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Is ISIS a threat to India?

July 4, 2014

What is the ISIS?

ISIS - Islamic State of Iraq and Syria

Islamic State of Iraq and Syria

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also sometimes referred to as the Al-Tawhid or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is a Sunni militant jihadist outfit predominantly active in Iraq and Syria. The group subscribes to an extreme version of Islam and promotes sectarian violence in keeping with its jihadist ideology. All non-Muslims and even Shias are denounced by the group as infidels and apostates. The main ambition of the group is to create a united, transnational pan-Islamic state, a sharia-based caliphate, stretching mainly across Iraq and the Levant region. This includes parts of Syria, Israel, Jordon, Lebanon, Egypt, south Turkey, and the Palestinian territories.

The foundations of the ISIS can be found in the aftermath of the US-led invasion of Iraq, when this offshoot of the al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI) formed its agenda to promote insurgency in the region through guerrilla warfare. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the newly named Caliph of the Islamic State formed by the ISIS. Over the past weeks Iraq has been in on the verge of a civil war due to this challenge posed by the ISIS.

Crisis in Iraq

Over the past few weeks, ISIS militants have waged a serious guerilla war in Iraq with the intention of establishing their intended caliphate and overthrowing the regime of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Shia-dominant National Alliance. 97% of Iraq’s population is Muslim of which about 65% are Shias. The Sunnis of the country have been complaining of discrimination in almost all walks of life. ISIS militants started to take over villages and towns in northern Iraq starting early June. By mid-June, the Shia dominant city of Tal Afar and a number of villages in the Salahuddin and Nineveh provinces had all been taken over. Shias were murdered en masse, houses burnt down, and thousands displaced. The fall of Mosul (Iraq’s second-largest city and capital of Nineveh province) and Tikrit (a central city about 150 km from Baghdad) came as a major blow to the Iraqi forces fighting the ISIS. Almost half a million residents of Mosul fled the city. By late June, the ISIS renamed itself Islamic State (IS) and announced the establishment of a caliphate on the territory that is now under its sway – stretching from Aleppo in northern Syria to Diyala in Iraq. The caliphate is a now-obsolete Islamic form of government. The last caliphs in history ruled across the Ottoman Empire.

Caught in the Crossfire

The Government of India is scrambling to evacuate over 1000 Indian nationals living in Iraq through airports in Baghdad and other hitherto safe cities in the war-torn country by the end of this week. Other evacuations will be organized through the following weeks.  Over 10,000 Indians work in Iraq of which about 100 live in the affected northern regions. As of now about 85 Indians have been taken hostages by the ISIS. This includes 46 Indian nurses  from the town of Tikrit, previously held in the “protective” custody of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria militants at the Tikrit Teaching Hospital compound. As of the latest news reports the nurses have been forced to move to an undisclosed location in Mosul against their will. The safety and security of the hostages has been a major concern for the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). Evacuating the Indians from a civil war disrupted Iraq has proved to be a major challenge for the MEA headed by Ms. Sushma Swaraj of the newly elected NDA government. Relatives of Indians in Iraq have launched a demand for swift and decisive action in the matter.

Is ISIS a threat to India?

At first look it may seem that apart from concerns over fate of the nationals in Iraq, India is not at immediate threat from the ISIS. The group only seems keen on carving out a caliphate along the Iraqi-Syrian border and in the Middle East. A closer look, however, reveals that the threat is a more imminent one. ISIS has global ambitions which include carving out an Islamic World Dominion. India will be a prime threat in the achievement of these ambitions.

After the declaration of the caliphate, the newly-named Caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi addressed jihadists the world over and said, “Muslims’ rights are forcibly seized in China, India, Palestine, Somalia, the Arabian Peninsula, the Caucasus, Sham (the Levant), Egypt, Iraq, Indonesia, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Ahvaz, Iran, Pakistan, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria and Morocco, in the East and in the West. Prisoners are moaning and crying for help. Orphans and widows are complaining of their plight. Women who have lost their children are weeping. Masajid (plural of masjid) are desecrated and sanctities are violated… Terrify the enemies of Allah and seek death in the places where you expect to find it. Your brothers, on every piece of this earth, are waiting for you to rescue them” (sic). The address explicitly mentions India as one of the prime targets of the ISIS.

In its recently released world map of the planned dominion areas, ISIS also marks out parts of north-west India. The outfit plan to include many north-western provinces of our country including parts of Gujarat in the planned Islamic caliphate of Khorasan that ISIS aims to achieve.

Is India Prepared?

India is agreeably distant in the scope of the militant outfit’s ambitions. What cannot be ignored, though, is the fact that ISIS has spelled out India’s name as one of its prime targets outside Iraq, Syria, and the Levant. Ignoring the ISIS will only be at our own peril. India has already faced the painful consequences of terrorist attacks by Lashkar-e-Taiba, south Asia’s most active terrorist outfit that shares ISIS’ ambitions of establishing an Islamic state. The ISIS caliph’s call for all jihadists from across the world to join them does not bode well for our nation. India’s threat could well be greatest from the Indian jihadists fighting alongside the ISIS. Do we have a strategy to curb the threat they pose once they get back home? Is India prepared for another terror attack similar to the one that rocked Mumbai on 26/11 (2008)?

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