While the news of al-Qaeda’s South Asian wing has taken India by storm, there was another piece of news, which did not receive so much media attention in the country. On September 2, some of Taliban’s hard-line leaders had said that they might consider aligning with the Islamic State (IS) after considering the legitimacy of its Caliphate.[i]

 

Interestingly, within two days, on September 4, the al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released a video declaring the formation of a new wing of the al-Qaeda to orchestrate its activities in the Indian Subcontinent, with a keen focus on India, Myanmar and Bangladesh.[ii] The new wing is called the Jamaat Qaidat al-jihad fi’shibhi al-qarrat al-Hindiya, or the Organisation of the Base of Jihad in the Indian Sub-Continent and will be headed by Asim Umar, a senior member of the Pakistani Taliban.[iii]

 

Although, this news indeed poses a big security threat to India, one must carefully analyse the significance of such a message and the context under which it has been made. This is not the first time that the al-Qaeda has shown interest in the region. In fact, India has been mentioned in the speeches of various al-Qaeda leaders in the past. A large proportion of terrorist groups that operates in the region especially in the state of Jammu and Kashmir have indirect or direct linkages with the al-Qaeda, which has supported them in planning and executing terrorist attacks. Home grown terrorist groups such as the Indian Mujahideen have also tried to establish linkages with the al-Qaeda citing their dissatisfaction in the way the Pakistani ISI and groups such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba handle smaller groups in the region.[iv] But notably, it is the first time that the al-Qaeda has decided to operate directly in India. And this is why the context of such a decision becomes important.

 

Of late, the al-Qaeda has been in the news in the context of its fading prominence in the face of the rising Islamic State (IS). The IS, which broke out of al-Qaeda has successfully established itself as one of the most deadly and feared terrorist groups in the world, drawing funding and personnel from all over the globe. The group has received much media attention because of its brutality and its ability to create a self-governed state. It then went on to declare a Caliphate with its chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the Caliph. To be precise, the IS has been able to accomplish what the al-Qaeda could only express in words.

 

Although the declared Caliphate has not received any recognition from any of the Islamic nations, many terrorist groups have shifted their allegiance from the al-Qaeda to the IS after criticising Zawahiri severely. Some of al-Qaeda’s major affiliates such as the al-Nusra front joined hands with the IS.[v] Analysts and scholars have already started writing about the decline of the al-Qaeda. In fact, it is being argued that the group has become almost redundant after the death of its founder Osama bin Laden.

 

Shifting of allegiance is a completely understandable step as terrorist groups seek to forge alliances to enhance their capabilities and in this process the smaller and weaker groups are attracted towards the group they perceive to be stronger, resulting in a chain reaction by which the deadly get deadlier.[vi] Tehreek-e-Khilafat became the first group from South Asia to declare its allegiance to the IS and although it might be a small group, it still reflects the fact that the ideology of the IS could resonate in the region. Thus when Taliban leaders, such as Mirwais, from the Hizb-e-Islami speak about the possibility of aligning with the IS, the al-Qaeda was bound to take note and act.[vii]

 

South Asia, especially Pakistan and Afghanistan, have been the centre of command for the al-Qaeda and it is not going to lose its home turf to a newly-created group. The al-Qaeda has taken an indirect and strong dig at the IS in the video by asking the various smaller groups to maintain unity in the region, which is in stark contrast to the manner in which the IS is clashing with all the rival groups. Also, the message states that the new wing shall not oppress the local population, as opposed to what the IS is notorious for. In an implicit strike, Zawahiri said, “[If] you say that by your jihad you do not want but the pleasure of Allah, then you must not race for governance and leadership at the first opportunity [sic].”[viii] Tackling the challenge of swaying allegiance of the Taliban, the al-Qaeda leader pledged his allegiance to the Taliban and thanked it for providing safe haven for their followers.

 

The IS, as of now, is more inclined towards operating from the regions it controls in Iraq and Syria, although it has made its global ambitions very clear and India has been mentioned in its releases. With such aspirations, a power struggle between the two groups is inevitable and the recent orchestrations are only a reflection of the changing dynamics of global terrorism. With the formation of the new branch, the al-Qaeda has not only attempted to reaffirm its pre-eminence in the global terrorist network, but has also taken a step towards consolidating its position in the South Asian region, which has been its home-ground since its inception.

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.

 

[i] John Simpson “Afghan militants Hezb-e-Islami 'may join Islamic State'”, BBC News, 2 September 2014, see http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-29009125, accessed on 2 September, 2014

[ii] Praveen Swamy “Al-Qaeda declares new front to wage war on India, calls for jihad in the subcontinent - See more at: http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/al-qaeda-leader-ayma..., The Indian Express, 4 September 2014, see http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/al-qaeda-leader-ayman-al-zawahiri-announces-formation-of-india-al-qaeda/99/, accessed on 4 September, 2014

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] NeerajChauhan, “Indian Mujahideen would be under al-Qaida: Riyaz told Yasin”, The Times of India, 3 November 2013, see http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Indian-Mujahideen-would-be-under-al-Qaida-Riyaz-told-Yasin/articleshow/25153576.cms, accessed on 26 July 2014

[v]JabhatAl-Nusra merged with the IS, but Zawahiri annulled the merger, a decision which was further rejected by Baghdadi. Refer Zachary Laub and Jonathan Masters, “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria”,Council on Foreign Relations, 8 August 2014, see http://www.cfr.org/iraq/islamic-state-iraq-syria/p14811, accessed on 10 August 2014

[vi] Michael C. Horowitz and Philip B. K. Potter (2014), “Allying to Kill: Terrorist Intergroup Cooperation and the Consequences for Lethality”, Journal of Conflict Resolution (New Delhi: Sage, 2014), Vol. 58, No.2, pp. 199-225.

[vii] n. 1.

[viii] William Maclean, “Al-Qaeda announces India wing, renews loyalty to Taliban chief”, Reuters, 4 September 2014, see http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/09/03/uk-india-qaeda-idUKKBN0GY2EK20140903, accessed on 4 September 2014.