As Prime Minister Narendra Modi makes his first trip to the Kashmir Valley to inaugurate a train link and a hydelpower project, developments in Iraq and its impact on Indian security will be weighing heavily on his mind.
On July 1, the first day of the holy month of Ramzan, the Islamic State (IS), formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), declared its global agenda. The IS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in an audio message called on Muslims worldwide to launch a jihad against several countries, including India. The threat came just two days after the militant group declared the territories that it had seized in Syria and Iraq as an Islamic Caliphate. With its extremist Wahhabi ideology, the Islamic State has carried out brutal attacks, particularly targeting Shia Muslims.
This was the first reference to India in the Islamic State’s jihadi propaganda, but it is certainly not the first time foreign terrorist groups’ have targeted India. The Islamic State was a part of the Al-Qaeda till February this year. The threat by the Islamic State follows an Al-Qaeda video, uploaded on jihadi forums on June 14, that urged Kashmiri Muslims to follow in the footsteps of their ‘brothers’ in Iraq and Syria and launch a jihad against India.
How should these threats be assessed from the perspective of India?
Looking at the perilous situation in Iraq, the Islamic State’s threat is certainly real for the approximately 10,000 Indians working in Iraq – as current events surrounding the fate of 46 Indian nurses has shown.
However, from the viewpoint of immediate terror attacks within India, a somewhat measured approach is needed. Although the Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are shrill in their rhetoric, both groups lack the capability to carry out their threats. In the last few years, India has faced countless Al-Qaeda threats, but they didn’t fructify primarily because of their failure to ally with local like-minded groups, the lack of ground support and alertness on the part of Indian security agencies.
The Islamic State will face even greater difficulties reaching Indian shores. Even if some operatives manage to, they are unlikely to find ground support.
Nonetheless, the seriousness of the threat should not be undermined. National security mechanisms must be battle-ready to tackle the worst case scenario.
Their internal differences notwithstanding, a much more sinister intent behind the Al-Qaeda and Islamic State rhetoric is to spread the Wahhabi ideology in India to create sectarian clashes between Sunnis and Shias. It is here that Prime Minister Narendra Modi faces a critical challenge.
Wahhabism and other forms of radical ideology have made significant inroads into the Kashmir Valley in the last two decades. This has imperiled the traditional Sufi ideology and created fissures. The deepening sectarian cracks are visible in the numerous fire incidents at local shrines in 2012-13 and attacks on aitekadis (followers of Sufi saints).
Modi needs to make an all out effort to uproot the growing roots of Wahhabism. And what better place to begin this endeavour than the Kashmir Valley which gave the world the idea of Kashmiriyat – an ideology that espouses the idea of cultural harmony and patriotism regardless of religious and ethnic differences.
Sameer Patil is Associate Fellow, National Security, Ethnic Conflict and Terrorism, at Gateway House.
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