3 November 2015

Qaedat al-Jihad in the Indian sub-continent, Islamic State and India

By Shubhda Chaudhary
01 Nov , 2015

The rise and decay of Islamic movements in South Asia have often been neglected in the organic understanding of history of Islam, especially dealing with the historical literature. The history of Islamic movements in South Asia has often been judged by the prism of preconceived notions of the modern Orientalists. Though, an insightful analysis of the history of Islam in South Asia has been carried out in a commendable manner by historians like Moinul Haq, Khaliq Ahmad Nizami, Ishtiaq Hussein Qureshi, Sulaiman Nadvi, Shibli Nu’mani. Though, merely a tip of the ice-berg has been revealed taking into account the intellectual fertility of South Asia. [1]

The study of religion, per se, is important, especially in the context of South Asia due to the collective ontological insecurity suffered due to the massive marginalization of religion by neo-liberal economic agendas and economic-political cosmopolitanism. After the adoption of neo-liberal economic agenda and complex interdependence with the global economy, the religio-politcal movements in South Asia gained further ground, thereby causing globalization to further foment the resurgence of religion identity. The quest for identity is currently deeply ingrained in avoiding the intermingling with the hegemony of globalization and rather moving towards serious existential yet political questions of – Who I am/ Who we are? The construction of ‘I’ and the ‘Other’ simultaneously tends to inclusive as well as exclusionary. The pairing of ‘I’ and ‘We’ has led to the development of ‘predatory identities’ as called as Arjun Appadurai and are therefore, termed ‘chauvinistic, antagonistic and negative.’ In South Asia, especially, the violence in religio-political terms (in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh), the complicity of State in pogroms (Gujarat, 2002) visibly indicate the production of ‘predatory identities’, where in the construction of one, does the construction of the other. The binary of majority-minority discourse in South Asian politics has often led to the creation of epistemic insecurity, which believes that the survival of a community, often measured by its quantity, is always at stake. The longevity of BJP’s rhetoric of ‘democracy, nation and rights’ are based on the majoritarian perspective creates a pseudo secular political system.[2]

This complex, intermingling of religion and state, especially in terms of India political system can be perhaps understood better by what W.H. Morris Jones thought while formulating the metaphor called ‘play within a play.’ This is because, very soon, every student of Indian political system tends to understand that the main thing that he/she has to learn is never ever what it presents itself to be. Thereby, there are several forces, frictions, fractions and interpretations that are at work, which continuously create a dialectics of religion and politics in the Indian frame of understanding politics.[3]

Starting with this perspective in mind, this paper questions the ramifications of the re-emergence of Qaedat al-Jihad in the Indian sub-continent, Islamic State and India. It would analytically decipher the impact of these two ‘terror’ groups on India and whether or not, the as Islamic State might be in the process of taking root in India, also bringing into study the role of American withdrawal of forces in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

India’s relation with West Asian political dynamics

A very low key policy had been the guiding principle of India’s relation with West Asia in the past few decades. The policy of equidistance has been consistent in India’s approach towards West Asia. This approach adopted by Indian Government in most of the pertinent issues dealing with West Asian region might witness a dramatic change in the coming months. The Indian intellectual scholars had often voiced their support for Palestinian solidarity while the government took an equidistant approach. Though, the current developments, especially with the ISIS emerging as a strong force, demands that India’s foreign policy should implement changes. India cannot remain a bystander as it has relations with 25 countries in the region[4]. Though, Ajai Sahni, executive director from Institute of Conflict Management states that India was not initially focusing on the developments in West Asian because it knew that it could not influence any major change. [5]

So, currently, with high stakes in the region, it is assumed that India’s earlier official avoidance of regional fractions in Iraq, like the Kurdish regional group (KRG) would witness a dramatic change.[6]

The national security advisor of India, Ajit Doval secretly visited Iraq in the end of June 2014 in order to negotiate the release of 46 Indian nurses, primarily hailing from Southern part of India, who were held as hostages by the ISIS- controlled areas. [7]

Asif Ibrahim, the Intelligence Bureau Director had also visited Iraq during the same time for this singular agenda. [8]

Al Qaeda’s recent announcement on 3rd September 2014 of opening up its new franchise, called Qaedat al-Jihad in India, Bangladesh and Myanmar might create asymmetrical chaos in South Asia, thereby influencing New Delhi’s stand in favour of a mutual dialogue or assistance with the KRG.[9]

The growing threat of ISIS is a grave concern for India which has 10,000 workers in Iraq[10].

India also imports 25 million tones of oil every year from Iraq. The assumed presence of Pakistani jihadists in ISIS further brings the conflict home.[11]

Pakistani Taliban and Lashkar e-Jhangvi have already stated their integration with ISIS from 2013 onwards. [12]

Though, the official tone of India’s foreign policy towards Iraq, ISIS or even KRG will become more clear and transparent after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi returns from the much awaited bilateral talks with United States by the end of 30th September 2014.[13]

Impact of Al Qaeda in India

By the end of 1990s, the ambitious agenda of Al Qaeda involved garnering broader appeal within and beyond the domains of Arab world. Osama Bin Laden’s frequent reference to Kashmir’s political scenario in India highlighted this newly emerging trend. [14]

The sophisticated, brazen and surprising attacks by Pakistani terrorist in Mumbai in November 2008 underlined the power of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and the role of Al Qaeda in mentoring an act of strategic jihadist terrorism network. [15]

The death of Osama bin Laden and the scarcity of leadership, consolidation and networking within Al Qaeda scaled down the jihadist efforts of the organisation’s power dynamics in South Asian terrain. Though, the recent broadcast by Al Qaeda’s leader Ayman al- Zawahiri of opening a franchise in India and Myanmar is definitely a part of strategic thinking. It is assumed that he is currently hiding in Pakistan[16] and that Al Qaeda has strong ties with Pakistan’s Lashkar e-Taiba[17], might also effect the Indo-Pak ties which are currently undergoing tensed conditions. The call for global jihad under Qaedat al-Jihad would be initiated by Asim Umar, an obscure militant who shot recently into limelight for asking the Indian Muslims to participate in the global jihad.[18]

But most of the Al Qaeda leaders, operating from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border are now seen as aging, tired and ineffectual leaders. Death of prominent leaders like Osama bin Laden, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, Anwar al-Awlaki, Ilyas Kashmiri and Saeed al Sherhri has further jeopardized their power. Interestingly, the first attack of Al Qaeda India ended up in a dismal failure when they attempted to storm a naval dock in Karachi’s sea port. This recent failure of Qaedat al-Jihad further questions its strategic functioning and competency. [19]

Nevertheless, it is ISIS that presents a more dangerous quagmire in the Indian sub-continent rather than the Qaedat al Jihad. Interestingly, Al Qaeda was unable to leverage support of Muslims in India for the past 26 years but it was ISIS that made a bigger impact within few months.

Play with a play: Agenda of ISIS in Indian sub-continent

The re-surfacing of Al- Qaeda’s fraction in the form of ISIS is a strategic example of underlying the importance of W.H. Morris Jones’s metaphor ‘play within a play.’ The public divorce of ISIS with Al Qaeda in February 2014, due to the growing friction in between the administration, functioning and extremism of ideologies led to this fall out. In spite of being isolated from the Indian sub-continent, ISIS has greater influence due to its hard-line ideology of uniting all Sunni Muslims under a united Caliphate. Indian security agencies have revealed that more than 100 Indian mean from Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have been recruited by the Caliphate.[20]

Indian intelligence assumes that Sultan Abdul Kadir Armar, the man behind Indian Mujahedeen, residing in Bhatkal in Karnataka has been playing a pivotal role in the recruitment process, which has been going on for more than a year now. [21]

The propaganda video of ISIS head Abu Bakr Baghdadi, also known as Caliphate Ibrahim, showing him delivering a sermon in a mosque in recently captured Mosul has already gone viral. New recruits are being strategically targeted through an intensive media networking and video footings, showing public crucifications, mass executions and beheadings. [22]

Its recruitment video ‘ The Chosen Few of Different Lands’ signifies how ISIS is not taking the place of Al Qaeda in being the singular group with hard-line representation of Islam. [23]

Mr. Dhume, resident fellow at American Enterprise Institute believes that India has also failed to modernize its 150 million Muslim minorities which makes ISIS a further dominant threat. Thus, the fact that ISIS’s agenda of creating Islamic World Dominion also includes Gujarat, north western part of India, under its map of Islamic state of Khorasan. On 27th June 2014, police and intelligence sources in Kashmir and New Delhi spotted ISIS banners and flags in Kashmir, the most sensitive area in India. [24]

Abu Bakr Baghdadi , or Ibrahim Awwad al- Badri, ( also called Amir al Mumineen, commander of the faithful) released a Ramazan speech on 1st July 2014, officially vowing a war against several countries, including India. [25]

Even Pakistan has been witnessing dramatic advents of the ultra radical ISIS involvement in its politics. The Jamat-ul Ahrar, splinter group from Pakistan Taliban has officially declared its support for ISIS. Ehsanullah Ehsan, prominent leader of Jamat-ul Ahrar has openly revealed his support. [26]

Meanwhile, bumper stickers and pamphlets, with Ak-47 assault rifle as their logo, swearing allegiance to ISIS have become quite rampant in Afghanistan and Pakistan. ‘Fatah’ (Victory), a 12 page booklet published in Dari and Pashto languages are being openly distributed in the outskirts of Peshawar. Islami Khilafat, local group supporting ISIS is behind the distribution of these pamphlets. [27]

The emergence of ISIS is more troublesome for India, especially after frequent revelation of Indian Muslims becoming a part of the group. For example, Arif Majeed, who was a 22 year old Indian Muslim has signed up to participate with the ISIS and was supposedly recently killed in a US air strike. With social media revealing the upcoming trend of Muslim men wearing ISIS shirts and shouting slogans outside a mosque in Tamil Nadu, further led to the arrest of a Muslim cleric in the state. [28]

Future of Islamic Caliphate in India

Mushirul Hasan, a prominent Indian scholar states that Muslims are the largest minority in India and the recent victory of Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) has further bought the narrative of Hindutva into limelight. Muslims, the erstwhile rulers of India, are often termed as members of a pernicious settler colony by the Sangh Parivar. The emergence of BJP into the political spectrum has been playing two pertinent roles. Firstly, it has further psychologically pressurized the Pakistani government’s foreign policy towards India, especially on the issue of Kashmir. Both these nations now need to revamp and recalibrate their bilateral relations. Secondly, ISIS and Al Qaeda have spotted this as an excellent opportunity to target the psychologically vulnerable Muslims in India, who would be feeling more insecure, turning back to the concept of ‘predatory identities,” Though, well renowned Pakistani scholars like Khaled Ahmed revealed that the entire future of Muslims in India depends mainly on the presence of Indo-Pakistani ties. [29]

Also, there are many reasons why ISIS or Qaedat al-Jihad would not be able to establish an Islamic Caliphate in India. There are several reasons behind this analysis.

Firstly, the current political tide in India is more about questioning the survival of secular India. In short, the debates on the threat of communalism are more essential, especially with the recent victory of BJP with a wide margin.

Secondly, the Indians who have been recruited in ISIS functioning in Syria and Iraq would be mapped out and later charged under the Indian law with the Indian intelligence working flawlessly towards arresting and searching their whereabouts, as already discussed in this paper.

Thirdly, the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan would be more of a danger to Pakistan rather than India. The fragile Afghanistan state, which suffered failure due to the flawed inception of neo-conservative ideology by America, is in a political chaos. The geo-strategic closeness of Pakistan with Afghanistan would create a political inferno in the former, thereby being a hotspot for ISIS militants. While US is no power to bomb ISIS militants in Syria and Iraq due to the lack of geo-strategic intelligence, would definitely not take a radical step in the coming months and adopt an equidistant approach.


The impact of Qaedat al-Jihad and ISIS on India would reveal its potential, power-politics and repertoire in the coming months. The metaphor ‘play within a play’ becomes even more pertinent in Indian politics, as on one hand, a Hindu nationalist party BJP has won the 2014 elections with a wide margin, thereby further questioning the presence of secularism in India. On the other hand, the marginalized Muslims in the Indian sub-continent, trying to safeguard them from ‘predatory instincts’ are getting recruited in a wider web of terrorism, both in Qaedat al-Jihad and ISIS, which is further linked to the resurfacing trends in international politics. Currently, the signs of future of Islamic Caliphate in India seem weak, taking into consideration the basic majoritarian- minoritarian divide. Also, there has been a quantitative and quantitative incommunicado within and around the Islamic militant organizations in South Asia, which would definitely take time to restructure again. Secondly, the rise of Islamic militancy depend more on the socio-political and economic conditions rather than mere religious overtones. If the coming years of BJP administration in India, specifically are able to satiate the standards of living for the nationals, the religious ideologies would definitely take a back seat. It would function both in the case of hard core Hindu nationalist state or the future of Islamic caliphate in India. Nevertheless, with the Arab spring still unfolding, both in terms of its revolutionary and counter-revolutionary forces, a very straight shooting, impeccable and exhaustive analysis of the future of Islamic caliphate in Indian sub-continent demands an extensive analysis. It is only then, when the ramification of the metaphor of ‘play within a play’ can be reconfigured.

[1] Mahmood Ahmad Ghazi, Islamic Renaissance in South Asia (1707-1867)The Role of Shah Walillah and His Successors (New Delhi: Adam Publishers & Distributors, 2004 Edition)pp-xvi

[2] Ali Riaz, Religion and Politics in South Asia, (New York: Routledge, 2010) pp 16 

[3] Gerald James Larson, India’s agony over Religion, (New York, State University of New York Press, 1995), pp 9

[4] A. K. Pasha, “India and West Asia,” Geo-political Shifts in West Asia : Trends and Implications, First West Asia Conference, September 10-11, 2014

[5] Julie Mccarthy, “Will Al Qaeda find followers in India.”Interlochen Private Radio, September 5, 2014, http://interlochenpublicradio.org/post/will-al-qaida-find-followers-india (Accessed on 10thSeptember 2014)

[6] Saikat Datta, “In ISIS wake, India may tweak West Asia Policy,”Hindustan Times, September 09, 2014, http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/india-may-make-significant-changes-in-west-asia-policy/article1-1262059.aspx (Accessed on 11th September 2014)

[7] Suhasini Haider, “NSA Doval went on a secret mission to Iraq,” The Hindu, July 08, 2014,http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/nsa-doval-went-on-secret-mission-to-iraq/article6187353.ece (Accessed on 09th september 2014)

[8] Abhishek Bhalla, “Exclusive: Over 6,000 Indian Shias seek visit to Iraq,” The India Today, July 14, 2014, http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/over-6000-indian-shias-seek-visa-to-iraq/1/371155.html (Accessed on 6th September 2014)

[9] Saikat Datta, “In ISIS wake, India may tweak West Asia Policy,”Hindustan Times, September 09, 2014, http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/india-may-make-significant-changes-in-west-asia-policy/article1-1262059.aspx (Accessed on 11th September 2014)

[10] IANS, “Abducted Indian workers in Iraq remain unharmed: Government,” Business Standard, August 14, 2014, http://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ians/abducted-indian-workers-in-iraq-remain-unharmed-government-114081401077_1.html (Accessed on 6th September 2014)

[11] Theodore Karasik, “ Al Qaeda’s play in the sub-continent: An ISIS Evolution,” Al Arabiya, September 07, 2014, http://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2014/09/07/Al-Qaeda-s-play-in-the-sub-continent-An-ISIS-evolution-.html (Accessed on 10th September 2014)

[12] Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud and Decan Walsh, “Hard-line splinter group, galvanised by ISIS, emerges from Pakistani Taliban,” The New York Times, August 26, 2014,http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/27/world/asia/hard-line-splinter-group-galvanized-by-isis-emerges-from-pakistani-taliban.html?_r=0 (Accessed on 8th September 2014)

[13] Sima Sirohi, “US President Obama and PM Narendra Modi must establish a deeper trust on Counter- terrorism Operation,” The Economic Times, September 10, 2014,http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2014-09-10/news/53770215_1_isis-pakistan-zawahiri(Accessed on 10th September 2014)

[14] Donald Holbrook, The Al Qaeda Doctrine, the framing and evolution of leadership’s public discourse, (New York: Bloomsbury Publications, 2014) pp 66

[15] Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI, “FICCI Task Force on National Security And Terrorism,” Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry, 2008,http://www.ficci.com/SPdocument/20032/terrorism-report.pdf (Accessed on 3rd September 2014)

[16] Prithvijit Mitra, “Al-Qaida chief Ayman al Zawahiri hiding in Pakistan, asserts Hillary,” The Times of India, May 08, 2012, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Al-Qaida-chief-Ayman-al-Zawahiri-hiding-in-Pakistan-asserts-Hillary/articleshow/13043717.cms (Accessed on 4thSeptember 2014)

[17] Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann, Talibanisation: negotiated the borders between terror, politics and religion, ed., The structure of the Insurgencies, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp 156

[18] Asim Tanveer and Maria Golovnina, “ Insight- Al Qaeda’s shadowy new “emir” in South Asia handed a tough job,” Reuters, September 10, 2014,http://in.reuters.com/article/2014/09/09/southasia-alqaeda-idINKBN0H42DJ20140909 (Accessed on 12th september 2014

[19] Dean Nelson, “Al-Qaeda India branch’s first attack ends in dismal failure as jihadists ‘raid wrong ship,” The Telegraph, September 12, 2014,http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/pakistan/11092387/Al-Qaeda-India-branchs-first-attack-ends-in-dismal-failure-as-jihadists-raid-wrong-ship.html (Accessed on 12th September 2014)

[20] Nitin Gokhale and Surabhi Malik, “Losing Ground to ISIS, Al Qaeda Wants to Recruit in India: Intelligence,” NDTV, September 04, 2014, http://www.ndtv.com/article/cheat-sheet/losing-ground-to-isis-al-qaeda-wants-to-recruit-in-india-intelligence-586536 (Accessed on 10thSeptember 2014)

[21] Praveen Swami, “Come to motherland of jihad: Call to arms from first Indian group in AfPak,” Indian Express, August 22, 2014, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/come-to-motherland-of-jihad-call-to-arms-from-first-indian-group-in-afpak/ (Accessed on 10th September 2014)

[22] Tom Malinowski, “ISIL’s Persecution of Religious Minorities in Iraq and Syria,” U.S Department of State Press Release, September 10, 2014,http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/rm/2014/231483.htm (Accessed on 12th September 2014)

[23] Sadanad Dhume, “The ISIS Siren Call to India’s Muslims,” The Wall Street Journal, September 04, 2014, http://online.wsj.com/articles/the-isis-siren-call-to-indias-muslims-1409845828 (Accessed on 10th September 2014)

[24] Deeptiman Tiwary, “ISIS has designs on India: Experts,” The Times of India, June 19, 2014,http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/ISIS-has-designs-on-India-Experts/articleshow/36795859.cms (Accessed on 4th September 2014)

[25] Shubham Ghosh, Now, “ISIS vows to wage war against India: Report,” One India News, July 2, 2014,

[26] Thomson Reuters, “ISIS propaganda material turns up in Pakistan, India,” CBC News, September 07, 2014, http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/isis-propaganda-material-turns-up-in-pakistan-india-1.2758299 (Accessed on 10th September 2014)

[27] Sam Webb, “Pakistani terror group becomes ‘first jihadi group to defect to ISIS outside of Middle East’ as leader al-Baghdadi’s influence grows,” Daily Mail Online, July 09, 2014,http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2686009/Pakistani-terror-group-jihadi-group-defect-ISIS-outside-Middle-East-leader-al-Baghdadis-influence-grows.html (Accessed on 4th September 2014)

[28] Sadanand Dhume, “The ISIS Siren Call to India’s Muslims,” The Wall Street Journal, September 04, 2014, http://online.wsj.com/articles/the-isis-siren-call-to-indias-muslims-1409845828 (Accessed on 8th September 2014)

[29] Khaled Ahmed, “Muslim future in India,” The Express Tribune, January 15, 2011, http://tribune.com.pk/story/104328/muslim-future-in-india/ (Accessed on 6th September 2014)
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