What is ISIS?
ISIS is a Sunni Muslim militant group that grew out of resistance against American and Shia fighters in Iraq. Promoted by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a former prisoner of the US Army, he inspired the violent resistance against western forces and the Iraqi government.
With Iran-backed Shia fighters gaining control over several parts of Iraq, Baghdadi’s forces have been countering the Shia and American influence with its extreme ideology that believes in reviving the Caliphate that once existed, covering large parts of Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Egypt.
ISIS has been raising its finances through capture of oil fields in Iraq and conducting illegal sale of crude oil. It has now spread to Syria where it controls large parts and is expanding further into Libya.
Is ISIS a threat to India?
ISIS is attempting to spread its ideology to countries that have a Muslim population and where there is a chance to reach out to disaffected youth. ISIS has been spreading its propaganda using social media which tries to communicate that Islam is in danger and that all Muslims across the word are being persecuted.
Fortunately, India has always been a tolerant and pluralist society which has welcomed and absorbed all religious faiths, including Islam. And thanks to our flourishing democracy and open society, everyone has a voice and chance to pursue any profession. As a result, the Muslim community has largely flourished in India, unlike in many other countries. This is despite the odd provocation and riots that the community has faced in India, from time to time.
The result has been that the Indian Muslim community professes and practices a moderate version of Islam and is far more open to adjustment and acceptance of other religions and lifestyles than what has been experienced in many countries, including the developed ones. Therefore, majority of Muslims in India have rejected the ISIS hardline ideology, although the odd individual has been attracted to it.
How prepared is India in countering ISIS?
ISIS has to be countered at two levels – through education and awareness, and through military and intelligence preparedness.
Education and awareness is the most important weapon the Indian government has that offers the best chance for countering ISIS. The government has to reach out to all moderate community and religious leaders across the country, and include them in the process of educating the youth against the futility of hardline ideology and to ignore the often false propaganda being spread by the militant group. Unfortunately, the government has not been very proactive so far, as it must do more in ensuring that the ISIS ideology does not find takers in India.
Military and Intelligence preparedness is an ongoing process and must form part of Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for countering any internal or external threat. Here again, the government is found wanting in several crucial areas including equipment modernization, training, surveillance and intelligence gathering.
Post 26/11 Mumbai attacks, the government was to have procured several modern counter-terrorism equipment but despite several assurances, the state and central government has not taken up modernization with the speed and urgency that it should have. Even today, the police and paramilitary forces are without modern lightweight bullet-proof vests, communication equipment, latest weapons and supporting gear. They are still not fully equipped to handle a variety of hostile situations that could come up at any given time. It’s not Mumbai alone but all Tier 1 cities that need protection but are far from equipped to handle any Mumbai-style attacks.
Even basic CCTVs that should have been procured in large numbers remain on paper. Of the few that have been installed, most are non-functional. The state governments have to take the blame for this casual approach as they are the first to put up their hands and put the onus on the centre to handle the crisis.
Training is another crucial area which has been largely ignored. Mock drills should be part of regular SOPs for local police and para military forces across the country but very little has been done, especially at the local police level. Recently, a popular television channel exposed the state of police preparedness in U.P. where most officers and constables were clueless in operating their hand weapons, which in any case were non-functional due to poor maintenance and non-use. Such forces become a liability rather than an asset in times of hostile crisis. Para military forces like the CISF which guard many public sector installations are poorly trained and equipped in dealing with an emergency.
Lastly, the most crucial form of defence against any terror attack is to fight it before the event occurs and that can only happen if the intelligence gathering is done using the latest technology and extensive surveillance. The police forces have not been very successful in penetrating vulnerable groups that could be potential targets for militant recruitment. This is absolutely essential if India has to counter any potential threat and will require proactive participation from the general public, which must support initiatives of the local police, para military forces and intelligence gathering agencies. Electronic monitoring of social media and establishing a state-of-the-art cyber warfare cell at the state level police must be given top priority.
People participation can prove invaluable
Outside of rigid communist countries, Israel is the only country that takes internal security seriously and a large part of that effort comes from people participation.
Ideological disaffection can trigger a hostile reaction from any individual or group and one of the most important role in countering such threats comes from community participation. The local community can play an important role in building a check and balance mechanism through dialogue and discussion within communities.
This along with an ongoing information flow with the local police can go a long way in checking the menace of radicalization. Several successes that state police have had in stopping youths from leaving the country to join ISIS has been due to information alerts received from local communities and even families of the disaffected youth.
Due credit must be given to the role being played by various Muslim community leaders and media who are contributing significantly in keeping the menace of ISIS in check. Hopefully, India will emerge a stronger nation.
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