Date: 25/01/2015

ISIS’ Impact on Pakistan: Will India Bear the Brunt?

Irrespective of whether ISIS continues to expand or gets eliminated, its most visible impact on Islamic nations in South Asia is the inspiration that its radical elements derive from ISIS’s successes rather than any direct existential threat. This article focuses on the indirect threats to India emanating from Pakistan as a consequence of ISIS’s growing influence and assumes that ISIS continues to thrive in its captured areas much like the Taliban in Afghanistan during the 1990s.

India’s Muslim population of 138 million [i] the second largest in the world also includes the World’s third largest Shia Muslims (16-24 million) population. [ii] India’s pluralistic theme providing Indian Muslims with freedom & liberty, Sufi dominated Islamic practices over centuries, lack of appeal with the Caliphate cause & astute leadership within the Indian Muslim community are significant factors that ensured a moderate discourse within the Indian Muslim community. Given India’s huge Muslim population, even a small proportion of volunteer fighters would translate in to unacceptably huge numbers and would serve to shift global opinion against India’s secular & democratic credentials apart from severely denting India’s ongoing growth story.

Pakistan Minorities have historically experienced harsh legislations on religious issues, an unenthusiastic government policy to rein in extremist elements from Sunni majority groups and a society rooted with a history of ethnic conflicts. [iii] The challenges faced by Pakistan’s minority groups include the growing influence of extremist Islamic ideology, continued discrimination of fundamental rights and negligible prospects for economic growth. [iv] Concurrently, alarmed by the phenomenal rise of ISIS & its ideology, the impending ISAF draw down from Afghanistan and the increasing belligerence of the TTP, the Pakistan Army launched operation Zarb-e-Azb in Jun 2014 in North Waziristan with the objective of eliminating the sectarian Pakistan Taliban & the Uzbek extremists. [v]

ISIS impact on Pakistan owing to its spectacular success has already inspired large numbers of young volunteers from Pakistan to join the ISIS cause. [vi] The return home of these volunteers is likely to embolden the TTP, LEJ, SSP, Jandullah groups and precipitate extensive sectarian strife in Pakistan. Operation Zarb-e-Azb will certainly lead to a consolidation of ranks across the ‘good’ & the ‘bad’ Taliban, and provide an impetus to fundamentalist ideology leading to more violence in Pakistan. The 02 Nov Wagah border incident and the 16 Dec Peshawar Army School attack corroborate this view and underscore the harsh consequences of nurturing fundamentalist ideologies as state policy. Reprisal attacks by Pakistani security forces will only trigger off an unending cycle further damaging the security environment. Inspiration drawn from glorified accounts of Pakistani ISIS fighters in case of future ISIS/allies’ victories can galvanise the TTP, LeJ, Jandullah and other sectarian organisations to intensify sectarian strife in Pakistan. Young Jihadists in the Taliban, Haqqani network and Al Qaeda groups may join the sectarian cause if the Afghanistan campaign gets stalled. It would unleash a massive extermination pogrom of religious minorities, which in all likelihood would commence with Shia-specific violence. Considering ISIS’s distasteful reputation in its treatment of minorities, the sectarian groups in Pakistan are likely to either rival or surpass ISIS in brutality & inhuman behaviour. This in turn could trigger off a mass exodus of minorities seeking refuge in neighbouring countries.

Implications for India emanating from the refugee influx severely undermines its security & economic prospects. While the Shias (17-25 million) [vii] would flee to Iran, the Pakistani Hindus (19 lacs), Christians (15 lacs) & Ahmadiyas (2 lacs) [viii] would consider India as the only alternative. Even if only 50 % of Pakistan’s minorities seek asylum in India, it translates to 1.8 million, overtaking Pakistan as the ‘World’s largest host of refugees’ a distinction India can ill afford!

The consequent problems arising out of the political, economic, social, & infrastructure aspects when refugees compete with locals for the same resources & infrastructure (land, food, and water), health services & employment would severely strain the economy. [ix] Notwithstanding the rhetoric on international solidarity, host countries pay a heavy price in providing asylum to refugees. To illustrate the point, the UNHCR 2014 budget for Pakistan’s 1.6 million refugees is $147.7 million [x] while Iran’s 8 lac refugees are allotted $ 69 million. [xi] A potentially huge refugee problem with debilitating impacts on India’s economy, social & security stability!!

ISIS-inspired sectarian strife would compel the Al Qaeda and Taliban to initiate spectacular events like an intense surge to capture Afghanistan or launch audacious attacks in India. These developments would derail the TAPI pipeline and seriously undermine India’s economic concerns in Afghanistan & the CAR republics. Likewise, Chinese security concerns (Xingjian) and its economic interests in Afghanistan & the CAR would be seriously jeopardised.

Sectarian strife in Pakistan could agitate Indian Sunni & Shia communities and the resultant discourse could inspire violent activities by extremist elements. SIMI & IM could indulge in Shia-specific attacks in India setting off a cycle of reprisal attacks. Pakistani proxy groups like the LeT could launch attacks in the Indian hinterland that vitiate communal harmony. Extremist elements within the Hindu & Muslim community and political opportunists could further inflame passions to secure their narrow vested interests. A World Bank & IMF report projects India’s growth rate at 6.4 % for 2015 citing investor confidence due to substantial reforms initiated by the new Government. [xii] However, investor confidence could be easily undermined by an increasingly unstable security environment within India which would lead to lowered investments & reduced FDI.

What India needs to do?

The refugee influx into India has the potential of seriously undermining India’s march to economic prosperity & security stability. The ideal approach would be to ensure that the refugee situation is obviated. India needs to sensitise the International community & agencies about the impending humanitarian disaster that is likely to unravel as ISIS’s influence takes root in South Asia. India should support US–Iran convergence [xiii] or US-motivated initiatives by Arab nations to put boots on the ground to oppose ISIS. [xiv] It would involve international efforts to rid Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar & the other Arab nations of the delusion that supporting ISIS would fetch tangible benefits.

The Convention on the Punishment & Prevention of Genocide adopted by the UN in 1949 unambiguously defines Genocide and stipulates the State’s responsibility to identify acts of Genocide, prevent future acts from taking place and punish past acts. Pakistan is guilty of serious violations of the provisions of this convention. [xv] India needs to launch a concerted campaign in the international community to develop a broad consensus to bring Pakistan to account for its inactions & passive tolerance of Sectarian extremist groups operating freely within Pakistani soil.

India needs to develop an alternative gas pipeline and an alternative trading route giving access to markets of Afghanistan and the CAR countries; which is immune to political volatility and security instability in Afghanistan & Pakistan. A viable alternative is the planned Oman-India Pipeline (OIP) – a 1300 km long deep sea gas pipeline at a cost of $ 5 Bn which can transport 31 million cubic metres of gas per day. [xvi] More importantly, this pipeline facilitates transport of Iranian & Turkmenistan gas by feeder links to the main pipeline through the Chabahar Port (Iran).

Speedy development of the Chabahar Port serves to open up alternative trading links to Afghanistan & the CAR. It opens up a safe & reliable trade corridor for Indian trade & commerce with the CAR states along the Chabahar Port-Herat-CAR States route.

Pakistan’s political & security instability causes a convergence in India & China’s trading interests in Afghanistan & the CAR Republics and their respective domestic security. India and China can arrive at an arrangement that ensures Pakistan reins in the separatist & militant groups in Pakistan & also refrains from interfering in Afghanistan.

To obviate ISIS-inspired domestic events, India needs a dual strategy that deals with population/perception management, and simultaneously enhance India’s counter-terror infrastructure. The current trend of increasingly strident and frequent rhetoric of communal elements needs to be reined in.

At the same time, India needs to ramp up its cyber capabilities & resources to effectively combat ISIS presence in the virtual world from where it draws most of its foot soldiers. A proactive policy that preempts Indian youth joining up for the ISIS cause is as important as is a State policy which seeks a discreet & mature procedure to rehabilitate youth returning from an ISIS sojourn.

The second aspect is to comprehensively ramp up India’s security to cater for enhanced violence by Pakistani militant groups & own domestic groups. India needs to legislate counter-terrorism laws which resonate with the changing security threat, bridge the technological gap in the equipment profile of its security forces (army, CPO & state police), streamline vertical & horizontal intelligence sharing between various intelligence services, fortify its anti-terror financing procedures and strengthen its coastal security infrastructure.


India needs to be well prepared to face the onslaught of radicalization brought on by the growing influence of ISIS in Pakistan. At the same time, India needs to be closely monitoring the situation as it continues to unravel; both in its immediate neighborhood as also in the Middle East. For India, the adverse economic consequences would rival the security impacts as both may occur simultaneously and not as a fallout of degenerating security situation. The possible Refugee crisis needs to be a major factor in India’s calculus as it deals with the myriad problems arising as a consequence of the ISIS influence.