Tackling the ISIS threat in India
India’s primary battle is to defeat the group on end-to-end encrypted communication platforms such as Telegram, Whatsapp and Threema
Last week, the National Investigation Agency busted an ISIS-inspired terror module and arrested 10 persons. Only a thorough investigation will be able to reveal the severity of the threat that this group posed. Meanwhile, the primitive nature of the weapons that have been seized from the arrested individuals has invited ridicule on social media. That the group was poorly equipped and was ill-prepared for mounting a serious attack is not surprising—ISIS has, in the past, claimed a number of failed and botched up operations globally. However, the scale of the July 2016 attack at the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka suggests that the threat of ISIS and its ideology cannot be taken lightly in our region.
There are two ways in which ISIS poses a threat to India: through its physical presence in the region, and through its virtual presence in the cyber world. On the first count, the presence of ISIS terrorists and ISIS-inspired groups in Afghanistan and Bangladesh worries the Indian security establishment. Wilayah Khorasan, the ISIS wing in Afghanistan, does not just threaten Indian interests in Afghanistan but also promises to wage a war in Kashmir. On the second, the problem is more in the realm of regulating new-age technology. Even if ISIS sympathisers in India do not get to communicate directly to some functionary in either Afghanistan or West Asia, they can access a host of propaganda material online.
It should be stated that ISIS hasn’t received support from Indian Muslims. For a country with the world’s second largest Muslim population, India’s share of pro-ISIS individuals is minuscule. There is no hard data on how many Indians have gone to Afghanistan or West Asia East to join ISIS, but the numbers are not expected to be very high. India’s primary battle is, therefore, to defeat the group on end-to-end encrypted communication platforms such as Telegram, Whatsapp and Threema. Initial reports indicate that the arrested individuals used Threema and Telegram. The Indian government’s nascent steps to regulate such platforms can be seen in this background. However, it is going to be a mighty difficult balancing act to guarantee individual privacy, uphold right to dissent and crack down on forces threatening national security. Technology firms should themselves offer some innovative solutions.