As Bāghūz, the capital of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) caliphate, fell to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on March, 23, the world rejoiced under false pretense that ISIS had been defeated. Although many would have liked to believe and some even claimed that after the ‘hells cape of smoke and fire’ that Bāghūz had turned into, ‘there was nowhere left for the fighters to go’, they did manage to escape. A trailer of how horrific their escape would prove for the rest of the world was released in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday with a series of bombings that injured a thousand and killed about 250 people. Given that the way the attacks were carried out was a clear hallmark of ISIS, investigations have only made that more clear.
Terrorist attacks are not one-time security lapses that can be prevented by better surveillance. They involve years of negligence and radicalization; as has come to light in the post 9/11 scenario. ISIS might have failed in seizing enough territory for the establishment of a caliphate, it is not a threat in remission; as Sri Lanka stands as a stark reminder of just that notion. And as violent Islamist groups keep justifying their presence citing Islamophobia, attacks like Christchurch will keep fueling the morale among their cadres. Safe to say, we are caught in a venomous loop of cause and effect breeding violence in perpetuity.
Terrorist attacks are not one-time security lapses that can be prevented by better surveillance.
Al-Qaeda was particularly worrisome, as most in its lower cadres were poor and underprivileged. Its reincarnation into ISIS is nerve-rackingly perturbing for the pull it has on the educated, privileged and modern youth dwelling in developed countries.
Nine suicide bombers, many of them well educated including two sons of a wealthy spice tycoon, and a pregnant woman killed more than 250 people during attacks on churches and hotels across Sri Lanka. This is not as simple as all the previous hypotheses of poverty breeding religious extremism which refer to the poor being recruited by terrorist outfits that operate under the guise of religious organisations; against the western world or modern lifestyle, strengthening their rhetoric further. Acts such as these involve a deeper, more ideological reckoning. While the international community and those who govern it stand confused and divided at this juncture, each sickeningly occupied by their own interests, terrorism thrives. Snared with increasingly frictional geopolitical interests, major powers of the world are primarily responsible for this mess as it reflects quite evidently on the erroneous choices of the world leadership made for temporary gains. As the former Minister for Interior, Rehman Malik pointed out in his recent article; at the roots of the formation of Al-Qaeda was the joblessness that emerged from the United States (US) desertion of the Taliban post the Soviet Afghan war. From the cadres of Al-Qaeda did we find the umbilical cord of ISIS attached, a monster that has now been unleashed on the world indiscriminately.
Curbing this menace is a bigger challenge today than it ever was as Sri Lanka bears evidence. One can rid them of their territory but cannot eliminate them from the minds of those that follow them. As they have adapted to the use of social media to serve as their launching pad it is near impossible to claw them out completely for they are not limited by geographical boundaries. What is more gruesome is that major powers across the world have entered yet another era of pursuing influence and power, deridingly in the region where we have only recently seen the deadliest foot prints of the phenomena.
Curbing this menace is a bigger challenge today than it ever was as Sri Lanka bears evidence.
As China, Russia and the US face-off in the 5G war, Sri Lanka is glaring evidence that vulnerable countries like Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, India can any be made a scapegoat to emulsify one’s authority in the region. ISIS or Daa’esh in that case can be anyone’s hired hitman. One cannot out rightly rule out the chances of the local communities coming up with their own brands of terrorism to combat the former.
Individually carried deadly attacks like Christchurch can become another norm. As Muslims in Sri Lanka are already on a run for their lives as mob violence has flared post the Easter Sunday attacks, hate crimes against Muslims in India have been a regular occurrence in the past five years. As Modi returns to the throne and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) stance in Indian politics is fostered, the Indian Muslims are on one hand increasingly exposed to the venom of Hindutva while on the other, are vulnerable to exploitation by terrorist outfits.
As Muslims in Sri Lanka are already on a run for their lives as mob violence has flared post the Easter Sunday attacks, hate crimes against Muslims in India have been a regular occurrence in the past five years.
If a people cannot spare one for eating beef, how would they react to an outright terrorist incursion, needs no elaboration. There is a fair chance that any such activity might aggravate tensions between the two nuclear armed neighbours, who are always at each other’s throats. A significant presence of ISIS in Afghanistan by now is a reality as bright as day right on the verge of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) materializing for China. As speculations would go, the talked-of creator of ISIS; the US can quite conveniently use the organization’s presence in the region to its benefit. In all probability the vicious cycle of cause and effect is to keep rolling this time, and that too be much more violently.
Ayesha Ilyas has completed her M.Phil in International Relations from National Defence University, Islamabad. She is currently working as an intern at the CSCR.