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Terror Landscape Preceding Taliban Victory
The success of the Iranian revolution led to a boom in religious terrorism across the globe be it in the ME, West Asia, Africa, South Asia or SE Asia. The Iranian revolution was a landmark event that unravelled a protege of a superpower the Shah Regime. The events that followed—including the Siege of Mecca by Sunni Islamist insurgents that year and the assassination of Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat by Islamist extremists in 1980—showed how the revolution was to impact the region beyond Iran’s borders. This also gave the impetus to a global grouping of Mujahideen to congregate in Afghanistan and wage a war against the Soviet
invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. However, the event that actually changed the global terror landscape was the victory of Mujahideen over Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Following the Soviet defeat and its ultimate implosion and dissolution, Islamic Insurgent groups started emerging at a rapid pace such as Al Shabaab in Somalia, Kenya and Yemen, GIA in Algeria, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Chechen rebels in Russia, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syria and Palestine, Christian – Muslim conflicts in Sudan and Ethiopia ultimately leading to the partition of both countries. In the ME and West Asia groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, AQ in Iraq, Hamas and Palestine Islamic Jehad in Palestine gained momentum. Rise of religious terror groups has been one of the primary reasons of instability, conflict and violence in the Arab World since the Iranian and the first Afghan War with the Soviet Union. Even India and the SE did not remain untouched with the emergence of religious terrorism. India saw the emergence of the Indian Mujahideen, Pak based and ISI sponsored groups initially raised their heads in Punjab and subsequently in Kashmir. All this culminated in the Pakistan using such groups along with their regular army personnel to capture Kargil heights and from their launch operations towards Srinagar. However, their designs were thwarted by the extraordinary courage of the Young Officers and Jawans of the Army. The role of AF was also crucial in the Kargil victory as also the navy which kept the Pak attention diverted towards their maritime coast. Similarly the Abu Sayaaf of Al Qaeda managed to spread the tentacles of Islamic Jihad under the overall umbrella of Al Qaeda in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Philippines. Bus hijacks in Philippines, Marriott bombings in Indonesia and number of terror incidents in Malaysia and Thailand are still fresh in our memory. However, thanks to some determined action by the government forces of these countries and in the case of the Philippines aided by the US Defence Forces peripheral terror groups of AQ were systematically eliminated. Similarly, post the 9/11 attack by the Al Qaeda and subsequently after the death of Osama bin Laden the ISIS or Daesh spread its tentacles in West Asia, ME and Africa. Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Nigeria, Somalia were the worst affected countries. And the countries that were spared the wrath of Sunni terror groups such as Lebanon fell pray to the proxy war by Iran through Hezbollah. Even the European continent was not spared. Incidents of London, Madrid, Brussels bombings and Paris attacks are still fresh in our minds. To make matters worse Iran’s proxy like Houthi Rebels are also active in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Likewise, Egypt being at the cusp of the Arab and the African region was also engulfed in people’s revolution commonly known as the “Arab Spring.” However, these terror groups started losing momentum due to the gradual neutralisation of the mother of all terror groups in the region ISIS or Daesh due to the combined effort of the Iraqi government forces and the US in Iraq and thereafter in Syria by a multinational force led by the US on one side and Syrian Defence Forces of Assad and Russians on the other side. In addition, there were number of militant groups opposed to the ISIS like the Kurds and Anti Assad Democratic Forces which combined to decimate the ISIS. ISIS since then although active in pockets is working in a decentralised mode with affiliates in various parts of the world such as the ISIS (K) in Afghanistan and Boko Haram in Nigeria . ISIS K continues to conduct sporadic terror activities in Iraq and Syria but its influence has been gradually waning.
The Revived Dominos Effect
However, the terror groups be they global or local may become emboldened again following the chaotic exit of the US and the ISAF from Afghanistan. It has allowed the Taliban to takeover the country without a fight. Taliban has overnight become a governance agency from a terror group. It has inherited the most modern AF air crafts and weaponry in the world along with a state of art Weapons , vehicles and equipment left behind by US Land Forces in a hurry. Some times there is a perception that US Defence Forces may have deliberately left behind their defence equipment to prop up Taliban as a counter against Russia and China. Another looming danger is the ability of the Taliban which comprise of rag tag terrorist elements to remain disciplined and run an orderly government in Afghanistan? The situation of Afghanistan can be gauged from two factors, first, it needed the DG ISI of Pakistan Gen Fayaz Ahmed to visit Kabul to resolve the infighting between various factions of Taliban primarily Mulla Biradar Faction and the Sirajuddin Haqqani of the Haqqani network and facilitate government formation. Second factor which various countries in the world especially the South Asian, West Asian, African and the European Countries have to worry is the impact of the Taliban victory on the fundamentalist groups and religiously motivated terror groups operating in their respective countries.
Closer home, in Pakistan TTP has been emboldened by the Taliban victory and has undertaken number of terror attacks in Western Pakistan in Pashtun dominated areas against the Pakistani Army. In the month of July it undertook 26 attacks killing number of Pakistani Soldiers. Similarly, it carried out bombing in Quetta on 05 September 21. Similarly radical groups have started making noises in support of Taliban in Bangladesh.
As far as India is concerned, there are voices emerging in favour of Taliban from opposition leaders in J&K and radical islamic leaders in various parts of the country. The situation has been rightly summed up by Lt Gen Panag in an article published in ‘The Print’, “India, despite 17.22 crore Muslims (2011 census), is considered as Dar al Harb — a non–Muslim nation — by radical Islamists. The ongoing Pakistan-sponsored proxy war/insurgency in Muslim-dominated areas of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and perceived persecution of Muslims in rest of the country, makes India a natural target for radical Islam.” I tend to agree with this assessment. For example AQ announced formation of the Indian Affiliate named AQ Hind in Indian Subcontinent seven Years ago in 2014. It started shifting focus to Kashmir. On March 21, 2020 it renamed its Urdu magazine Nawa-i Afghan Jihad to Nawa-i Gazawatul Hind. It also devoted a chapter on jihad in Kashmir and swiftly hosted all its propaganda materials on a web portal named as “Azawatul Hind” (‘final battle against India). The essence of their propaganda refers to “Islamic apocalyptic war referenced in a Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad.” AQIS perhaps sees a window of opportunity in Kashmir following the extraordinary victory of Taliban in Kashmir by consolidating Kashmiri groups (LeT, JeM etc) under the banner (Nawa -i-Ghazwa Hind) despite most of its working level leadership eliminated in Afghanistan & Kashmir. Similarly, the ISIS has also established its foot prints in India. It has been releasing virtual propaganda material through its magazine ‘Voice of Hind’ (Swat al Hind) in Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, and English on a regular basis. ISIS in India aims at recruiting Indian Muslims by playing on their sense of alienation, perceived and misplaced injustice due to abrogation of Article 370 and 35 A, and playing on the fears of muslim population due to promulgation of NRC and CAA. It released a poster of a Muslim man on his knees being beaten on its web site Willayat e Hind during the NRC/CAA riots last year. This poster was followed by an article in its magazine ‘The Voice of Hind’ which is extremely inflammatory. Take for e.g. this excerpt from the article, “The paradise whose width is the extent of heavens and the earth. He is calling you to the ark before the destructive flood of Allah’s wrath descends. Hasten to the caller and hearken to the message before it is too late.” ISIS insists that allegiance to faith is paramount and that all Muslims to make sacrifices to establish the rule of Allah on the earth. Note the phrase ‘on the earth’, implying the global vision of the group to spread radical Sunni – Salafi Islam across the continent from Turkey to Indonesia and Philippines.
Road Ahead for India
Victory acts as booster dose and revives even the dead especially terrorists motivated by hard core Sunni – Salafi belief. India needs to guard against elements spreading religious hatred or else we may witness an internal conflict which may spread beyond the confines of UT of J&K besides worsening the situation there. Towards this end, the present government’s policy of “EK BHARAT SHRESHT BHARAT’ is the right long term approach. However, in the short term we need to assure every citizen of India of any religion, caste or community that their genuine interests will be always protected. USP of India is Spiritualism, ‘ Sarva Dharm Sambhav’, and Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. Statements coming out from RSS by its Sar Sanghchalak Sh. Mohan Bhagwat ji in Dainik Jagaran dated 07 Sep 21 that “Muslims need not be afraid in India.” This is a welcome development as compared to the divisive rant by Owaisi brothers on a daily basis and Zakir Naik dishing out toxic statements aimed at creating differences between Hindus and Muslims in exile from Malaysia. In order to maintain religious harmony and peace we will have to weed out radical Salafi Jihadi through deft, surgical and proactive operations based on sound and accurate intelligence. For this, India needs to heighten its Intelligence gathering and take proactive action to counter terrorism in the country. Preempting Pakistan and the notorious ISI must also remain the primary focus of India Defence Forces. Global jihadi groups should be constantly tracked and their activities neutralised through international cooperation, and forums such as UNSC, FATF and mutual cooperation with friendly countries in West Asia, ME, Africa and the West. We also need to take along our neighbourhood with us so as to prevent its exploitation by global and Pak based terror organisations through a China – Pak nexus. However, the most critical issue would be to ensure internal harmony, unity and stability. We should not provide opportunity to countries inimical to our interests to exploit our fault lines or else India may have to pay a heavy price. Political parties in India need to act in a mature manner on matters national security be it internal or external security. There should be an act of Parliament restricting Political Parties from politicising National Military Security and Internal Security issues. We must not forget the phrase….
UNITED WE STAND DIVIDED WE FALL
He is a prolific reader, writer and a keen sportsman. He writes regularly in leading dailies and military journals.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation that he belongs to or of the STRIVE
For Details on Future Trajectory of Various Terror Groups involved in Afghan conundrum Watch this You Tube Video