The IS phenomenon

The debates on the Yemen Crisis are an important achievement, at least for the democratic evolution of our country’s politics. Gone are the days when a simple nod of a power hungry man, could destine the country to pursuits of self-destruction. The parliament needs to be complimented for their harsh, and logically sound, criticism on the government’s inclination to fight Saudi’s war for them. This is not our war; Pakistan needs to stay away from the numerous wars within the gulf region.
That said, one certain topic remained mostly untouched in the debate: ISIS. The debate centered on Yemen’s civil unrest and how and why we are (seemingly) duty bound to offer our forces at Saudi’s call. However, almost every speaker ignored the phenomenon of the Islamic State and refused to acknowledge that the conditions in Yemen were ripe for another brutal acquisition by the armies under the black flag. There were cursory mentions of DAESH; Pakistani’s tend to devote only cursory mentions to this otherwise very dangerous phenomenon. IS is still an intangible idea for most of our population. Many of us are in fearful awe of them given their masterful use of propaganda videos and literature, and remain relieved that their activities are mostly gulf oriented. We can’t be more wrong. IS is a global phenomenon and needs to be acknowledged as one. US earlier, in their effort to save face given their Iraq debacle, made the same mistake of under-acknowledging the progress of IS and the world at large today faces the brunt of this blunder. We must change our prospective while we can, lest a time comes when we don’t have the luxury to do so.
IS will not be successful in their wishful aspirations of a global Islamic Caliphate; it’s a movement and not a state and will remain so in times to come. Abu-Bakr Al-Baghdadi can, at most, reach the level of notoriety as Osama Bin Laden however anything beyond is simply fictitious. That said; the world at large must realize that ‘states’ do not pose it the greatest threats, gorilla-groups who paint their actions as divine pursuits do.
Sun Tzu, in his masterpiece ‘The Art of War’ gives important advice to the Pakistan of today: ‘Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.’ Given our obsession with self-gratification, we do tend to know ourselves. Let’s now dedicate some time on understanding the enemy. Understanding the evolution of IS will help us recognize factors that were conducive to its birth and success. Efforts would have to be made to control these factors and to alienate circumstances that can make Pakistan a home to IS. More detail would be given in future columns and an attempt will be made to draw analogy based arguments towards reforms and state-sponsored interventions. For now, let us start at the very beginning:
The movement spearheaded by Abu-Bakr Al-Baghdadi (henceforth referred to as Baghdadi) has many names: ISIL, ISIS, DAESH and IS. All of these are primarily acronyms. ISIL is an abridged form of ‘Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. The Levant according to the Oxford University refers to “The eastern part of the Mediterranean with its islands and neighboring countries.” Levant hence refers to almost all of the countries that make up western Asia especially: Syria, Palestine and Israel, Jordon, Lebanon and Cyprus. Levant has historically been referred to as Al-Sham hence the second name of the movement: ISIS, Islamic state in Iraq and Al-Sham. Finally, the more common and the movement’s own preferred name is IS, shortened for the Islamic State.
The last name is important. It reflects the declaration announced by Baghdadi the first time he revealed himself to the world as a caliph for all Muslim populace. The Islamic State hence is an embodiment of a grander scheme: a universal state built upon commonalities of faith and scripture. Exactly which orientation and sect the said faith will dominate the ‘Islamic State’s’ socio-political environment has been obvious in the form and choice of their atrocities.
What is important for now is to acknowledge that the Islamic State has aspirations that go far beyond the borders of Iraq and Levant. In mid 2014, IS was focusing its gaze on Saudi Arabia. In late 2014, an affiliate of IS claimed a number of suicide bombings in Yemen, the very lands we are debating to set our forces on. More importantly, Mulla Saeed Orakzai, in a video released in the beginning of this year, announced his appointment as the head of IS Khorasan (lands of Pakistan, Afghanistan and parts of Tajikistan). All of this is to say that IS does not seek to limit its influence in Iraq and Levant alone. Whether it succeeds to make an impact that equals its strength in the Iraq of today, is highly unlikely. However, it has crept into these lands and in imminent times will be facing the Pakistani army. Where and when this confrontation happens is of course our choice to make.

Ahsan Kureshi

The writer is a Dissertation Researcher based in Finland. He conducts research on political, regional and societal changes with special focus on religious minorities in Europe.

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