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Al-Baghdadi gone, but who will tackle IS extremist ideas?
Opinion

Al-Baghdadi gone, but who will tackle IS extremist ideas?

Hari Jaisingh

The US has eliminated ISIS Chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the world’s most wanted terrorist, with a 25 million dollar bounty on his head. It has also destroyed his hideout in Syria in a daring midnight air operation. How Al-Baghdadi ran into an underground channel with his three children while military dogs chased him is nothing short of a movie thriller. When he realized that his game was over, he set off his vest, killing himself and three children.

The body of the Islamic State Chief was buried at sea, similar to the 2011 sea burial of al-Qaida leader, Osama bin Laden after his death in a US Special Forces raid in Pakistan in the wake of 9/11. It was a well coordinated secret operation, the result of years of planning and intelligence gathering from Kurds and other sources. Syrian Kurds channel was said to be a key source of the intelligence that led Americans to Baghdadi. The credit for Operation Baghdadi, of course, technically goes to President Donald Trump’s America.

Looking back, the genesis of Islamic State rise can be traced to the American military invasion of Iraq in 2003 that dethroned Saddam’s government. But in the process, it created a politico-societal vacuum that was filled by ISIS. It may be said that Washington’s erratic policies that had given rise to the Iraqi Jihadist who rose from obscurity to declare himself “Caliph” of all Muslims.

It may be worth recalling after hunting down Osama bin Laden in Pakistan’s hideout, the US, for all practical purposes, “outsourced” Afghanistan to Islamabad. The result was the resurgence of the Taliban. Indeed, America’s lopsided policies have given rise to Islamic extremism in one form or the other in Pakistan and some West Asian countries.

Let me also restate that the American clearance to Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria was at the cost of the Kurds who, as US allies, were a big help in fighting against IS fighters.

We will have to wait for the outcome of Baghdadi’s exit from the global scene. He had proclaimed himself as a new ruler of the entire Muslim world. At one stage, he managed to control 88,000 sq kms of the territory and govern millions of people. He was known to be very cunning and was an enigmatic black-clad leader. The world came to know about him in 2014 when his fighters overran one third of Iraq and half of neighbouring Syria. His ambition was to revive the Muslim theocracy that had ended with the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

According to foreign affairs expert Sreeram Chaulla, Baghdadi’s appeal was not limited to the Middle East. At its peak, IS had attracted over 40,000 foreign fighters from 110 countries. Propaganda-fed redemption asking Sunni youth from far-flung corners flocked to Baghdadi’s call to wage holy war in Syria and Iraq. Those who could not reach the ‘Caliphate’ carried out terrible atrocities in their home countries and surrounding areas in the name of Islamic State”

I would not go by President Trump’s rhetoric that the “world is now a much safer place” to live in. The problem with the US President is that he lives in his own make-believe world. He does not have any idea of how harsh global ground realities could be.

Baghdadi was surely barbaric. So were his three predecessors. They all have gone but the Islamic ideological hatred against what they call ‘infidels’ and ‘apostates’, is very much alive.

The moot point is: have the Western and Asian leaders given any serious thought to the rise of IS and before that Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaida phenomenon? Do they realise that Islamic aberrations continue mainly because of the systematic mis-governance of their authoritarian rulers in West Asia and beyond?

So far as India is concerned, we have suffered because of Islamabad’s ruthless military rulers who have kept alive the Kashmir issue and used Islamic terrorists to ensure their relevance in the sub-continent.

During my visit to Pakistan when Nawaz Sharif was at the helm, a number of Pak Generals told me, “How can we give up Kashmir? That would finish our importance in governing Pakistan”.

These observations speak a lot about the state of Pakistan. In fact, democratic forces the world over have paid a heavy price for Washington’s lopsided policies towards the Muslim world.

There are, of course, no shortcuts to the anti-terror goal. It is a long drawn-out battle which has to be fought on the ground and also in the realm of ideas. Viewed in this light, every world leader ought to understand that there cannot be quick-fix solutions to tackling of Islamic extremism. The foremost necessity in this respect is to understand the cause of discontent that has made IS and Jihad an attractive proposition to young men and women. For that matter, it has broadly generated “the etiology of hatred” against the existing order. What is wrong, where and why is, unfortunately, not getting across to the powers-that-be.

Equally disquieting is the misplaced notion that what matters is success against terrorist leaders and not against the ideas they stand for. No wonder, with each new targeted terrorist killing or arrest, we tend to congratulate ourselves that we are winning until the next atrocity takes place. All the while, we fail to ignite new ideas that could replace each dead terrorist with new recruits.

The intention here is not to draw a gloomy picture, but to underline the importance of understanding the ground realities and of taking timely steps to meet the challenges with counter-ideas based on time-tested democratic and liberal norms with a human touch. And, in the on-going war of ideas, doing nothing is the worst of all options. And democratic and liberal leaders the world over have to organize coordinated efforts and utilize intelligently the instruments of democracy with a human touch.

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The facts and views expressed in the article are those of the writer.