By Muhammad Waqas
7 October 2014
With the imminent US departure from Afghanistan now fast approaching, the Al-Qaeda is rearing its head once again. Once a dreaded terrorist organization, the US-led war in Afghanistan had significantly hurt the operational capability of Al-Qaeda’s terror network. However, new announcements by the terror outfit’s leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri reveal that it is now looking to break ground in new frontiers. The Al-Qaeda has purportedly formed an Indian wing of its militant group to “raise the flag of jihad” across the subcontinent.
Counterterrorism experts are describing the formation as a direct response to the growing influence of Islamic State, another terror group that has recently attracted a lot of media attention and new recruits from all over the world after capturing large tracts of territory in Syria and Iraq. The new push could be part of a wider media campaign by Al-Qaeda to counter growing popularity of the Islamic State movement beyond the borders of Iraq and Syria. Notwithstanding this emerging rivalry between the IS and Al-Qaeda, the new development is certainly expected to put pressure on Indian Prime Minister Modi and could also have an impact on Indo-Pak relations.
The Taleban and Al-Qaeda have for long found a safe haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border areas. There have been some media reports of Islamic State pamphlets being circulated in Pakistan’s northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Pakistan has launched a comprehensive war against local and Taleban-affiliated militant groups in the region, but the terrain remains difficult and militants also benefit from greater local knowledge. The government of Pakistan denies any evidence of Islamic State operating in its territories and maintains that it is committed to eliminating all militant groups from its soil.
India has often accused Pakistan of funding Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist outfits in Kashmir. The accusations over Kashmir have held their neighbourly relations a hostage and led to an impasse in peace talks. Any attacks by the Al-Qaeda group inside India are likely to have strong repercussions for ties between India and Pakistan. This is not for the first time that Al-Qaeda is seeking to make deeper inroads in the South Asian region. A few years back, it had tried to form a regional wing under the leadership of Ilyas Kashmiri, a well-known militant killed by a US drone strike in 2011.
The recently elected government of Modi will also face a stern test of maintaining harmony between Hindus and the minority Muslims. Although Indian Muslims have disassociated themselves from the Al-Qaeda’s message, some fear that they may suffer a backlash and be viewed suspiciously by radical Hindu, nationalist groups. However, Modi has assured all Indians of equal treatment in what he calls “the dawn of a new era” for India.
Once accused of indirectly supporting communal violence in Gujarat, Modi has expressed full confidence in Indian Muslims and believe that they “will fail the Al-Qaeda.”
These new developments suggest that large terrorist organizations like the IS and Al-Qaeda have their eyes set on South Asia now and they will be battling it out in this region for global supremacy. The onus now lies on South Asian countries to develop a long-term strategy and improve cooperation among themselves to defeat the menace of militancy. By working together, they can ensure peace and prosperity in the region for common good of their people and the world.