As 2014 came to a close, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation A(NATO) ended its then 13-year-old military operations in Afghanistan against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The US-led international military coalition began its withdrawal on 28 December 2014, and although the US is maintaining some military presence in Afghanistan over the next few years, this residual force is a substantially reduced one.
The military campaign, named ‘Global War on Terrorism’ by NATO, cost the world over a trillion dollars and several thousand lives of civilians and soldiers. Needless to say, the extraordinary cost far exceeded the final outcome: al-Qaeda is far from decimated and several of its affiliates, like the Haqqani Network, remain a potent force in Afghanistan. In fact, al-Qaeda, against all odds, has survived despite severe attrition and fragmentation. A principal reason for its continuing operational presence is the emergence of new affiliates like al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQIP), al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria and Iraq.
In the Middle East, a series of events, beginning with the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ to the Western intervention in Syria to oust President Bashar alAssad, has created a new set of terrorist groups, besides shoring up al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria and Iraq.
Perhaps the most dramatic, and dangerous, event has been the rise of an al-Qaeda breakaway group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or the Islamic State. The ISIS, while challenging the hegemony of al-Qaeda, is at the same time strengthening the ‘global jihad’ movement which is also what al-Qaeda is aspiring to achieve.
There is no doubt that the foreign military drawdown from Afghanistan and the ISIS-al-Qaeda consolidation in the Middle East have bolstered the ranks of terrorists across the world. This has not only raised the level of conventional threats posed by existing terror groups but also unexpected attacks like that in Paris in January 2015.
That these events will help terrorist groups in the region to attract more recruits is a serious concern for South Asia, an epicentre of terrorism in many ways. Extremist organisations in the region, especially in Pakistan, are also acquiring greater expertise and stronger gumption to launch attacks of serious magnitude, such as the Mumbai attacks of November 2008, the June 2014 attack on the Karachi international airport, and the Peshawar attack of 16 December 2014.
The setting up of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS)—and the fact that an unknown number of people from South Asian countries have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight alongside ISIS and Jabhat alNusra—makes the possibility of a direct threat from these groups closer to reality.
It is in this context that this paper examines the prospects of al-Qaeda after the US drawdown in Afghanistan and the likely threats which the region, and India in particular, might face in the near future. Such an analysis will necessarily call for a supplementary scrutiny of ISIS and its possible expansion in the region.
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Aryaman Bhatnagar is a foreign policy security and political analyst based in New Delhi. He was a German Chancellor Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt ...Read More +
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