Fighting IS: Tolerance is our best bet
There is much hype that the Islamic State poses a deadly threat to India. This country has faced thousands of deadly terrorist strikes over decades in Kashmir and the Northeast and Naxalite/Maoist attacks. But so far there has been no Islamic State-related strike here. India hasn’t been mentioned in statements listing Daesh (as IS is called by Arab and some Muslim countries, and others) branches across the world. Arrests, deportations and interrogations involving a maximum of 150 persons is the overall alleged Daesh-related “footprint” in India; this includes Indians said to be fighting in Syria. In contrast to the mayhem it continues to unleash in many nations, Daesh activity in India doesn’t even constitute minor pinpricks. If Daesh is indeed making a conscious effort to foment terror in India, it has clearly failed. This is the reality.
Merely declaring India is joining the international coalition won’t make the slightest difference to IS’ fortunes on the ground, but will lead to India being put on its hitlist. If joining the coalition means sending troops or conducting airstrikes, it is worth noting that even Pakistan, a client state of US and Saudi Arabia for decades, has refused pleas to join the war against IS. China turned down all suggestions to join the international coalition against IS. For India, ideological threats have to be combated domestically, not overseas. The US and Russia, along with many others, are heavily involved in the war against Daesh, which is finally succeeding. Islamic State has lost almost half the territory it once controlled, casualties and desertions are rising, financial resources are under strain; new recruitment is falling.
Though the ideology it represents will remain a global challenge, as a political entity in a specific geographical location it is staring at defeat. Its anger will continue to be directed against its tormentors. Prime Minister Modi has paid very successful visits to the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Qatar in the past 11 months. All these nations are deeply involved in the wars that are raging; but while the conflicts in the region came up for discussion none of the leaders of these nations sought India’s involvement, being fully aware of our traditional policy of non-involvement in wars. Why should India now try to get involved?
India was not remotely involved with the policies of these countries that led to Islamic State’s birth — in fact India had opposed these policies. The Frankenstein’s monster that they created is now fighting them. Why should India invite a blowback from the global jihad by getting involved? Given India’s demography, the rampaging spread of extremism and militancy within Islam, Pakistan’s seven-decade-old efforts to foment communal discord in India, joining a war against a Muslim entity in a Muslim region is an enterprise fraught with dangerous consequences. A truly impressive fact is that no Muslim community in the world has kept itself further away from extremism than India’s Muslims. It is the world’s third largest Muslim community. There was not a single Indian who went to fight in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Hardly any Indians joined Al Qaeda.
Daesh has served as an ideological beacon to radicalise laiks of Muslims worldwide. Only a tiny number of Indian Muslims have gone to Syria and Iraq to join Islamist fighters. Given that there are around 180 million Muslims in India, and three million of them are in the Gulf region, this is very impressive. I know from personal interactions these realities are greatly admired in West Asia. All Indians should be proud of that. Every single Indian Muslim entity of repute, theological institution and prominent Muslim leader, including Kashmir’s separatists, has strongly denounced Daesh. A prominent scholar, Muhammad Qasim Zaman, author of South Asian Islam and the Idea of the Caliphate, wrote: “The Muslims of India have seen the promises of a secular state as the best hope for the preservation of their identity.”
As they have successfully done so far, the clerics and elders will ensure India’s Muslim youth do not go astray. But while there is no case for India joining the international coalition against Islamic State, it is absolutely imperative to maintain vigilance. India’s security agencies are doing their job, but it is a cardinal principle of counter-terrorism that the fight against terror is always more effective away from publicity. Thus newspapers detailing the arrests of people for ostensible ISIS links is not helpful. India’s greatest contribution to the world has been its pluralistic civilisational ethos that has, over centuries, nurtured inclusiveness. At the November 2015 West Asia conference organised by IDSA, participants from Iran, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Yemen made specific reference to this, suggesting that West Asia had a lot to learn from India. It is absolutely imperative India maintained this civilisational heritage. This is the best guarantee against India’s Muslims getting radicalised, rather than by aggressively confronting Islamic State to counteract imagined threats.