Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

[op-ed snap] Down, but still a potent terror force


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : ISIS - falldown and way ahead


The U.S. President announced last week of the death of Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in the Idlib Province of northwest Syria. 

Similar to Osama

    • This incident reminds of the elimination of Osama bin Laden. This perpetrator of violence and hatred was also hunted down in Abbottabad, Pakistan and liquidated by the Americans.

Economic background

    • Osama bin Laden was the older of the two and was from an affluent business family. Baghdadi had a modest economic background and was from a family of farmers. 


    • But both had a religious streak and a university education with somewhat modest attainments. 


    • The violence came naturally to both, except that bin Laden seemed more rational in the choice of his targets.


    • Baghdadi’s vision was narrower and confined itself to West Asia, particularly Iraq and Syria. He exploited the opportunity created by bin Laden and retreating into a shell to escape American operations. 


    • The al-Qaeda and the IS operated independently although not always at cross-purposes. 
    • They never complimented each other. The IS came into existence after bin Laden became nearly moribund. It believed in spectacular action and did not get bogged down to theory or ideology.


    • Osama bin Laden never spoke in terms of sovereignty or territory. His appeal favored an ideology that considered all non-Muslims as infidels who needed to be dealt with the utmost severity. 
    • Baghdadi believed in the power of control over geographic territory and the full use of the state apparatus with all its resources, including oil, to spread and perpetuate the IS’s message. 

What lies ahead

    • No leader needed – The movement thrives solely on an individual’s spirit of vengeance and does not call for any extraordinary organising capacity. 
    • Immediate response – The short audio clipping that was released announcing the appointment of leader warned the U.S. of severe reprisal for Baghdadi’s killing. 
    • The situation in Iraq and Syria – It makes one believe that Iraq and Syria are in for a turbulent time. The partial withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria has led to the escape from custody of a number of IS prisoners and their families.
    • Cadre – The IS’ new leadership may be expected to make an intense appeal to its cadres not to become demoralised after the elimination of Baghdadi.
    • They may scale up revenge against the remaining American forces.
    • Extended organisation – There may not be any immediate attrition in the IS’s ranks which are spread over a wide area encompassing most of West Asia and parts of Asia and Africa. 
    • The basic structure would comprise what is known as Wilayats headquartered in a number of provinces in each country.

What it means for India

    • India has enough reason to be apprehensive about the developments in West Asia. 
    • There is the possibility of ‘lone wolf’ IS attacks across the nation. MHA is apprehensive about attacks on high dignitaries. 
    • The raids by NIA in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere suggest an IS presence in the country. 
    • A few misguided Indian youths crossed into Iraq in the early days of the IS to fight for jihad. Most were disillusioned in a quick time and a few returned home with horror stories of the state of IS camps. 
    • Others might have stayed back and could be the dangerous part of IS’s core.

Way ahead

    • Security agencies should keep a close eye on the returnees so that they do not lapse into mischief and allow themselves to be used as ‘sleeper cells.
    • They should also assist the authorities in deradicalisation as well as checking new recruitment to the IS. 
    • Both tasks require enormous community alertness and swift communication with security agencies.
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