By Surya Valliappan Krishna*
The Indian government’s strategy of dealing with the Islamic State thus far has been to deny the presence of a threat, and to take credit for the minimal radicalisation that has been seen in the India context. The situation however is much different. We’ve seen an estimated 200 cases of radicalisation so far, with approximately 10-15
A document titled “A brief history of the Islamic State Caliphate, The Caliphate according to the Prophet’ was in the hands of Pakistan Taliban members that outlined the Islamic State’s lethal plans for India. Since the Islamic State seeks to establish a caliphate in South Asia, attacking and disrupting India poses the biggest challenge. Given that the Islamic State is showing signs of expanding beyond its strongholds in Iraq and Syria, this cannot be brushed aside as an empty threat. It cannot be taken lightly as South Asia is home to a massive Muslim population and a potentially strong support base if not a critical recruiting ground.
Earlier last week, India’s Ministry of Home Affairs (interior ministry) called for a meeting of 10 states in a bid to formulate a coherent strategy related to the Islamic State threat. So far, we’ve seen that recruitment of Indian youth has been centred in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Hyderabad.
The Centre’s strategy to counter the Islamic State is a welcome move. Until now, the situation was being dealt on a case-by-case basis and national security strategy was limited to Kashmir-based Islamist terror, conflict in the north-east and Naxal violence. It is unlikely that ‘hard power’ is going to be a part of this framework, given India’s inclination to not trigger a dormant pro-Islamic State sentiment among the Muslim community. The West has been attempting tocounter Islamic State using a combination of hard and soft power by employing both military force and counter narratives.
There has been some evidence of programmes in place to address de-radicalisation of attempted jihadists and returnees. In the case of Kalyan youth, Areeb Majeed, and an unidentified 19-year-old Hyderabadi woman, in addition to investigation, counselling and psychological help was provided by the authorities. This effort has been dubbed as Operation Chakravyuh by intelligence agencies.
These so-called individual cases of IS-related radicalisation are beginning to take the form of a network. The dangers of this trend are obvious, the backing and support of a network as compared to an individual jihadists is far more lethal.
The threat is not limited to India alone; there is general threat perception in the subcontinent. Maldives, given its tumultuous political situation since 2008, has seen the radicalisation of over 200 individuals among its population of approximately 300,000. It is no surprise that elements within Pakistan such as the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Jundullah have heeded the IS call. With the funding, structure, propaganda, glitz and glamour associated with the Islamic State, ‘franchise militancy’ will continue to be on the rise.
Association with home-grown terror groups is not limited to our neighbours across the border but has been seen in India itself. Members of an Indian Mujahideen associated cell with strong links to the Islamic State were arrested on April 15, 2015 in Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh. The Indian Mujahideen has also been actively recruiting youth for jihad in Iraq and Syria.
The Indian Diaspora and individuals of Indian origin too have got their fair share of the Islamic State action. With these individuals,living abroad in a culture perceived as anti-Muslim along with the brutal foreign policy of Western powers gives rise to an identity crisis resulting in a dire need to make a choice regarding either being Muslim or a being a citizen of a Western country.
What India needs is an effective counter narrative and a pro-active effort to engage the Muslim youth. It is increasingly being seen that radicalisation has been largely focused around the online realm. Internet is turning out to be the first point of contact rather than their moderate parents for these young Muslims who have questions
regarding the legitimacy of jihad. With the abundance of videos related to suffering of the Muslim community abroad available online, it is not that difficult anymore for an individual alienated by society and social context to believe in a cause much bigger than himself or herself.
In what form this strategy would take shape is yet to be seen. This is however a step in the right direction. With the number of India fighters in IS increasing, the large looming threat of returnee fighters is potentially catastrophic.
*Surya Valliappan Krishna is a postgraduate student at the Department of War Studies, Kings College London. He is a lead researcher on Mantraya’s ‘Islamic State in South Asia’ Project. He can be reached at [email protected])