The Spectre of Daesh in South Asia, Dealing with the Lingering Threat


The emergence of one of the wealthiest and  the deadliest militant organisations, the self-styled Islamic State or Daesh, poses an existential threat to the security and territorial integrity of some South Asian countries. Media reports and some recent incidents suggest that the militant organisation has ominously spilled over into Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India; but the governments in all these countries have downplayed the lurking threat and are still unmindful of its apocalyptic ramifications in the foreseeable future.

The spectre of Daesh is a looming threat to South Asian security in both urban and rural centres. After its emergence in Iraq, the group published a roadmap for the next five years according to which they planned to make inroads in ‘Khorasan’ (the old name for Afghan, Pakistani, Iranian and Central Asian territories). If the major regional powers continue to exercise reluctance while avoiding to adopt stringent measures to thwart the rampaging terror outfit, Daesh may unleash a raft of deadly attacks in their territories.

Daesh in Afghanistan

With its phenomenal battlefield successes in the Middle East, Daesh has attracted an abundant supply of jihadi fighters inside Afghanistan, thus making significant inroads in this war-torn country. The terror outfit, reportedly, has gained adequate areas for establishing itself in the provinces of Nangarhar, Paktika, Nooristan and Badakhshan.

Gen John W. Nicholson, who commands the US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, himself admitted that by December 2015, the Daesh controlled at least 10 districts of the Nangarhar province. However, since January, when President Obama authorised US forces to participate in counterterrorism attacks, the group has been forced to retreat from some of the areas.

Afghanistan’s vast mountainous and difficult terrain, abundant supply of jihadists; some of whom are attracted more by money than ideology, rampant corruption in the Afghan government ranks, disorganized and dispirited armed forces, a mostly non-functional government engulfed by rivalries and vast array of ethnic divisions, and support among the top echelons of the Afghan government are some of the underlying factors that have immensely helped the rampaging organization to set foot in Afghanistan despite the targeting of its leaders by the US through drones.

From the abovementioned provinces, Daesh continues to conduct its fatal terror attacks on government installations, organise clashes with the resurgent Taliban and blatantly abduct members of the Hazara community. Daesh claimed responsibility for a recent suicide bombing on a peaceful protest in the Afghan capital that killed at least 80 people and injured more than 200. On April 22, 2015, it claimed responsibility for a deadly blast that rocked the bustling town of Jalalabad – killing more than 40 people.

There are reports that Daesh has systematically penetrated even the high-ranking Afghan officials. Notably, one Daesh supporter recently arrested by the Afghan agencies was Engineer Mohammad Khan, the first adviser to and a close friend of Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.

The security forces of Afghanistan are largely toothless and are badly-equipped to eliminate the group. Therefore, the spectre of Daesh today poses the most daunting threat to the already-fragile security of Afghanistan.

Daesh in Bangladesh

In the recent well-orchestrated attacks on the Holey Artisan Bakery restaurant of Dhaka, six heavily-armed, well-educated fighters of Daesh staged a 12-hour-long siege in the café, killing at least 21 people; most of whom were foreign nationals. The attack was so ferocious and severe that the Bangladeshi government had to deploy Special Forces to counter the assault.

With her oppressive policies and her politics of blatant victimisation of the opposition and Islamists, Bangladesh’s incumbent prime minister, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, has actually provided Daesh with a fertile breeding ground. She has brazenly continued to hang and persecute the main leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami Party. This growing manifestation of political vendetta has dangerously radicalised a large number of highly educated youth in the country, who have joined Daesh in order to take revenge on the Awami League (AL) government.

The terror outfit has attracted a good number of staunch sympathisers and hotbeds inside Bangladesh to radicalise and indoctrinate the disillusioned youth of the country so as to carry out its nefarious designs of bloodletting and terror. Therefore, a string of deadly terror attacks in Bangladesh may be in the offing.

It’s a pity that the AL government has thus far denied the existence of Daesh on Bangladeshi soil while blaming the JI and BNP for attacks. It doesn’t bode well for the long-term security of this developing country.

Daesh in Pakistan

Daesh has established its foothold in Pakistan and also have found a large number of sympathisers. The terror outfit constituted a ten-member Strategic Planning Wing for recruitment, funding, and training of militants under the banner of Daesh/IS in Pakistan.

Since the creation of the wing, the group has been establishing its organisational structures in the country, especially in the terrorism-ravaged tribal areas. It has even succeeded in recruiting domestic militants and acquiring the support of some ‘like-minded’ terrorist and militant outfits such as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ).

Pakistan is already plagued with terrorist organisations. However, it is encouraging that Pakistani army has successfully dismantled the TTP’s organisational structure, central command and control centres, communication networks, and above all their operational bases through the ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azb.

But, the military’s success and the resultant weakening of the TTP have proved to be a blessing in disguise for Daesh as it has found opportunities to come forward with its wealth, sophisticated weaponry and strategies to prop up the hibernating TTP. Daesh’s funds may give a new life to the TTP by helping them in the reorganisation and fresh recruitment that could result in a new wave of violence in Pakistan. The TTP and other affiliated militant organisations could then carry out attacks on the country in a more lethal manner.

When the TTP was in a shambles due to its internal rifts and Operation Zarb-e-Azb had broken its back, some of its top commanders abandoned it and pledged allegiance to Daesh chief Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. These commanders were former TTP spokesperson Shahidullah Shahid, Hafiz Saeed Khan who operated from the Orakzai Agency; Hafiz Daulat Khan who was TTP commander in the Kurram Agency; Maulana Gul Zaman who was controlling the affairs in the Khyber Agency; Mufti Hassan who was the TTP commander for Peshawar and Khalid Mansoor who was responsible for Hangu.

TTP’s Bajaur commander Maulana Abu Bakar, his deputy Qari Zahid, and many of his affiliates, commanders, fighters and religious advisors have accepted Al-Baghdadi as their caliph. These commanders will be helpful for Daesh as they are well aware of the ground realities, have a close rapport with the locals, and have connections with the Afghan Taliban besides being aware of the Pakistan Army’s moves.

In October last year, some Uzbek fighters from an Al-Qaeda-linked organisation announced their support for Daesh. The support of the Taliban and Central Asian terror groups based in our war-torn tribal areas has further exacerbated the threat of terrorism and militancy.

Daesh in India

Daesh is relentlessly trying to cultivate terror in India also. The communal and anti-Muslim policies of the right-wing government of BJP under Prime Minster Narendra Modi have spurred the militant group to recruit radicalised Muslims from across India. In January this year, Delhi police arrested four Daesh members who were, reportedly, planning a terrorist attack ahead of Indian Republic Day. In July, Daesh said that it was planning to avenge the deaths of Muslims killed in riots in the state of Gujarat and elsewhere.

India’s top security agency has lately arrested two more suspected members of the notorious terror group in the Birbhum district of West Bengal. After Bangladesh, Daesh may attack India anytime in the near future.

How to root out Daesh?

The lurking threat posed by Daesh is rather serious for the region. To effectively counter and neutralize this threat, countries in the region need to mend their bilateral and multilateral ties and forge a strong alliance to root it out, especially from Afghanistan.

The Awami League government in Bangladesh must stop suppressing the leaders of JI and BNP. Moreover, the current Indian government must also shun discriminatory and repressive policies against its Muslim population in order to impede Muslims being indoctrinated by Daesh.

For its part, Pakistan needs to crack down against all outlawed militant outfits, and reform its police and criminal justice system so as to block Daesh from gaining more supporters in the country.

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