Baghdadi’s death and Daesh in South Asia

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By Rustam Shah Mohmand

Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, the leader and spiritual guide of Daesh was killed in a US raid in his hideout in Syria over the weekend. He was the most sought after terrorist in the world and carried a bounty of $25 million on his head.
The raid that led to his death was conducted following verified intelligence on the whereabouts of the Daesh chief, who had been defying the intelligence operatives of the world for years.
The movement was launched by disgruntled ideologues taking advantage of the vacuum that followed the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. It was this wholly unwarranted military intervention that changed the complexion of the political picture in the region once Iraq and its military were destroyed. When an established system, no matter how despotic, is dismantled by an external power, it creates a severe sectarian backlash, with chaos taking hold and facilitating non-state actors driven by their bizarre convictions.
At its peak, Daesh had established control over vast swathes of land in Iraq and Syria and about 10 million people were living in territories administered by the militant outfit.
Its record of governance was a brutal implementation of strict laws administered by ill-qualified clerics. Its treatment of minorities was abhorrent. Women were brutally discriminated against. In administering the territories that came under its control, Daesh created a reign of terror with killings, lynchings, destroying properties, crushing dissent and forcing tens of thousands of people to leave their homes and seek shelter in relatively safer zones. To many of the thousands who suffered at the hands of the militant outfit, the death of Baghdadi will come as a  great relief.
His death is also an irreversible blow to the militant movement, which has lost its territory as the caliphate shrank in the face of sustained attacks from the Global Coalition against Daesh. The death of Baghdadi however does not mean the movement has reached a dead end and is on its way to extinction. It has spread its tentacles across many regions from the Philippines to Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey and the world will need more vigorous and sustained endeavors to completely wipe it out.

Despite this, his death will certainly have some limited impact on the so-called Islamic state of Khorasan, which is the branch of Daesh that is active in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The movement has perpetrated untold miseries on the population in Eastern Afghanistan and in the capital, Kabul. Some embraced the movement in war-torn Afghanistan hoping it would spread the message of Islam. Unbeknown to them, Daesh unleashed its agenda of killing innocent people and those who didn’t agree with its myopic doctrine of sole monopoly over their interpretation of Sharia law. Soon, people began to leave its ranks in large numbers with only a few dedicated adherents who currently remain, hoping to derive some leverage or material benefits.
However, the impact will not really change the direction or strategy of the Khorasan chapter, because the militant branch is neither seeking a large pan-Islamic agenda like Daesh, nor is it pursuing and promoting the strategy of Baghdadi.
The Baghdadi movement considered all those disagreeing with its philosophy as infidels, but the Khorasan movement seeks an end to the perceived policy of discrimination and marginalization of Muslims in the wider central Asian region, which includes Xinxiang and parts of Russia besides the Muslim majority central Asian states. This Khorasan movement will therefore continue, unless a political reconciliation is reached which, for the moment does not seem likely to happen.
Still, Baghdadi’s death will have profound implications for Eastern Afghanistan and the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. If the Taliban–US talks make headway and an agreement is reached, Daesh will not be in a position to sabotage that accord. They will know that in case of the Taliban’s ascendance to power, their days are numbered. In that case, many in the ranks of Daesh will be keen to defect and mend fences with the Taliban.
The scenario is complex and as events unfold, will become even more confusing. The only hope is a genuine reconciliation following an accord between the Taliban and US and an understanding reached on governance systems between the Taliban and other Afghan militant groups.
(The author Rustam Shah Mohmand is a specialist of Afghanistan and Central Asian Affairs. He has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan and also held position of Chief Commissioner Refugees for a decade.)