In the United States, those without medical insurance have to wait until an illness turns critical for them to be admitted to a hospital, despite healthcare in such cases being several times more expensive than when an ailment is battled at an early stage. Similarly in India, very often a security threat develops in a climate of official denial, often for decades, before erupting. Take Kashmir, where the Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Abdullah accord facilitated the entry of Wahhabi groups into the Valley beginning in the 1970s. Several hundred religious schools mentored by religious radicals were set up, even as hundreds were allowed to return from the Pakistan-controlled side to those parts still left in India. These were largely left alone by security agencies as being merely “pious youth”, yet it was these individuals who participated in the genocide of Pandits in Kashmir. For close to two decades ending in 1989, the steady indoctrination of Kashmiri youth by Wahhabi groups, intent on duplicating the Afghanistan strategy in India, was underplayed by security agencies. In Punjab as well, J.S. Bhindranwale was sponsored by no less than a Union Home Minister, because he opposed the political and personal rivals of Zail Singh within both the Congress as well as the Akali Dal. Those active in the ISI-sponsored Khalistan movement in Canada, the US and the UK were allowed free entry into the Punjab to spread their toxic message. Foreign financiers and publicists for Khalistan should have their visas cancelled. Those recruited by ISIS across India should not be indulged as “pious” or “misguided” youth, but as vectors of terror needing to be sanitised before causing mass casualties.

ISIS represents a more potent threat to the stability of India because of the boundary-less appeal of the core doctrine of the movement, which is that its leadership alone has the knowledge and the will to prevail over its foes and to provide a governance system that it claims would approximate that of the golden age of Islam. The takeover this year of Marawi in the Philippines by ISIS may inspire clusters elsewhere to attempt similar land grabs in locations where they confront inadequate or incompetent security forces. Takeovers of towns even for a few weeks would create a destabilising dynamic and spread of the movement within several countries where unemployment and misgovernance are rife. Add to that the potential for small groups of recruits anywhere in the world to commit localised acts of mass terror. These include the 80-plus attacks—with close to 700 casualties—carried out in Europe and North America since 2015. The region around India has already been systematically infiltrated by ISIS through groups such as the Jundul Khalifa Bilal al Hind and the Wilayat Khorasan. Security agencies need to keep pace with such an expansion. While two dozen modules in India have been discovered and destroyed, it could be that ISIS is still in the process of building up its network in India, before it begins launching attacks on the scale seen in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Security agencies need to work out counteroffensives that multiply the use of cyber and psywar before ISIS graduates from the stage of building up its capabilities to joining in the ISI’s existing non-conventional war against India.

Conservative (official) estimates are that around 400 Indian nationals have been confirmed as having been recruited into different cells of ISIS, but the number is almost certainly much more.

ISIS, the latest avatar of global Wahhabi terror, is distinguished by the sophistication of its social media usage and reach. Given the determined use of encrypted methods of communication by extremists, it is certain that a large proportion of new recruits to ISIS in India are as yet unknown to the security agencies. Conservative (official) estimates are that around 400 Indian nationals have been confirmed as having been recruited into different cells of ISIS, but the number is almost certainly much more. Worse, more than 4,700 radicals from Malaysia, Indonesia, Maldives, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan have been confirmed as having joined ISIS battle groups in Syria, Iraq and Libya. For them, India is a tempting alternative target, now that the organisation is being pushed back from the territory it has controlled since 2014. 

Among the reasons against taking in Rohingyas is the fact that the terror hubs in Bangladesh are as enthusiastic as their counterparts in Afghanistan and Pakistan in planning for “bringing back through jihad the glory of the past” to India. Largely unreported in the media, Indian nationals who joined ISIS continue to be killed in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and even the Philippines. A recent casualty was a youth from Kasargod in Kerala, Mohammad Marwan. Over the past two years, estimates by global security agencies compute the number of Indian citizens killed during confrontations with ISIS as being in excess of thirty.

The earlier history of downplaying threats in Punjab and Kashmir until it was too late to save hundreds of lives should not be repeated in the case of ISIS. The virus needs to be eliminated while still in its initial stages of progression, as otherwise it could mutate into forms that may take decades to overcome.