Home Contact Us  

South Asia - Articles

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
#4638, 1 September 2014

The Strategist

The Islamic State Caliphate: A Mirage of Resurrection
Vijay Shankar
Former Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Forces Command of India and Distinguished Fellow IPCS

The Universal State: The Last-Gasp Opportunism of Power
Belief in the immortality of a ‘Universal State’ has in history periodically evoked those very ghosts that had established the State’s mortality causing their decay and expiry. The fall of the Ummayad Caliphate in Damascus at the hands of the Abbasids, only for the former to supplant itself on the Iberian peninsula and draw roots in Cordoba; the Abbasid Caliphates shock overthrow when Baghdad fell to the Mongols was resuscitated in the Fatamids Caliphs of Tunisia and the rise of the Ottoman Empire under whose suzerainty the Caliphate survived till its death at the hands of westernization are illustrative of the degeneration, reinvention and last-gasp opportunism of power.

The Flawed Revelation
While this selection has been uncovered from Islamic history, the truth is equally appropriate to other civilizations. To our study it is the causes of this rhythmic phenomenon that is of greater significance, even as our focus remains on the idea of the Caliphate. The first manifest reason is the ideological imprint that the founders of the Islamic Universal State cast on its adherents as contemporary historical truth was imposed on an overwhelming religious legend. The second branch of the root lay in the genius and impressiveness of its leaders. Lastly, the fact that the inspiration of the Universal State was built around past glories captivates the heart and minds as it embodies a rally from the rout of a ‘time of troubles’ (Toynbee, A Study of History). The universality of the state was therefore not just a geographical idea or a final impulse to brazen out decay of a civilisation but more a flawed revelation in the minds of the faithful.

The current turmoil in West Asia may be traced to the aberrant imposition of a Western order in the aftermath of the defeat and collapse of the Ottomans and the eventual denial of the idea of a Caliphate by its leadership. The Caliphate, which had lost its religious and civilizational magnetism, was substituted by a mosaic of states that was mandated more by the promise of colonial influence and economic profit. This led to a situation when the underlying antagonism and economic dispossession have erupted in aggression and a yearning for a return to the Universal State.

Disruptive Nature of the Islamic State
The Islamic State (IS, varyingly called the ISIS or the ISIL) has swept from Syria into Iraq in a maelstrom of destruction and has in a short but bloody campaign laid waste to the northern third of Iraq. No political Islam or civilizational impulse here, just rabid intolerance. In its wake it has disrupted the correlation of political forces in the region as the US seek a quick blocking entente with Iran; Syria sees in the situation an opportunity to settle scores with the insurgency raging within; Shia organisations find common cause to offset the IS; Sunni States carry a cloaked bias towards the IS to the extent that a recent New York Times report suggests funding by Turkey, Saudi and Qatar; terrorist organisations in Afghanistan and Pakistan welcome the new leadership that has displaced al-Qaeda and Kurdistan has been catapulted to the forefront of opposition to the IS.

Distressing Probability of Nuclear Reach
As the fanatical outburst of xenophobia stretches south and eastward the IS’ influence will in due course manifest in the fertile Jihadist breeding grounds of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Pakistan today, as many perceptive analysts have noted, represents a very dangerous condition as its establishment nurtures fundamentalist and terrorist organizations as instruments of their misshapen policies in Afghanistan and Kashmir. The essence of Pakistan’s rogue links will, unmistakably, seduce the IS into the sub-continent underscoring the distressing probability of the IS extending its reach into a nuclear arsenal. The impending withdrawal of US forces from the region will only serve to catalyse such a calamitous scenario.

Sustaining the Richest Terrorist Group
Ideologically the IS is driven by little other than a deep rooted malevolence (towards the US in particular) for the near quarter century of armed turmoil and sectarian carnage that has visited the region without near term hopes for restoration. The fallout has been a demonizing of plurality and a fierce rejection of modernity. Resurgence of the banished Iraqi Republican Guard has provided muscle to the movement and the revival of the Baathist faction infused a much needed organisational framework to the IS. The feeble capitulation of the 350,000 US trained Iraqi security forces stands testimony to the vigour of the enterprise. The seizure of over 400,000 pieces of small arms, artillery munitions, the pillaging of USD $430 million from the Central Bank of Mosul and the creation of a self sustaining financial flow to fuel the movement would suggest the work of trained minds and the organisational precision of professionals; besides it also makes the IS the richest militant group in West Asia.

Timing of the fierce advent of the IS and its leadership of the movement to establish a new Caliphate is distinctly ominous. The West in a state of economic exhaustion, militarily fatigued, geo-politically starved of ideas and facing the prospects of a world order being put in disarray by a revisionist China; neither has the stomach nor the resolve to block the onslaught. The only check on the abuse of unconventional and maleficent power has always consisted in opposition by an equally formidable rival, or of a combination of several countries forming a league of defence; unfortunately such an alliance has not been formed.

Conclusion: Development of a Strategy
When Toynbee suggested the emergence of a Universal State he saw in it disintegration of a civilization as it encountered disastrous ‘time of troubles’, such as wars within and without followed by the establishment of a universal state-an empire in the throes of decay. Ultimately the universal state collapses. The menacing feature of the Islamic State is that the end of a ruinous historical rhythm is synchronised today with the draw down of an external enforcing dynamic and the intolerable availability of weapons of mass destruction.

In such circumstances the prognosis can only be a universal catastrophe unless a three pronged strategy is put in place:

• Firstly arrest the rampage of the IS by a coalition of regional forces under UN aegis.
• Secondly, choke the money flow both from patron States and the IS’ financial dealings by targeting beneficiaries.
• Thirdly, deny access to weapons of mass destruction through rigorous guardianship of known sources.

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
IPCS Columnists
Af-Pak Diary
D Suba Chandran
Resetting Kabul-Islamabad Relations: Three Key Issues
Can Pakistan Reset its Relations with Afghanistan?
The New Afghanistan: Four Major Challenges for President Ghani
Big Picture
Prof Varun Sahni
Understanding Democracy and Diversity in J&K
When Xi Met Modi: Juxtaposing China and India
Pakistan?s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Inevitability of Instability

Dateline Colombo

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera.
Sri Lanka: Moving Towards a Higher Collective Outcome
The Importance of Electing the Best to our Nation's Parliament
Sri Lanka: Toward a Diaspora Re-Engagement Plan
Dateline Islamabad
Salma Malik
Pakistan's Hurt Locker: What Next?
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
India-Pakistan Relations in 2015: Through a Looking Glass
Dhaka Discourse
Prof Delwar Hossain
IPCS Forecast: Bangladesh in 2015
18th SAARC Summit: A Perspective from Bangladesh
Bangladesh in Global Forums: Diplomacy vs. Domestic Politics
Eagle Eye
Prof Chintamani Mahapatra
India-US: Significance of the Second Modi-Obama Meet
Has President Obama Turned Lame Duck?
Modi-Obama Summit: Criticism for Criticism?s Sake?

East Asia Compass
Dr Sandip Mishra
India-Japan-US Trilateral: India?s Policy for the Indo-Pacific
China-South Korea Ties: Implications for the US Pivot to Asia
Many ?Pivots to Asia?: What Does It Mean For Regional Stability?
Himalayan Frontier
Pramod Jaiswal
Nepal?s New Constitution: Instrument towards Peace or Catalyst to Conflict?
IPCS Forecast: Nepal in 2015
Constitution-making: Will Nepal Miss its Second Deadline?

Prof Shankari Sundararaman
IPCS Forecast: Southeast Asia in 2015
Indonesia's Pacific Identity: What Jakarta Must Do in West Papua
Modi in Myanmar: From ?Look East? to ?Act East?
Sushant Sareen
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
Islamic State: Prospects in Pakistan
Pakistan: The Futility of Internationalising Kashmir

Looking East
Wasbir Hussain
Myanmar in New Delhi's Naga Riddle
China: ?Peaceful? Display of Military Might
Naga Peace Accord: Need to Reserve Euphoria
Maritime Matters
Vijay Sakhuja
Indian Ocean: Modi on a Maritime Pilgrimage
Indian Ocean: Exploring Maritime Domain Awareness
IPCS Forecast: The Indian Ocean in 2015

Nuke Street
Amb Sheelkant Sharma
US-Russia and Global Nuclear Security: Under a Frosty Spell?
India's Nuclear Capable Cruise Missile: The Nirbhay Test
India-Australia Nuclear Agreement: Bespeaking of a New Age
Red Affairs
Bibhu Prasad
Countering Left Wing Extremism: Failures within Successes
Return of the Native: CPI-Maoist in Kerala
The Rising Civilian Costs of the State-Vs-Extremists Conflict

Regional Economy
Amita Batra
India and the APEC
IPCS Forecast: South Asian Regional Integration
South Asia: Rupee Regionalisation and Intra-regional Trade Enhancement
South Asian Dialectic
PR Chari
Resuming the Indo-Pak Dialogue: Evolving a New Focus
Defence Management in India: An Agenda for Parrikar
Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: Implications for Asian Security

Spotlight West Asia
Amb Ranjit Gupta
Prime Minister Modi Finally Begins His Interaction with West Asia*
A Potential Indian Role in West Asia?
US-GCC Summit: More Hype than Substance
Strategic Space
Manpreet Sethi
India-Russia Nuclear Vision Statement: See that it Delivers
Global Nuclear Disarmament: The Humanitarian Consequences Route
Nasr: Dangers of Pakistan's Short Range Ballistic Missile

The Strategist
Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar
Jihadi Aggression and Nuclear Deterrence
The Blight of Ambiguity
Falun Gong: The Fear Within

OTHER REGULAR contributors
Gurmeet Kanwal
Harun ur Rashid
N Manoharan
Wasbir Hussain
Rana Banerji
N Manoharan

Ruhee Neog
Teshu Singh
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Roomana Hukil
Aparupa Bhattacherjee

Related Articles
Ranjit Gupta,
"The Islamic State: No Country for the Old World Order," 1 September 2014
Rajeshwari Krishnamurthy,
"Islamic State and South Asia: How Real is the Threat?," 27 August 2014

Browse by Publications

Issue Briefs 
Special Reports 
Research Papers 
Seminar Reports 
Conference Reports 

Browse by Region/Countries

East Asia 
South Asia 
Southeast Asia 
US & South Asia 

Browse by Issues

India & the world  
Naxalite Violence 
Suicide Terrorism 
Peace & Conflict Database 
Article by same Author
No Responsible Steward of Nuclear Weapons, This

The Curious Case of USS McCain

"The World is Not Peaceful"

Nuclear Crises in the Time of Orwellian Wars

The Value of a Declared No First Use Nuclear Policy

The CPEC: Corridor to Chinese Coffers

Forecast 2017: Carnage Ahead?

Perils of Nuclear Paranoia

The Catechism of a Minister

Hillary's Nuclear Policy: A Time of Change, Dithering, or Sameness?

The Misshapen Pivot

The Blind Men of Hindostan

Rewarding Thugs

South China Sea: China’s Double Speak and Verdict at The Hague

There is a New Symphony at Play

Barbarism and the Smell of Cordite

To Steer the Stream of Time: The Crisis of Verge Powers

Forecast 2016: Pakistan, Aberrated Strategies and Strategic Stability

What is Strategic Stability?

Jihadi Aggression and Nuclear Deterrence

Falun Gong: The Fear Within

China: The January Storm

State of Play: Non-Proliferation, Fissile Material Cut-Offs and Nuclear Transparency

Swabbing the Bleakness of Subcontinental Nuclear Instability

The Af-Pak Entity: Seduction to Armageddon?

Y! MyWeb
Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
Year 2018
 2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010
 2009  2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002
 2001  2000  1999  1998  1997

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) is the premier South Asian think tank which conducts independent research on and provides an in depth analysis of conventional and non-conventional issues related to national and South Asian security including nuclear issues, disarmament, non-proliferation, weapons of mass destruction, the war on terrorism, counter terrorism , strategies security sector reforms, and armed conflict and peace processes in the region.

For those in South Asia and elsewhere, the IPCS website provides a comprehensive analysis of the happenings within India with a special focus on Jammu and Kashmir and Naxalite Violence. Our research promotes greater understanding of India's foreign policy especially India-China relations, India's relations with SAARC countries and South East Asia.

Through close interaction with leading strategic thinkers, former members of the Indian Administrative Service, the Foreign Service and the three wings of the Armed Forces - the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force, - the academic community as well as the media, the IPCS has contributed considerably to the strategic discourse in India.

Subscribe to Newswire | Site Map
18, Link Road, Jungpura Extension, New Delhi 110014, INDIA.

Tel: 91-11-4100-1902    Email: officemail@ipcs.org

© Copyright 2018, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.