Countering Radical Islamist Surge

NewsBharati    30-Sep-2021   
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The Taliban aided and assisted by Pakistan and ISI won the war and drove the U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan. Jihadis around the world celebrated the Taliban’s victory. It has raised fears that the country will once again become a safe haven for Islamist militants’ intent on perpetrating acts of international terrorism. Prospects of attracting recruits have brightened. Al Qaeda, ISIS, and their various affiliates and allies remain active in civil wars around the world. Not only India but even other non-Muslim countries must learn to live with terrorist threats.

A 33-member all male Interim Government composed almost entirely of its old guard and with top posts going to hardliners has been installed. Hardly the Cabinet reflects ethnic diversity. Out of them, 17 individuals figure in the UN Security Council (UNSC) Consolidated Terrorist List. Of these 17, three belong to the Haqqani Network (HN) and four were Guantánamo detention center releases. Also, 13 members were part of the first Government between 1996 and 2001, at the Centre or at the Provincial level.

For the Taliban, tolerance and secularism are utopia. Islamic fundamentalists and communalists are unlikely to relent and retract from their pristine form of religious ideology. Living in harmony with other religions is an impossible hope. The severity of the threat posed by jihadi groups such as al Qaeda and ISIS depends on where you are.

Experts perceptions vary over the latest Afghan outcome: Islam has lost the ideological appeal of establishing the "Global Caliphate based on fundamentalist Islamic society"; and its opposite - provides impetus to jihadists worldwide in multiple theaters and countries to exploit opportunities to establish Islamic Emirates/Caliphates by driving out Western countries and apostates.

In retrospect, in "What form, When and How" radical Islamist challenges and threats may envelop exploiting the opportunities consequent to "internal political and societal fault lines" in other countries is difficult to predict. The Taliban and its affiliates enjoy the luxury of opting for the best "Times", "Choices" and "Strategies". Mankind must learn to live with the radical Islamist challenges and threats in times to come.

Future is uncertain and unpredictable. Multiple threats from multiple sources to include lone wolf domestic terrorists may be real.

The intra Islamic religious divide is real. There are many ideological fault lines in Islam - "Religion Par Excellence" - with over 70 sub sects pursuing different politico-socio-economic objectives at local, national, regional and international levels.

Some Muslims postulate that political sovereignty belongs to God, that the Sharia equates to state law, and that it is a religious duty on all Muslims to create such a political entity. Muslims should guide social and political as well as personal life in conformity with the Islamic Sharia - both as a modern ideology and a political program. A few others believe that it is a whole body of thought which seeks to invest society with Islam which may be integrationist, but may also be traditionalist, reform-minded or even revolutionary. The key schools include:

· Wahhabism - doctrine is the uniqueness and unity of God; and Tawhid, not militant Jihad, a puritanical movement intolerant to deviant coreligionists and other religions.

· Salafism - jihadist-Salafism is a transnational, hybrid religious-political ideology based on absolute monotheism seeking a global caliphate, who consider violent struggle as necessary to eradicate obstacles to restoring God's rule on Earth and defending the Muslim community, or Ummah, against infidels and apostates. Also, shuns against the secular world and Western cultural influences besides doctrines held by other Muslims – particularly Sufis and Shiites. Their ideas included the creation of a truly Islamic society under Sharia law, and the rejection of taqlid, the blind imitation of earlier authorities, which they believed deviated from the true messages of Islam.

· Kharijites - oppose Sunni and Shia traditions. Only Allah could determine his successor and lets his will known in battle; justifies the right to revolt against any ruler who deviated from the path of the Prophet Mohammed.

· Muslim Brotherhood - Islam’s moral high ground would ultimately enable it to achieve success in a long-term context and there was no need to opt for violence.

· Qutubism - use of violence as legitimate to achieve the goals of Islamic revivalism; Azzam and Osama Bin Laden followed in the footsteps of Qutubism.

· Khomeinism - not about restoring the Caliphate, but about establishing an Islamic state where the leading role was taken by Islamic jurists (Ulema).

The long-term strategic goal of the radical Islam is simple: Establishment of the Global Islamic Caliphate. Followers draw inspiration from the basic tenet of the Quran: “Islam will deliver victory and success.” Most important, radical Islam manifests in two forms: intra Islamist struggle; and inter religious struggle on the global plane.

Academics classify it as simultaneous clash between two civilizations – Islam and the West. It is also a clash between three civilizations between Stone Age Islam, moderate and liberal Islam, which is democratic and secular. On reflection, it can be further enlarged as a clash between many civilizations (between Islam and Chinese; Islam and Hindu; and so on).

Islam is the world's second-largest religion, with over 1.9 billion Muslims in 2021. It is also the world's fastest-growing religion. According to the U.S. Center for World Mission, the growth rate of Islam at 2.9% is higher than the 2.6% growth rate of the world's population. The percentage of Muslims in the world is growing @ 0.6% per year, probably accounting for about 30 percent of the world's population by 2025.

There are 54 nations with Muslims constituting more than 50% of population. So, the struggle for supremacy between the moderates, fundamentalists and ultra conservatives may remain the biggest internal security challenge in other dominant Muslim majority nations, particularly in Pakistan and CAR nations. Furthermore, more than one-fifth of the world’s Muslim population live in countries where Islam is not the majority religion. In the EU, Muslims are likely to emerge as a major force by 2051. They too could be vulnerable to radical Islamists surge in pursuit of establishing a "Global Caliphate" that may plunge nations into utter chaos in the long term.

Majority of Muslims suffer from cumulative hurt psyche due to ‘Al Andalus syndrome", the “Crusades”, partition of India, 1948, 1965, 1971 wars and Kargil conflict, and defeats in 1948 Arab-Israel War, 1956 Suez War, 1967 Six Days War, 1970 War of Attrition, 1973 Yom Kippur War and 1982 Lebanon War, besides humiliation in Bosnia, Chechnya, Xinjiang, Iraq and Afghanistan. The relics and monuments in the Middle East and the Central Asia Republics remind them of their lost past glory of their Caliphates; hence their tryst with "Technology Age Crusades" in pursuit of Global Caliphate.

If the West and the rest classify radical Islamists struggles as "Holy Terror", Muslims firmly believe that they are waging Jihad - the Holy War". Unless one first understands ‘Anatomy of Holy Terror or Holy Frenzy”, which is as old as history, one cannot wage war on "radical Islamist terror".

Long term end objective of radicals is to establish Global Islamic Caliphate in three stages:

· Stage 1 - Establish Islamic Caliphates in nations with Muslim majorities or areas under control;

· Stage 2 - Extend establishment of Islamic Caliphates to the neighboring regions, where demographic transitions are likely to alter in mid or long term contexts; and,

· Stage 3 - Achieve the dream of the Global Islamic Caliphate beyond 2050 AD. Meanwhile, take the conduct of the mega terrorism war where it hurts the most to the West - the US and the EU.

All radical Islamist terror groups are bound to exploit the opportunities available due to the withdrawal of the U.S. and NATO forces and maintain the momentum in neighboring regional countries in Muslim dominated regions whose demographics, social and political conditions favor them to establish Islamic Emirates.

Until date, the Taliban has failed to fulfill earlier statements and assurances to the international community that they would form a broad based inclusive government. Also, it is premature to accept on face value its promise “to prevent any group or individual, including Al Qaeda, from using the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the U.S. and its allies”. It may be viewed as temporary strategic retreat. Temporarily, they may redeploy all other affiliates on the other side of the border in Pakistan.

The danger of a serious economic crisis is real with its foreign exchange reserves frozen by the US, assistance from the IMF/World Bank suspended and people facing food and cash shortages. To secure the flow of funds to avert an economic collapse, the Taliban may show flexibility and deliver on promises, albeit temporarily. However, with aid flowing from China, Pakistan and other West Asian Muslim nations, the Taliban government may persist with its hard line posture.

Pakistan is most likely to continue to deny aiding and assisting the Taliban and other terror groups. In reality, the Taliban and the HN are the brainchild of the ISI and its ‘veritable arms’. Sirajuddin Haqqani, the HN supremo, is the interim Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister. Pakistan and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and as Daesh (ISIS) are also in alliance with Al Qaeda, the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP), Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan or Pakistan Taliban (TTP), TTP Pakistan Punjab, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM - Masood Azhar; Bahawalpur in Pakistan Punjab), Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT -Hafiz Saeed; Muridke in Pakistan Punjab), HuM, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and others. Ipso facto, all terror groups have been cooperating and collaborating to carry out joint operations as per episodic situational requirements under ISI guidance. At the same time, they have been brutally targeting each other on various occasions.

Al Qaeda's affiliates - over 24 direct and indirect - with global reach may get a boost. Even the ISIS footprint persists in over 17 countries. Their rivalry may not weaken the jihadist threat. Instead it widens its scope. Both the ISIS and Al Qaeda movements have complementary effects on the global jihadi Salafist network. They are both exploiting disenfranchised or disillusioned Sunni youth in the Middle East and abroad. They are both undermining the existing state system and contributing to expanding wars in the region. They are both normalizing the belief that violent jihad is necessary in order to defend the Sunni community globally. But, the real threat is from ISKP. The "Ghazwa e Hind" is the dream of 'Radical Islam'.

In sum, Islamist radicals view modernization based on secularism as a threat to their expansionist agenda. Tolerance essential to live in harmony with each other may remain a utopia for the Islamist radicals. Vicious inter and intra religious crisis proliferations may only escalate with ultraconservatives in all religions exacerbating conflicts. Thus, clashes of civilizations will continue to haunt mankind.