The attack on the Ataturk International Airport at Ankara led by an ISIS suicide bomber of Chechen origin, the Orlando massacre by a self-confessed ISIS convert born and brought up in US and an earlier attack on a theatre hall at Paris by a team of ISIS shooters which included at least one Algerian, all confirm one thing—that the world is witnessing a new global warfare between Islamic radicals on the one hand and the US-led West, supported by some sections of the Muslim elite, on the other. In the three attacks, a few foot soldiers of ISIS killed or injured over 500 innocent civilians before dying themselves. And now ISIS is said to be behind the attack by a group of seven militants armed with guns and grenades on a restaurant in the diplomatic enclave of Dhaka on 1 July. They shot dead two policemen and killed nearly 20 foreigners who had been taken hostage, sparing the captives who could recite verses from the Quran. Six of the attackers were finally killed by the armed forces of Bangladesh and one taken into custody.
These acts of terrorism have brought out the reality that post Cold War, the world is facing an “asymmetric war” of global proportion, in which Islamic radicals led by ISIS and the Al Qaeda-Taliban combine have succeeded in producing the ultimate weapon of terrorism—the suicide bomber, by pitching indoctrination for the “cause” at a level that prepares its soldiers for making the supreme sacrifice in the name of religion.
The US strategy to deal with the Islamic radicals in the “war on terror” that followed 9/11, rested on the twin approach of getting the helpful Muslim elites ruling their countries to combat the radicals at home and pumping in money into these countries for the enhancement of democracy in the Muslim world at large. That strategy has not succeeded. The only success achieved was by way of elimination of some top leaders of the radicals in US operations conducted at the back of the “allies”. Policymakers in the US are now caught in the polemics of whether Islam as a religion had anything to do with the new terror that the radical forces within the Muslim world had legitimised as an instrument of war against the West.
What ISIS is doing in the Iraq-Syria region of West Asia and what in parallel was being attempted by the Al Qaeda-Taliban axis in the Pakistan-Afghanistan belt of South Asia, can no more be dismissed as conflicts instigated by sundry militant groups not deserving recognition as a part of the Islamic spectrum. This evasive policy enables the Islamic radicals to fully utilise the opportunity of spawning within Muslim society everywhere and inhibits peace-loving sections of the ummah from disowning the radicals. The democratic world needs to clearly declare that Islamic radicals were seeking political resurgence against their opponents by injecting violence into religion in the name of jihad. The Muslim community, enjoying complete freedom in countries with democratic dispensation, may find it easier then to raise a voice from within against faith-based terrorism.
There is no gainsaying the fact that ISIS and the Al Qaeda-Taliban combine have managed to whip up a global combat of geo-political significance, in which the historical memories of Western encroachment on the lands of Muslims and also of the Crusades have been invoked to set off terrorist assaults in Europe and elsewhere against soft targets. The radicals are revivalists, whose extremism is rooted in the call that Islam would regain political supremacy in the world by going back to the strict code of the period of pious Caliphs in general and to the spirit of jihad in particular. Apart from targeting Muslim rulers supporting the West, the radicals take on Shias and “idol-worshippers” wherever opportune because they carry the historical legacy of the extreme hostility of Sunni extremism towards them.
The geo- political dimension of the US-backed “war on terror” also shows up in the reflection of the Cold War divide in Syria, where militants opposing President Bashar Assad—who are different from ISIS—enjoy the backing of the US, just as Muslim Brotherhood did in the time of his father, Hafez Assad who was deemed to be pro-Soviet. Russia is supportive of Bashar. A global strategy against Islamic radicals demands unambiguous rejection of all groups that practise faith-based militancy. As this has not happened, the radicals have converted this militancy into terrorism on the strength of suicide missions.
India has to find ways and means of preventing the spread of ISIS in the country through indoctrination on social media or otherwise. Our agencies are alert and are being quite successful in handling the challenge so far. The activities of AQIS (Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent) will need a close watch for the added reason that Pakistan’s ISI has a handle on some radical groups in India and Bangladesh, such as IM and JuM and can manoeuvre them against the US in a bid to gain further importance in the eyes of the Americans. On the other hand, it can also set them upon India, using the deniability card of “shared victimhood” to get away from any charge of collusion. India needs to make sure that Pakistan had no connectivity with the incident at Dhaka. A subsequent statement attributed to Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, exhorting Muslims in India to launch attacks against those who were behind communal riots, clearly smacks of Pakistani influence on AQIS.
D.C. Pathak is a former Director of the Intelligence Bureau.