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Taliban vs IS vs al Qaeda: In competitive jihad, brand names matter

The Islamic State, a relatively new entrant in the world of terrorism, attempted a ‘differential product advantage’ with its decapitation videos and aggressive social media marketing to edge out al Qaeda, a much older group in the business.

ht-view Updated: Jan 02, 2015, 01:27 IST
Pathikrit Sen Gupta
Pathikrit Sen Gupta
Hindustan Times

“This is revenge,” announced the Tehreek-e-Taliban, alluding to Pakistan’s June military offensive against it in the North Waziristan region, as its gunmen massacred over 130 children at a Peshawar school last month in one of the most diabolical terror attacks ever.

“I saw the dead body of our office assistant on fire,” one of the kids, who was shot but played dead to survive, told a news agency. “She was sitting on the chair with blood dripping from her body as she burned.”

Revenge, yes. But was this also "good business" in the world of competitive jihad? With this one act of nauseating barbarism, the pack hunters from Pakistan made Islamic State (ISIS) sympathiser Man Haron Monis, the lone wolf behind the Sydney siege that had ended a few hours ago, look like a lamb. Echoes from the twin car bombings the same week in central Yemen, allegedly carried out by the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) group, drowned moments later.

Terrorism is an expensive business and blood money courses through its veins. It takes months of meticulous planning as well as massive manpower and resources to execute a 9/11 or a 26/11.

New-entrant ISIS attempted a Differential Product Advantage with its decapitation videos to edge out MNC al-Qaeda, supplementing this with aggressive social media marketing. And the brand management strategy seems to have worked.

Reports are that the Islamic State has amassed more than $2 billion in financial assets. According to an article in The Times, the group is also selling Christian artefacts in the black market to raise funds while using churches as torture chambers. The ISIS’s unmatched expertise in terrorist attacks inside Iraq and successful wielding of a mighty insurgent army is energising members of the entire global jihadist movement to compete with one another in violent conquest and terror.

While the Islamic State and al-Qaeda are pursuing an expansionist policy with the Indian subcontinent as a focal point and Boko Haram is shooting up on the notoriety charts by doing unmentionable things to women in Nigeria, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has hit hard times. A series of internal splits has seen major factions peel off, while the country’s military finally moved into North Waziristan in 2014, where dozens of groups threatening local, regional and international targets were based. Only once has the TTP been linked to a global strike: a plan to bomb Times Square.

Ergo, the outfit needed to make a big splash to restore its clout. According to Wikileaks, while the US supplies nearly a billion dollars a year to the Taliban in Afghanistan “accidentally”, their allies in Saudi Arabia are financing the Taliban in Pakistan. But the fractured nature of the outfit has severely dented its cash reserve and instances of the militants resorting to street crimes to raise money have become commonplace.

There are reports their handlers asked the Peshawar militants to shoot videos every time they killed one of the schoolkids, with plans to spread the footage on social media. Diabolical, of course. But it’s all about brandishing a brand name before a horrified world.

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