“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.