Europe is witnessing the snowball effect of Islamic terrorism in West Asia. The 13/11 is the biggest terrorist attack ever took place in Paris, where terrorists opened multiple fronts by shouting Islamic slogans. Paris was a particular target because the terrorists consider it as the Den of Sin. It is a war against all cultural values and civilisations that are not in tune with basic Islamic tenets expounded by ISIS or Daesh. As Af-Pak region is another epi-centre of terrorism, the concerns are not limited to Europe but are equally pertinent for South Asia in general and Bharat in particular.
Multiple terror attacks across Europe and West Asia have got alarms bells ringing around all the regions which have traditionally been targets of terror. In 2015 alone, it commenced with testing of waters with the Charlie Hebdo case and in quick succession in the recent past we have had the Ankara bombing, downing of the Russian airliner in Sinai, the Lebanon bombing and now the Paris multiple attacks. I is reported that the terrorists involved in Paris attacks have links even in Denmark, UK, Belgium and other countries. This has kept the alart at high levels.
It appears that ISIS or Daesh as it is often called has decided to go the Al-Qaida way. Thus far under the notion of being a Caliphate it was concentrating on only the immediate periphery which would assist it in consolidating its hold over its territories. Now it seems it has decided to expand the battle lines and take the fight to Europe and possibly other regions to project its capability, motivate its foreign recruits and deliver a message of how well organised it is. There can be no doubt that on display so far has been slick planning, clandestine networks, wide outreach and excellent organisation with a penchant for detail. Psychological messaging as much as physical harm seems to be its forte.
Bharat has been on the Daesh scanner for recruits due to the large minority Muslim population. It should obviously be watching with care and be concerned. We have been subjected to the travails of sponsored terrorism for more than thirty years and also fit into the Daesh scheme of things due to the mythical perceptions of Khorasan in which much of our territories come within the projected Caliphate which it feels is its legitimate right. Geo-strategically we straddle a vast area which can be a bulwark against the physical expansion and connectivity to other perceived areas of the Caliphate in South and South East Asia. Thus, in both spheres, Bharat is important; geo-strategically and in the psychological domain where a 175 million segment of Muslims can be targeted for support. We also have a dangerous neighbourhood which is in fair degree of turbulence with both Pakistan and Afghanistan suffering major internal security problems linked with Radical Islam.
Terror organisations love to announce their arrival with a grand event (their perception of grand) which usually involves an iconic city, building or celebrities. It helps convey the sheer vulnerability of the security system and affords an opportunity for terrorists to mock. International media and these days social media will do the rest in terms of projection. Daesh is also short of funds and will get progressively emasculated as western nations and Russia have decided to target the oil infrastructure from where it was earning by selling oil to nations at lower rates. It is thus looking towards Af-Pak where it perceives existence of clandestine funds from narco terror networks which it hopes to garner. The Daesh concept of operations in Africa and West Asia has witnessed cooperation with surrogate groups such as Boko Haram and Al Shabab without its own physical presence. Can this work in Bharat? Potential surrogates here are the Islamic Mujahideen whose effectiveness is largely down and the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) or its cousin the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), both Pakistan based groups with near matching ideological agenda as Daesh but varying political agenda. It is unlikely that LeT will want its pride of place, as South Asia’s leading trouble creator and our arch enemy, to be diluted by surrogacy. The JeM has been less effective and its pan India capability has taken a beating, if it ever was there. It can be a potential surrogate although JeM’s partnership will not assist Daesh in any major way in the Af-Pak region.
The potential of Daesh turning attention towards South Asia will depend much on the state of the war in Syria and Iraq, the way the big powers handle the subsequent military campaign and the response within Europe on the mainland. However, as stated before the feasibility of upsetting all calculations and throwing counter measures off gear is always bright and Daesh has the skills to put together something so horrendously innovative that it is difficult to contemplate. The feasibility of going half way with lone wolf attacks will remain live as this needs little logistics and planning. Besides, disaffected and ideologically led lone wolves are quite easily identifiable within ranks of the Indian diaspora in the Gulf region. This is what our intelligence agencies have to be careful about. It will be necessary to monitor the new domains of information sharing in social media and continue developing capability in this field which is improving by the day. Deep data mining and follow up is necessary while cooperation with US based agencies and security organisations is almost mandatory because it is there that the capability exists.
Our intelligence agencies can be proud of the fact that they have pro-actively prevented a major terror attack in Bharat since 26/11 but in the field of intelligence ten good days can be followed by one bad day and the latter is what has to be prevented. The difference between the Paris attacks and Mumbai’s 26/11 is that the former were perpetrated internally by those located on French soil while in the latter case the actors transported themselves from the neighbourhood. It is always simpler planning an attack such as Paris and that is something the LeT may have also learnt. Attacks by long existing modules and sleeper agents are akin to home based attacks. The intelligence agencies have their job cut out for them with the ever expanding diversity of methodologies. However, nothing can be taken away from the fact that this is not a one off phenomenon and that long term perspectives have to be viewed. Terror organisations are known to sow seeds to reap harvest many years later. This brings us to the entire gamut of radicalisation.
Radical Islam is now beyond debate the scourge which is driving antipathy globally. We have a large Muslim population. Although Bharat is well known for its syncretic culture and integration of minorities the feasibility of minority elements coming under adverse influence in Diasporas in the Gulf region always remains live. What we need early and effectively is public – private partnerships in the monitoring of social media and online influencing of youth towards patriotic values. Potential targets for Daesh among young Muslims need to be kept attracted to counter narratives online. This is neither simple nor feasible in an early time frame because strategic orientation towards such issues in Bharat is still at nascent stages. Much of academia and think tanks, besides media and religious scholars have to be involved in the making and selling of counter narratives. Ideas on this need to be exchanged and that should be the next big intellectual and academic exercise. Countering online radicalisation should emerge from a knowledge based society such as Bharat rather than anywhere else. One such exercise has recently been done most effectively at Vivekananda International Foundation.
In physical terms we need to refocus our attention on security of Tier 2 cities where our response mechanisms may not be as sound as what the NSG has been able to establish in the metros. Bharat's Tier 2 cities are well populated and the psychological fallout that terror groups seek may be as high as metros.
Last, no such analysis can be complete without an examination on the proxy war in J&K where Pakistan has been attempting to wrest advantage through ingenuously devious ways. Can Daesh make a difference of be an inspiration for all those stakeholders looking at J&K with an evil eye? It appears reasonably unlikely in the current context. Pakistan is apprehensive of Daesh and its intent and may be unwilling to offer its territory or any collaboration because of potential unrealised backlash. Daesh flags and posters in Kashmir are symbols to divert attention and display an Islamic affinity. The Separatists can indulge in any skulduggery with Daesh at the risk of their own annihilation. However, here again it is the Radical footprint which needs to be addressed seriously because any form of alienation coupled with radical beliefs can be a potent weapon for proxy war.
Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (The writer is ex GOC Srinagar based 15 Corps, is a strategic analyst of repute, associated with India Foundation, Vivekananda International Foundation and Delhi Policy Group)