Indian Prime Minister Modi’s Colombo visit on June 8 couldn’t have been more timely as the Indian Ocean immediate neighbour is still reeling under the aftershocks of the Easter Sunday terror attacks of April 21. The visit, within almost a week after the Indian PM resumed his second innings, is seen as a wise move to provide succour (the visiting PM also met the Catholic Christian local leadership, including a visit to the St Anthony’s church, who were apparently reassured, instilling a sense of security) thus bolstering the comfort level of Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the terror strikes.
Also, an early visit to the island nation fulfils India’s favoured neighbourhood policy specially to a vibrant BIMSTEC partner raising hopes of a renewed robust friendship between the two countries. This apart, diplomatically, this visit is likely to dilute the misconceptions that Sri Lanka has gone under the influence of China whose expansion designs around the Indian Ocean rim has lately been a matter of suspect.
However, principally this visit can be described as most timely because India now seems to be poised to play a proactive role in the neighbourhood to contain the rising trend of spiraling Islamic terror. Hence the focus of talks between Prime Minister Modi and his Sri Lankan counterpart, Ranil Wickremsinghe dominated remained on ways and means to arrest this disturbing trend. Importantly, both sides pledged for increased cooperation in the sphere of countering terror.
Earlier, to the Colombo visit, PM Modi visited Maldives as part of his first overseas trip in his second spell of Premiership where deliberations were held to address terror concerns. It would, therefore, appear that India stands to take a bold part as the leading nation in dealing with the terror menace threatening South Asia with serious consequences emanating from ISIS in the recent past.
Countries in the immediate neighbourhood apprehending perils of terror include Bangladesh which saw ISIS inspired bombings on April 30 and later, on May 27 in Dhaka mainly targeting the police. These were named as an Operation in Bengal. According to a well-known security analyst based in Dhaka, messages in English, Hindi and Bangla have surfaced, issued by Muhammad al Bengali and currently under circulation warning of more terror attacks in future.
Significantly, Muhammad al Bengali is believed to be the ISIS appointed Emir of Bangladesh. Immediately before this development, Baghdadi, the chief of ISIS, earlier thought to have been killed released a video carrying threats to be perpetrated in Asia. This is more than a coincidence and it is now becoming increasingly clear that contrary to the earlier reports of ISIS collapse, this dreaded outfit is trying to reassert its primacy with India, Bangladesh and other South Asian countries as its potential targets.
Bangladesh saw the last deadly terror attack on July 1, 2016 and a large number of youth who had strayed away had been radicalised and some of them were complicit in the infamous Holy Artesan bakery strikes. It is highly suspected that hate preacher Zakir Naik was also responsible in sowing the seeds of terror discord in Bangladesh through his video messages and online hate websites. Much has been written about Naik’s activities as he is securely kept with a residency status in Malaysia, courtesy Dr Mahatir Mohamed the country’s Prime Minister who refuses to extradite Zakir Naik to India where he is wanted in multiple offences. As late as on June 11, Mahatir point blankly refused to concede to the Indian request of Zakir’s extradition. He cited the case of a Malaysian national, Sirul Azhar Umar, who murdered a Mongolian model in 2015, was awarded a death sentence and he is cooling his heels in Australia which refuses to extradite him to Malaysia to avoid death penalty. Mahatir conveniently forgets that Malaysia was, and is considered a friend of India. Also, Indian judicial process is more fair than the prevailing system in Malaysia. Hence, Zakir stands a fit case for extradition.
While dwelling on the subject, it’s pertinent to point out that of late, Zakir has stepped up his acrimony and belligerence towards India as noticed from his recent statements (June 9) and recorded interviews to a popular Indian news magazine. His tenor and tone are aggressive and defiant which demonstrate that he is emboldened, drawing strength from Mahatir. It is assessed by many security skeptics that ISIS may be conveniently appropriating it’s propaganda tirade by subtly endorsing Naik ‘s acerbic rhetorics poisoning the young innocent minds.
Meanwhile, in a disturbing yet related development, ISIS has claimed that it has set up a new branch in India called “Wilayah of Hind” signaling that it is still alive and kicking. It further claims having set up a new province in India in the aftermath of the killing of notorious terrorist Zakir Musa in an encounter in Kashmir. In this regard, Rita Katz, Director of the SITE Intel group that tracks Islamic extremists has stated that such ISIS claims should not be written off.
In sum, therefore, India, especially the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka remain fraught with real time threats from the ISIS and its local collaborators. India merits to play a vital role given its anti-terror architecture to combat such threats by fine tuning its intelligence collection and intensified cooperation with neighbouring countries facing similar challenges.
(Writer is a security analyst and a regular columnist on topical security matters. Views expressed are personal)