On May 19, the Islamic State, or ISIS, released a major video campaign against India in which about half a dozen fugitive Indian Muslims threaten to wage jihad against India.
While India cannot be dismissive about the jihadist threat, the Indians must bear in mind that for the first time since the Mauryan empire which lasted two-and-a-half centuries from 4th century BCE, India is today militarily the strongest state that can meet any challenge to its security.
The ISIS video, reviewed by this author, reveals the following: one, it proves conclusively that several militants escaped from the Batla House encounter site.
Two, it features one of the four jihadist youth who left Mumbai in May 2014, weeks before Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared himself the caliph of all Muslims.
Three, a major emphasis of the video is on the message of hijrah (migration), urging Muslims to migrate from the lands of unbelief to the land of Islam (the Iraq-Syria region), as Prophet Muhammad migrated from Mecca to establish Islamic rule in Medina.
Four, all the youths speak Urdu, except one who speaks English with British accent and could be of Indian origin. However, a narrator who is not shown in the video speaks Arabic.
It can be said that the video – which was released by the ISIS’s branch for the Syrian province of Homs – is targeted at audiences in the Arab world and in India, as the Arabic narration carries Urdu subtitles while the Urdu speeches carry Arabic subtitles.
Given the ISIS’s media practise, it’s possible that this video is part of an upcoming jihadi media campaign against India.
The video is also of significance to academics and jihadists. Alberto M Fernandez, a former US ambassador who served as the US State Department’s Coordinator for the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications from 2012 to 2015, says the video offers a jihadist interpretation of India’s history by arguing that “the centuries of Islamic rule in India were ended by the Crusaders”.
He notes: “I was struck by it because I had never heard the British in India being described in contemporary jihadist terms in this particular way with the Mughal Empire described as if it was an uninterrupted reign of jihadist idol destruction and temple vandalism.”
Currently, the jihadist threat to India originates from six sources. One, a Pakistani state-backed jihadism threatens India, especially in Jammu & Kashmir, because Pakistan is no longer capable of fighting a military-led war against India. Since jihadism is rooted in Pakistan’s identity as an Islamic state, this threat to India will exist till Pakistan exists in its present form.
Two, recent jihadist attacks in Bangladesh claimed by ISIS and al-Qaeda have long-term implications for India’s security. If a right-wing government takes over in Bangladesh, a real possibility in near future, then this threat will multiply.
Three, the threat to India also originates from the Middle East. In present times, ideas travelling across borders can threaten a country’s internal peace.
The recent migration of refugees to Europe is an example. In future, invasions will be led by ideas and people, not necessarily by states. For India’s security purposes, there is no think tank in New Delhi that studies domestic implications of a massive Indian Muslim diaspora in the Middle East.
Four, there is a global failure to contain jihadism in the Middle East which means the jihadist threat to India will continue to exist till the Arab countries remain in the grip of jihadism, especially that funded by Saudi Arabia.
Five, the Indian state is itself a source of security threat. In such videos, jihadists cite Hindu-Muslim riots as a form of their grievance, which could radicalise Muslims.
The failure of Indian state in training and building world-class last-mile police stations with professionalism and zero tolerance for lawbreakers needs to be addressed urgently. This systemic weakness cripples India’s ability to fight jihadism at home. Rarely does it happen that nations strong at home fall.
Additionally, political interference that damages the neutrality of intelligence agencies is also a threat to India.
Six, while it can be argued that Islam is a peaceful religion, it can equally be argued based on numerous Quranic verses that Islam is not a religion of peace.
Significantly, a number of Islamic clerics condemn the al-Qaeda and ISIS while simultaneously supporting the theological reasons based on which the jihadist organisations thrive.
While not all theology can be restricted, the Indian state must make it mandatory for mosques, dargahs (shrines), madrasas and khanqahs (monasteries) to obtain a PAN card and upload quarterly reports regarding their sources of income and leadership on a government website.
Director, South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington DC.