By Dr. Nazir Hussain
Nov 18, 2014
The surfacing of Islamic State (IS) and its inroads in Iraq and Syria have given rise to grave concerns to the stability and security of the region with devastating effects, despite the U.S.-led counter-force to check its advances in the region. The IS (also known as Daʿesh) has declared Global Islamic Caliphate under Abu Bakar-Al Baghdadi, giving rise to growing concerns by the regional states and Western powers alike. What its origin and objectives are and how it is going to affect the regional politics is the focus of this article.
Origin and Evolution
Osama Bin Laden and Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi were two prominent figures of Al-Qaeda. Al-Zarqawi was an Arab of Jordanian descent and had commanded volunteers in Herat, Afghanistan, before fleeing to northern Iraq in 2001. In Iraq, he joined with Ansar al-Islam (Partisans of Islam), a militant Kurdish separatist movement. Later, Al-Zaqawi founded Jamāʻat al-Tawḥīdwa-al-Jihād; Organization of Monotheism and Jihad (JTJ).Soon after the emergence of JTJ, differences emerged between Al-Zarqawi and OBL, mainly over the issue of Takfir (justified killing of Muslims); Zarqawi was in favor of this type of killing while Bin Laden was not ready to accept it. During this period, Al-Zarqawi was operating around Iran, Iraqi Kurdistan, Syria and Iraq, gaining new jihadist contacts, which resulted in the formation of Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in 2003. Later, he brought together a number of other Iraqi insurgent factions and established the Majlis Shura al-Mujahedin (MSM) or Mujahedin Shura Council in January 2006. In June, Zarqawi was killed by the U.S. forces and the group was reshuffled.
In October 2006, the Mujahideen Shura Council merged with several other insurgent factions and established the Dawlat al-ʻIraq al-Islāmīyah; Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). A cabinet was formed and Abu Abdullah al-Rashid al-Baghdadi became ISI’s figurehead emir. In May 2010, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was appointed the new leader of the Islamic State of Iraq. In August 2011, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi began sending Syrian and Iraqi ISI members experienced in guerrilla warfare across the border into Syria in order to establish an organization inside the country. In January 2012, the group announced its formation commonly known as Al-Nusra Front, which grew rapidly into a capable fighting force with popular support among Syrians opposed to the Assad regime.
In April 2013, overt enmity between ISIS and Al-Qaeda broke out in full when ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced that he was extending the Islamic State of Iraq into Syria and changing the group’s name to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. In June 2014, ISIS announced the creation of a caliphate (Islamic state) that erases all state borders, making al-Baghdadi the self-declared Caliph of the world’s estimated 1.5 billion Muslims. The group also announced a name change to the Islamic State (IS).
The pronounced major/long-term objectives of the IS are:
- Establishment of ‘True Islamic State’ initially in Iraq and Syria,
- Expansion of Islamic State in the region without current territorial boarders,
- Restoration of Caliphate to lead global Muslim population,
- Establishment of International Jihadi state to spread Jihad worldwide, and
- Implementation of Sunni dominated Shariah (Islamic law).
The immediate/short-term objectives are:
- Targeted assassination campaign against security forces in Iraq and Syria,
- Destruction of personal property and infrastructure,
- Ethnic cleansing of minorities: Shias, Kurds and Christians.
Regional and international supporters
Sunni Militia Group based in Iraq, Ba’ath Party loyalists and supporters of Saddam Hussain, besides the Free Iraqi Army, Free Syrian Army and Al Nusra Frontare are the supporters of the IS. However, it is very difficult to put all the supporters and opponents in black and white. There are complex grey areas within these groups. For instance, when it comes to control of Allepo, IS and Free Syrian Army are opponents, but are supporting each other to topple the Assad regime.
According to the documents of the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), it is a fact that Abu-Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the current leader of IS, remained a prisoner by American forces in Iraq at Bucca Camp. Some reports say that detention period was of five years, while official claims are of a few months. Importantly, many wonder how such a high-value terrorist escaped from the American prison.
Israel is also believed to be supporting the armed groups inside Syria, but it is difficult to determine whether Israel is directly supporting the ISIS or Al-Nusra Front. However, according to a 15-page report by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the work of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), “UNDOF frequently observed armed members of the opposition interacting with IDF across the ceasefire line in the vicinity of United Nations position 85. The UNDOF observed armed members of the opposition transferring 47 wounded persons from the Bravo side across the ceasefire line to IDF, and IDF on the Alpha side handing over 43 treated individuals to the armed members of the opposition on the Bravo side.”
The Canada-based think tank, Global Research: Centre for Research on Globalization, has mentioned a report of Jewish Telegraphic Agency (97-year-old Jewish wire service) that “a senior employee of the Dutch Justice Ministry said the jihadist group ISIS was created by Zionists seeking to give Islam a bad reputation.”
Turkey is indirectly supporting the IS to control the Kurds authority near Turkey’s boarders, besides some Gulf States, which are covertly supporting the IS insurgents in Iraq and Syria. Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of British Intelligence MI6, has claimed that “there is no doubt that substantial and sustained funding from private donors in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to which the authorities may have turned a blind eye, has played a central role in the ISI’s surge into Sunni areas of Iraq.”
Implications for Middle East
The emergence of IS has posed a significant threat to regional and international security environment. The IS has challenged the regional interests of the U.S./West and also posed a threat to the stability and territorial integrity of the region. Other implications are:
- Upon establishment of IS, the region will become a permanent battleground,
- Will become a launching pad of Jihadi activities in the region and around the globe,
- Christian minorities would have no future in Iraq, Syria and adjacent territories,
- Will constitute a permanent threat to the Assad regime,
- Future of Shia community is threatened: a large Shia community has already migrated,
- Beyond the control over Kurds, Turkey’s national security will be undermined,
- If the Islamic State emerges on the map, existing monarchies would be the next target of the self-declared Caliph of Global Muslim Community,
- For now, the IS may be in the interest of Israel and U.S. policy in the region; however, it will be the biggest ever threat to both in future. That is why the U.S. has mobilized its forces against the IS.
Implications for Pakistan
Pakistan is passing through one of its toughest times as far as internal security situation is concerned; insurgency in some parts of Pakistan is still on. The rise of IS in the heart of the Middle East is not directly related to the insurgency inside Pakistan; however, Pakistan’s geo-political and geo-strategic contours are attractive for the proxies of these kinds of groups.
Although the government denies any presence of IS in Pakistan, the wall-chalking across Pakistan, from Karachi to Gilgit, is a serious concern for the Pakistanis. The most significant development took place in October 2014 when TTP spokesman, Shahidullah Shahid, in a video message posted online said that “From today, I accept Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as my Caliph and will accept every directive of his and will fight for him whatsoever the situation.” He is not alone in pledging allegiance, but five other top commanders were also with him. He further added that, it is mandatory for Muslims to follow their Caliph and also requested Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to accept him as a follower. Alarmingly, on November 17, the Jandullah group operating in Baluchistan pledged its support to the IS.
In these circumstances, the rise of IS would be a direct threat to stability within Pakistan; sectarian violence will be further intensified. This phenomenon will not only be restricted to sectarian violence, but could be changed into a sectarian war in Pakistan. As the Islamic State does not believe in territorial division, the territory of Pakistan can be used as the base for global Jihadi activities. This may escalate the cross-border terrorism at the western boarders of Pakistan and an escalated insurgency in parts of Jammu and Kashmir. The rise of IS’s support inside Pakistan will harm relations with Iran, which will cast a direct impact on the economy of Pakistan.
The ideology of IS and the ideology of Islam are poles apart; there is no connection between these two ideologies. Muslim scholarly authorities, even those who support the Syrian rebels, have unanimously repudiated Baghdadi’s bogus Caliphate. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the best-known pro-Syrian-rebel, dismissively rejected Baghdadi’s claim. Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of Tunisia’s Al-Nahda Party, called Baghdadi’s self-promotion reckless, deceptive and ridiculous. The most important group working to restore the Caliphate, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, said that Baghdadi’s proclamation has distorted the reality of what a Caliphate is supposed to be. Even Al-Qaeda rejected al-Baghdadi’s claim and ripped IS for its brutality and spelled out its non-affiliation with any IS activity.
This organization cannot be called as peaceful by any means. It is not working for peace, but is rather contributing to instability of the region and such instability will be permanent if the IS succeeds in establishing a state. They are visionless; without any economic and political agenda. They are not capable of running a state in such an international system which demands cooperation and peaceful co-existence. Their survival as a state-actor is nearly impossible if they continue with their current strategy. Moreover, while the fight against IS and Islamic extremism is far from over, it is certain that it will take a long time for the Middle East, especially Syria and Iraq, to recover. Despite, its recent retreat from key areas of Iraq and Syria, the IS still projects a deadly/devastating future scenario for the Middle East; either as a non-state actor or an unrecognised ‘Islamic state.