On Saturday, suspected Islamic State militants brutally killed 20 hostages in one of the deadliest attacks on an upscale restaurant in Bangladesh. The attack which followed the series of targeted killings of the first atheist bloggers, then religious minorities, gay activists, foreigners and others, has left the countrys secular underpinnings tottering. However, more than the horror of the attack, it is its implications for the region that are chilling. One attack has brought Dhaka, a city of around eight million people to its heels. Soon after the attack, Bangladeshi capital was locked down, with checkpoints every few blocks stopping traffic and passersby. If anything, it once again demonstrates how a modern metropolis can be paralyzed by one brutal strike. And Islamic State has once again proved it retains the capacity to strike at will in any part of the world, even while suffering serious reverses on battle-field in the recent past, losing cities of Tikrit, Ramadi, Falluja in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria.
But as its attacks in the west and now in Bangladesh reveal, the group has lost none of its sting. In fact, its ideological footprint has only grown. The past year has shown the group spread its tentacles to South Asia. In Afghanistan it has built a conspicuous presence for itself, even taking on Taliban and seeking to turn its country-specific resistance against US occupation into a pan-Islamic war for the creation of Caliphate with Afghanistan one of its frontiers and a staging post for extending its influence into Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. Dhaka attack attests to the fact that it is succeeding. Now the question is, if it could hit Bangladesh, it could strike Pakistan and India as well.
A recent video of the organization showing some Indian youth training for jihad only brings home this looming threat. In recent months, Islamic State has managed to find a toehold in the South Asian political and the security discourse. It has issued statements that show a deep understanding of the politics of the region. Kashmir has emerged as one of the organizations focus areas. The terror group wants to establish its caliphate in Kashmir and Pakistan.
India, one would say, has competed to emerge as the more inviting destination as a result of the prevailing polarizing political situation in the country. While ISIS may have attacked Europe, it hasnt done so in India. That is despite its being apparently easier to do it, considering Indias vast Muslim population. Same has been the case with ISISs fore-runner, the now retreating Al Qaeda. India has not been actively a part of the campaign against the west-led invasions in Middle East, and significantly in Arab eyes, India is not seen as a global anti-Muslim symbol. But the latter image may be in for an overhaul. Todays India isnt sending good signals to the world and especially to Mideast over safeguarding the rights of its largest minority. And though only a few members of this minority have joined ISIS so far, the number is apprehended to grow if the current sense of siege among the Muslims persists. The point is India should not aspire for an image that the US acquired among Arab Muslims, setting up a clash of civilizations between the two. Under Obama, US has painstakingly tried to get rid of this image. But under Modi, reverse is the case in India.
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