July 20, 2016
The attack in Dhaka earlier this month and the news of twenty-odd “missing” Indians who possibly joined Islamic State have sparked a vigorous discussion on India’s preparedness to take on the threat posed by ISIS. These incidents have led to more questions than answers on the group’s presence, appeal and capabilities in the Indian subcontinent.
This piece is a preliminary attempt to engage with some critical questions that shape how Indian security and intelligence agencies assess and address this threat in the short-to-medium term. What place does India have in Islamic State’s operational strategy? Where do competing regional organizations targeting India, like Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), lie in Islamic State’s universe of friends and foes? And how significant are the linkages between Islamic State and India’s most important homegrown terror outfit, the Indian Mujahideen (IM), today?
“Go Big, But Stay Home”
With the group taking heavy losses in its own territories in Iraq and Syria, its spokesperson Abu Muhammad al-Adnani’s message in May encouraged “lone wolves” to pursue targets within their home countries. The call was not for all believers to head over to the expanding “khilafah” (caliphate) as per usual, but urge them to prove their allegiance by staying exactly where they were and inflict pain locally.
The spate of attacks since June, namely in Istanbul, Dhaka and Medina, are in sync with this shift in narrative. As Islamic State gets more and more desperate, we will see more such attacks.
Is India ready to manage this shift?