS many analysts argued that he got the position only because of his family legacy. He was not in a command position as Lt. General but was serving as Inspector General, Training and Evaluation (DG, T&E). He was also not the senior most but third in the list of Generals to be considered for the position after Lt. General Haroon Aslam and Lt. General Mehmood. Taking a firm anti-India line always helps consolidate one’s position amongst skeptics in Pakistan. Further, like Nawaz Sharif, he too is a Kashmiri. So any one in India having any illusion that the General will be accommodating towards India is in my opinion day dreaming.
Sixth, the change in government in New Delhi and the new hardline but pragmatic policy of the present government has disoriented the Pakistani establishment. Used to the old ways of the earlier governments, Pakistan finds the belligerent statements of the present NSA and ministers disconcerting. It does un-nerve the Pakistani establishment when India’s defense minister goes on record to state ‘kaante se kaanta nikana’ (use a thorn to take out thorns) and that ‘we will neutralize terrorists through terrorists only’. Pakistan understands that India does have the ability to respond to Pakistani terrorism in kind (but has as a policy refrained so far from doing so) as was demonstrated during the days of the Punjab insurgency when RAW (India’s spy agency) had created a Covert Intelligence Team X (CIT-X) and a Covert Intelligence Team J (CIT-J) to target Pakistan and Khalistani terrorists. For some unknown reasons and in the mistaken belief that it will earn Pakistani goodwill, these covert teams were closed down under the orders of the then PM, Mr. I. K Gujaral. Pakistan believes that if it raises sufficient hue and cry about Indian involvement in terrorism in Pakistan (even without any evidence), it could pressurize India to refrain from such covert activities/operations.
Seventh, with the international pressure it was subjected to after its state sponsoring of the Mumbai attack, Pakistan was forced to reign in some of its proxies created with the express aim to give effect to its doctrine of ‘bleeding India with a thousand cuts.’ Further, under domestic pressure post the attack on school children on Peshawar, it started taking action against anti-Pakistan militant organizations like the TTP and some sectarian organizations. While some terrorist organizations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) are pro-Pakistan to the hilt and would in no circumstances countenance an attack on the Pakistani state, other terrorist groups like the Jaish-e-Mohammad, Al-Badr, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi etc. share an ideological affinity with the militant Islam professed by groups like the Taliban. Recently, there were reports that bodies of 71 Al-Badr militants killed in a drone attack in Afghanistan were returned to Pakistan, pointing to the ideological affinity and relationship between these militant organizations. The Pakistan establishment fears that these militants may soon declare the Pakistani state and army as apostate and may turn against them by aligning with anti-Pakistani militant groups. A belligerent stance against India not only helps in shoring up Pakistani reputation in the eyes of these militant groups (for as mentioned earlier, these groups remain firmly anti-India) but also helps to keep public opinion firmly in its favor.
Last but not the least, the narrative that India is supporting and funding groups like the TTP helps remove any skepticism from the minds of the Pakistani troops and officers in the justness of their fight against these groups, who claim to fight for Islam and the Sharia. It is no secret that the Pakistani society and the Armed forces have become deeply Islamic post Zia’s Islamization programme. During the Afghan Jihad, many in the Pakistani armed forces developed close contacts and life-long associations with the Mujahadeen. Brig. Sultan Amir (Colonel Imam) has been a legendary figure in the Pak army and a supporter of the Taliban till his assassination ironically by the latter. Khalid Mehmood, a technician with the Pakistan Air Force was convicted and hanged in an assassination attempt on Parvez Musharraf. Similarly, the attacks on PNS Mehran Naval Base in 2011 and Karma Airbase in 2014 were attributed to insiders. With such divided loyalties amongst the armed forces, the official narrative that TTP is funded by and so is a stooge of ‘Hindu’ India is a convenient psy-op devised to foster unity amongst the armed forces and to remove all skepticism from their minds of the righteousness of the cause of taking up arms against these groups.
It can thus be seen that while the establishment of Pakistan does realize that it does not have any substantive proof of Indian involvement of terrorism in Pakistan, it is convenient and useful for them to keep carping about it. I conclude by quoting Cyril Almeida, a well-known Pakistani columnist on the dossier (Dawn, October 4, 2015, ‘One country, Three policies’); ‘Some familiar with the contents thought it lucky the Indians weren’t willing to receive the dossiers…Because, had the Indians been embarrassed into receiving them, they may have gleefully splashed the contents around the world — so shoddy being either the work of the dossiers’ compilers or, worryingly, of the intelligence-gatherers themselves.’ So can we say that the drama of the cancellation of NSA talks was enacted not by Pakistan because India insisted on discussing only terrorism, but because they were too afraid and embarrassed to hand over these so called dossiers with proofs to the Indians?
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’. Questions are being asked as to why it was the ISIS which proclaimed the Caliphate and not Taliban or Osama-bin-Laden? This is more intriguing considering the fact that the avowed goal of the Al-Qaeda (reading its literature) is the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in the Muslim lands.
Here is my take on the issue.
Timing of the proclamation of Caliphate
As to the question of timing of the proclamation of Caliphate by Al-Baghdadi, I would like to draw the attention of the readers to the writings of the Jordanian journalist Fouad Hussein. He spent time with Al-Zarqawi (the mentor of Al-Baghdadi) in prison and soon gained access to the Al-Qaeda inner circle of which Al-Zarqawi was a part then. Al-Zarqawi paid nominal allegiance to the Al-Qaeda, though the relationship was difficult from the outset. He was later disowned by the Al-Qaeda for his ruthless ways. Fouad Hussein brought out a remarkable book in Arabic called “Al Zarqawi- Al Qaeda’s Second Generation.” (This unfortunately has not been translated into English). Loretta Napoleoni in her book “Insurgent Iraq- Al Zarqawi and the New Generation” has made references to Fouad Hussein’s work.
Based on Fouad Hussein’s book Yassin Musharbash, writing in the German newspaper SPIEGEL Online (The Future of Terrorism, 12 August 2005) states that the ‘insurgent network hopes to establish the Islamic Caliphate’ in seven steps;
The first phase from 2000 to 2003 was characterised as the “Awakening Phase”. The aim in this phase was to provoke USA into declaring war on the Islamic world, thereby awakening the Muslims. 9/11 was a part of this strategy.
The second phase from 2003 to 2006 was defined by Hussein as the “Opening Eyes,” whereby Muslims of the world would be made aware of the western conspiracy against them. The insurgents believed that their organisation would develop into a movement in this period.
The third phase from 2007 to 2010 was described as the “Arising and Standing up” phase. During this period there was to be increased focus on Syria and attacks on Israel.
The fourth phase from 2010 to 2013 was when the insurgents would aim to bring about the collapse of the hated Arabic governments. The power vacuum so created would strengthen the hands of the insurgents.
The fifth phase from 2013 to 2016 was the point when “Islamic Caliphate would be declared”. They believed that by this time the Western influence on the Islamic world would have reduced and no resistance would be feared.
The sixth phase from 2016 will be a period of “Total Confrontation.” With the declaration of the caliphate the “Islamic army” will instigate a “fight between believers and non-believers.”
The seventh or the final phase will be completed by 2020 and will lead to “Definitive Victory” and the success of the Caliphate. The rest of the world would be beaten down by “one and a half billion Muslims.”
Going strictly by the seven phases described above the proclamation of the Caliphate coincides with the time period as provided by Al-Zarqawi and his followers. Al-Baghdadi who proclaimed himself the Caliph was a close confidant and follower of Al-Zarqawi.
Al-Qaeda led by Osama Bin Laden and Al-Zawahriri instead believed that the caliphate could only be declared only when certain criteria are met, the most notable of them being the liberation of all Muslim lands. In its latest newsletter Al Nafir, Al Qaeda details the occupied Muslim lands to be liberated before the caliphate can be declared. These include Palestine, Chechnya and the Caucuses, Kashmir, Spain, East Turkestan, Afghanistan, Arab World, Pakistan and Afghanistan. So the capture of some rump territory cannot be the basis for the proclamation of the caliphate in the eyes of Al-Qaeda.
Modalities of the choosing the Caliph
Al-Qaeda believes that post the liberation of the Muslim lands, the Caliph would be chosen by a ‘Shura’ or thru a consultative decision making process. This process of consultative decision making process has been prescribed in the Quran and has been practiced by the Prophet (PBUH) himself. Upon the Caliphs selection by the ‘Shura’, the Muslims would proclaim their allegiance (bay’a) to him, thus making him the legitimate Caliph. In the eyes of Al-Qaida, Al-Baghdadi is a pretender for he was not elected by a ‘Shura’, instead he self-proclaimed himself as Caliph. In his sermon at Mosul Al-Baghdadi said, “I have been appointed caliph over you, even if I am not the best or the most morally excellent amongst you.” This goes against the grain of not only of how Caliphs were selected but the hallmarks of the rightly guided Caliph’s i.e. their high standards of humility, wisdom and morality.
In 1996, his followers did proclaim their allegiance (bay’a) to the Taliban leader Mullah Omar after he donned the cloak of the Prophet (PBUH), but he took upon himself the title of Amir-ul-Mu’minin (Commander of the faithful) and not the Caliph. The reason in my view was that his vision was limited to the establishment of an Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan and the Taliban had no global jihadist ambitions. It is worthwhile to mention here that Taliban rule in Afghanistan was based not only on the Islamic Sharia but also on the Pashtun code of conduct called ‘Pashtunwali,’ a unique tradition prevailing only in Afghanistan.
Further, the first four caliphs called rightly guided caliphs all claimed descent from the Quraysh tribe. Neither Bin Laden nor Mullah Omar could either claim kinship to the Prophet (PBUH) or the Quraysh tribe. It is no surprise then that to reinforce his claim as the Caliph, Al-Baghdadi has assumed the title of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi Al-Husseini Al-Qurashi, reiterating his descent from the Quraysh tribe.
Establishment of a proto-state
The establishment of the Caliphate in Iraq in my view is not only a religious exercise but also a political enterprise. The ISIS, which subsequently renamed itself as the IS and proclaimed itself as the Caliphate seeks to establish a proto state in the western and northern Iraqi areas captured by it. By proclaiming itself as the Islamic State it seeks to establish legitimacy in the eyes of the Sunni Muslims around the world. This also helps in establishing its identity as distinct from other Muslim ‘movements’ like the Al-Qaeda and hopes that groups proclaiming allegiance to them would switch loyalties to the IS. In The Hindu (Battling for the Islamic Space, Imagination, 9 July 2014), Talmiz Ahmad wrote “As of now, ISIS enjoys several advantages over al-Qaeda: while the al-Qaeda leadership is located in the remote inaccessible areas of Afghanistan, ISIS has placed itself at the heart of the Arab world.”
Reports from the areas controlled by it indicate that the IS is a pragmatic exercise. Mushreq Abbas wrote in Al-Monitor (Why Al-Qaeda is no Islamic Clone, 23 July 2014) that the IS is “striking alliances with Baathist groups and tribal factions. Some former Baathist figures have been appointed also to managing posts in the city. The invasion of Mosul and most of the other Sunni cities entails economic and managerial plans, including the provision of fuel, food supplies, distribution of land and the search for funding resources from oil wells — the newly exploited and operating ones and those that remain under geologic studies.”
Many disparate groups like the ex-Baathists, Salafists, Naqshabadis, ex-Iraqi army of Saddam Hussain came into a coalition of convenience against the sectarian policies of Noori al Maliki and joined hands with ISIS to create the IS. They have different ideological orientation and affiliations. Also it should be noted that Iraqi nationalism is pretty fragile. Unlike Afghanistan where despite ethnic differences, there is a general consensus amongst all ethnic groups be it Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks or the Hazaras that Afghan state should remain united, Iraqi territorial nationalism (created by Sykes Picot agreement) has been under challenge from various ethnic groups like the Kurds and now the Sunnis. In my opinion Al Baghdadi probably believes that the proclamation of a Sunni caliphate is the glue that would hold these groups together. Mullah Omar faced no such challenges in dealing with Afghan nationalism.
I would conclude by saying that while scholars may argue about as to why Al Qaeda and the Taliban did not declare the Caliphate early and why did the IS declare it now, the need of the hour is to see the clear and present danger that these organisations pose to both the Muslim and non-Muslim world. The videos of IS brutalities are blood curdling and destruction of Shia holy sites has the potential to fan a wave of sectarianism around the world. IS provides safe havens for terrorists with dangerous ramifications for global peace and security. The need of the hour is a unified response by the global community to meet the challenges posed by these forces.
“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.