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Islamic State-K burrowing deep, spreading wide in South Asia

Photo: Paweł Wójcik via TheDefensePost

Terror group is extending radical reach well beyond Afghanistan, capitalizing on public dissatisfaction with corruption, inequality and violence

The rise of Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) in South Asia, particularly in India, is a growing cause for concern. The group’s use of propaganda and recruitment tactics targeting vulnerable individuals leads to the radicalization of youth and the perpetration of violent acts.

ISKP’s belated acknowledgment of responsibility for the Coimbatore and Mangalore blasts last October and November, even though the attacks failed to cause the intended harm, may represent an attempt by the group to demonstrate its expanding presence and operational capabilities in India.

This is consistent with the group’s propaganda and recruitment efforts, portraying ISKP as a powerful and effective organization capable of carrying out attacks in multiple countries.

Indian security agencies should take this threat seriously and work proactively to prevent further attacks by ISKP and other extremist groups – and seek help from Delhi’s partners in addressing these threats.

This may include measures such as improving intelligence-gathering capabilities, strengthening border security and enhancing cooperation with international partners in countering terrorism.

Addressing the underlying grievances and socio-economic factors contributing to the radicalization of individuals also matters in preventing the spread of extremist ideologies.

ISKP in South Asia

Founded eight years ago, the ISKP goal was to establish an Islamic caliphate in Afghanistan. The return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan in 2021 created a complex security situation in the region, emboldening groups like ISKP to push their agenda and attract recruits.

The Taliban and ISKP have different ideologies and objectives, and their competing interests could lead to violent clashes in Afghanistan and neighboring countries. ISKP’s extension of its “Khorasan Province” into other parts of Central and South Asia beyond Afghanistan demonstrates its aspirations to expand its reach and establish a broader caliphate.

One of the ways ISKP has succeeded in recruiting members is by taking advantage of minorities’ plights and sectarianism across the region. By portraying itself as a defender of minority rights and a champion of the oppressed, ISKP has succeeded in attracting individuals who feel marginalized or disenfranchised by their governments.

Propaganda tactics carried out by the ISKP have also succeeded in garnering widespread sympathy for its cause: overthrowing governments in the region.

The organization has capitalized on public dissatisfaction with corruption, inequality, and violence among Central and South Asian countries by portraying itself as a more extreme, uncompromising alternative to these other parties.

ISKP’s use of online propaganda and targeted messaging has helped it recruit members and build support for its agenda. In particular, the objective of ISKP’s propaganda campaign in India is to condemn the emergence of Hindu nationalism and defend dissatisfied Muslim minorities.

The ISKP has also issued a book in Malayalam, the indigenous language of southwest India, detailing how to engage in jihad. The organization has, furthermore, produced books with comparable content in Hindi and Urdu. These publications are intended to radicalize susceptible individuals and persuade them to join the group’s cause.

The vast majority of Muslims in India reject the extremist ideology and violent tactics of ISKP, and the Indian government has taken steps to counter the group’s propaganda and recruitment efforts. Nonetheless, efforts to counter such propaganda must continue.

A comprehensive response

ISKP has demonstrated its resiliency by adapting to the ever-changing situations in Central and South Asia and shifting its focus to more and more countries.

Its rise requires a comprehensive and coordinated response by all stakeholders, including international partners such as the United States and East Asian countries, which can play an important role in countering the ISKP threat.

For starters, the United States has a strong interest in countering this threat given the group’s links to the broader ISIS network and its potential to destabilize the region. The United States can provide significant support in intelligence-sharing, capacity-building, and diplomatic engagement, as well as in countering terrorist financing and extremist ideology.

Partners such as Japan and South Korea can also play a role, including through financial assistance and technical support. As part of broader efforts to promote regional stability and security, these countries can work with Indian authorities and other stakeholders to build a comprehensive and coordinated response.

Additionally, cooperation and coordination among South Asian countries and their international partners is essential. Included could be sharing of best practices, joint military exercises and joint operations against the group. A united front against ISKP would send a strong message that the group’s violent extremist activities will not be tolerated.

South Asian countries should also work together to address the underlying issues contributing to the growth of extremist groups, such as poverty, inequality, and political instability. By addressing root causes, South Asian countries can create a more stable and secure environment for their citizens and reduce the appeal of violent extremism.

Crucial to effectively addressing ISKP’s threat is a multi-faceted approach that involves improved intelligence gathering, counter-radicalization efforts, and international support, as well as cooperation and coordination among South Asian countries.

Neeraj Singh Manhas is the director of research in the Indo-Pacific Consortium at Raisina House, New Delhi.

Source: PAC Forum