VAPPALA BALACHANDRAN | 4 JULY, 2016
MUMBAI: Denying involvement by IS or ISIS in the Dhaka Spanish restaurant carnage on July 1 may be politically appropriate for the ruling party in Bangladesh. But it is a myopic analysis for South Asian security.
Similar was the statement by our Home Minister Rajnath Singh who told ETV on May 24, 2016 that IS posed no threat to India because Indian Muslims are against that organization.
By the same logic, ISIS should not have posed any threat to Bangladesh too as majority of their citizens are against violence. Bangladesh Prime minister’s adviser Gowher Rizvi’s statement blaming Pakistan ISI for trying to foment trouble through home grown terrorists like Jamaat- e-Islami (JEI) or Jamaeytul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) also fall in the same category.
Did anybody ever say that ISIS did not use homegrown terrorists for attacks? Four out of 5 terrorists in the 22 March 2016 Brussels Zaventem-Maalbeek attacks which killed 32 persons were Belgian nationals while the 5th was a Swedish citizen.
Our media has connected these developments to a Delhi Police charge sheet mentioning that an arrested operative of Al-Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) had claimed that his organization was “created’ by ISI. However this clashes with another media release of July 1 this year that the US had designated AQIS on June 30 “a year and nine months after al-Qaeda chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri announced the creation of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and introduced Indian-origin Asim Umar as its leader”.
Are we to understand that Ayman Al-Zawahiri is working for ISI?
The July 1 report also said that AQIS had claimed responsibility to the September 6, 2014 attack on the Karachi Naval dockyard “where the militants attempted to hijack a Pakistani naval frigate”.
So should we believe that ISI is working against Pakistan navy?
The same report quoted a South Bloc official saying that the AQIS designation as a “Specially designated Global Terrorist “under Section 219 of the Immigration & Nationality Act was due to “the close and strong counter-terrorism cooperation between the two countries, which has been elevated in recent years.”.
If this is so, should we not persuade the US State Department to designate ISI also under S.219, using this Delhi police charge sheet, also adding David Headley’s deposition in a Mumbai court in May?
The problem is that terrorist activities are far too complex to be solved by such simplistic analyses. After 9/11 al-Qaeda started modifying its earlier tradecraft of centralized operations into “outsourcing” by local Jihadi units. This was necessary for Osama bin Laden’s “Far enemy” strategy where targets would be decided by al-Qaeda to be hit by local units. In 2006 James Kitfield published an article “ al-Qaeda’s pandemic” in “National Journal” quoting Mario Mancuso, Pentagon’s man for combating terrorism: "Global insurgency reacts to Osama bin Laden s radical ideology almost like distant and seemingly disconnected light particles respond in unison to an unseen wave".
A series of attacks later like the 2009 Christmas eve North West 253 Amsterdam-Detroit flight by “Underwear Bomber” Nigerian Abdulmutallab or May 1, 2010 Time Square bombing by Pakistani Faisal Shahzad were incidents of “Do it Yourself” terrorism. Instead of “Top Down” recruitment a “bottoms up” strategy was adopted. Neither Abdul Mutallab nor Faisal Shahzad was recruited by al-Qaeda. They recruited themselves. ISIS has continued to follow that strategy with slight tinkering. They have more than 33 local affiliates who exploit local grievances which are plenty in India.
In September 2014 a prominent Indian weekly asked my opinion on the danger of ISIS to India. I had said at that time that the main danger to India is the “Back flush” of the indoctrinated youth. The series of arrests in India of suspected ISIS cadres especially this year would indicate the gravity of the situation. However there is a mistaken impression that the raids by US and later Russia on ISIS positions had weakened that organization. In fact “Economist” (June 25) has shown a shrunken ISIS land area map. We should not be lulled into inaction by that type of analysis. Even if ISIS’s land holding area has shrunk, their lethal power through local affiliates owing allegiance to them remains strong.
The December 2015 report by the Soufan Group, which is more reliable, has said that ISIS had 27,000-31,000 foreign fighters from 86 countries. They were only 12,000 from 81 countries in June 2014. The report gives the figures for India which was 23 official but 40-50 unofficial with 1 returnee. For Pakistan it was 70 official but 330 unofficial. A December 2015 ISIS manifesto spoke about the need to counter the “movement of Hindus who kill Muslims who eat beef”. The Soufan Report said that returning Jihadis were 20-30%, presenting a significant challenge to security and law enforcement agencies as we saw in Paris. This is by far the biggest danger to India.
Another danger is our own inadequacies. Firstly our data on our overseas workers is totally inadequate. The then Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs’ ( MOIA) 2012-13 annual report listed only 18,000 Indians in Iraq. As against this, “Iraq Business News” (May 17, 2010) said that “at least” 50,000 Indian workers were working in Iraq. Indian workers in the Middle East are seen migrating from one country to another in search of better jobs. More salaries are paid in construction projects in unstable countries like Iraq. Our workers are prepared to take that risk for getting better emoluments due to deprivation at home. We have no means of knowing how many of them have been indoctrinated.
Secondly the NDA government took a retrograde step by downgrading the MOIA by placing it under a junior minister within the office of the External Affairs Minister. That it has lost its efficacy is clear from the 39 missing Indian construction workers from Mosul since June 2014. Unfortunately our government is not able to give any clear idea whether they are held by ISIS or killed. This contrasts with the initial self congratulatory reports in our media that India was confident of getting their release through our National Security Adviser’s secret diplomacy. At the same time 49 Turkish consulate employees who were taken hostage on June 11, 2014 by the Islamic State were released on September 20 through the efforts of their intelligence organization according to “al-Monitor”.
[The writer is a former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, and author of “National Security & Intelligence Management-a new paradigm”]