Volume 9, Issue 05 (May 2017): ‘Editorial Note’
The Islamic State (IS) terrorist group that emerged victorious in Iraq in 2014 has lost its eminence. Presently, it is on the defensive, struggling to retain its strongholds in Iraq and Syria. This contrasts with the situation in 2014 when the group was on the rise. It was expanding territorially, producing shockingly brutal videos with cinematic flare, and proclaiming its revival of the so-called ‘caliphate’ and implementation of Sharia to beguile local and foreign Muslims and fellow jihadists.
In recent months, IS has suffered several setbacks, including loss of territory, which is the focal point of its jihadist strategy. The group is also facing diminishing numbers of foreign fighters, depleting finances and high casualties of its commanders and foot-soldiers.
Given the above, will IS remain relevant to the global jihadist landscape in future? The answer resides in the international community’s ability to end the conflict in Iraq and Syria and ensure post-conflict political stabilisation. Failure on these two fronts will give IS enough space to recuperate and revive. IS will seek sanctuary among pockets of politically-disgruntled Sunnis, regroup and resort to guerrilla warfare as a military strategy to fight the powerful adversaries.
This is not the first time IS – earlier known as the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI) – is facing such a challenging situation. In 2006, when ISI leader Abu Musaab Al-Zarqawi was killed, it suffered huge setbacks. The group went underground and re-emerged in 2010 by defeating the Sahwa Movement, the Sunni tribal uprisings against the group. ISI exploited the Arab uprisings in 2011, and expanded into Syria to eventually become the IS in June 2014.
On the international front, IS’ declining influence and appeal and the vacuum created by its retreat have rendered the leadership of global jihad as a contested domain, once again, opening up the possibility of Al Qaeda’s (AQ) return to the top of the jihadi pyramid and merger between the two old jihadi allies. Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi recently stated that ‘discussions and dialogue’ have been taking place between Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi’s representatives and AQ chief Ayman Al Zawahiri. Any rapprochement between the two rivals is likely to further complicate the jihadi landscape in Iraq, Syria and beyond.
Against this backdrop, the latest issue of CTTA provides a snapshot of jihadist activities in Pakistan, India, the Philippines and Indonesia and the resulting security threat. Strategically, there is a weak correlation between defeating IS-central and its outlying wilayats and enclaves in Africa, Pakistan, the Philippines and elsewhere. Unless each pro-IS entity is defeated physically in its respective area of operations, the fight against the Middle Eastern Salafi jihadist group will remain incomplete.
Specifically, if the conditions and root causes that gave birth to IS and its militant affiliates from countries stretching across Nigeria to the Philippines are not addressed, the international community might have to prolong its battle against them or fight new extremist groups in the future. This is why ideological de-legitimisation through robust counter-narratives, conflict stabilisation in Iraq, and finding a viable political solution to the Syrian civil war are central to defeating the jihadist by-products of these conflict-hit areas.
In this issue, Rohan Gunaratna discusses the recent high-profile terrorist attacks in Manila and highlights the threat posed by IS East Asia Division in the Philippines. He argues that the recent attacks, unifications of various militant groups under the IS umbrella and the clashes between Filipino security forces and IS-affiliates in Bohol point to IS’s growing influence in the Philippines, and a stark reminder that the group is trying to expand northwards. The article contends that the IS threat is likely to increase in the future, and warns that the creation of an IS nucleus in the Philippines presents not only a domestic but a regional and international threat that needs to be addressed swiftly.
In the next article, Bilveer Singh discusses the revival of Al Qaeda’s affiliate, Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), in Southeast Asia. The author argues that JI’s present low profile and non-militant approach may change as more hard-line JI leaders and members are released from detention in the coming months and years, and as more well-trained and ideologically-hardened fighters from Iraq and Syria return to Indonesia.
Farhan Zahid details the rise of IS in Pakistan since the group’s formation in 2014, and the extent of its activities in all four provinces of the country. IS has managed to increase its clout by forming tactical alliances with like-minded local militant groups. He argues that IS is likely to assert its dominance through local affiliates in urban centers of Pakistan, specifically the Punjab province.
Patrick Blannin examines IS multiple sources of funding and some counter-mechanisms deployed by the global anti-IS coalition. The paper analyses how IS exploits the volatile political and security situation across the Middle East and North Africa to generate funding, and exposes the dichotomy between the terrorist group’s religious rhetoric and its criminal enterprises.
Lastly, Mohammed Sinan Siyech’s article examines IS footprint in India in the wake of the group’s suspected involvement in the recent bombing of a passenger train in Madhya Pradesh (MP) state. Although IS recruitment and presence in India is not as strong in numbers in comparison to other countries, it remains concerning given various vulnerabilities and fault-lines that exist in the country. Given the current volatile environment triggered by the rise of right-wing Hindu extremism or the Hindutva movement, another terrorist attack could contribute to communal tensions, leading to spate of violence.
Commentaries / Conflict and Stability / Global / Middle East and North Africa (MENA) / South Asia / Southeast Asia and ASEAN
Last updated on 16/08/2017