The civil war in Syria and the growing Shia-Sunni conflict in Iraq are threatening to impact India’s internal security. At least 18 Indians are believed to be fighting against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and a large number of Shias instigated to take on the ISIS militants in Iraq to protect their shrines.
The impact of the Iraq and Syria circumstances on India was discreetly discussed at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 20. Asking for an early resolution to the Iraq hostage crisis, the PM made it clear to the home ministry that the fallout of Iraq and Syria should in no way promote sectarian strife in India.
The Indian security agencies got a whiff of radicalised Indians going to Syria after a Singapore-based Indian was deported to Tamil Nadu this year. His close friend, who had a Singaporean citizenship and came from the same village, had taken his family to Iraq in January to fight against the Assad regime.
While the home ministry and security agencies are talking to Indian Sunni and Shia leaderships to dissuade Indians from participating in the urban guerrilla war in Syria and Iraq, the sentiment generated by the ISIS sweep in Iraq has far-reaching security ramifications. The Shia organisations are already distributing pamphlets and trying to recruit people from north India to fight the Sunni threat to their shrines in Iraq.
Although it is difficult to assess the number of Indians fighting in the conflict zone given the possibility of some of the radicalised Gulf-based Indians moving there, reports indicate that youth from Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu may have entered Syria through Iraq or Turkey. Intelligence estimates show that fighters from nearly 80 countries are participating in the ‘jihad’ against Assad.
“The ISIS call to capture Baghdad and destroy Shia shrines there has excited both the sects in the sub-continent. The Pakistan-based Indian Mujahideen ‘jihadists’ are now speaking the language of Sunni fighters in Iraq. The young Shias perturbed by the ISIS calls are in a mood to counter them,” said a senior home ministry official.