In the most comprehensive report on the influence of Islamic State in South Asia to-date, Quilliam finds that Islamic State (IS) is an ideological destabiliser in the region, rather than a coordinated force. We further profile the most significant jihadist groups in South Asia, and analyse their potential role in globally-oriented jihadist activity.

With entrenched militant groups continuing to act as proxy forces for states and established jihadist brands (such as the Taliban or Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan), we expect IS to further internationalise the South Asian jihadist narrative, build on the fertile ideological ground that these pre-existing groups have laid, and challenge Al Qaeda for recruitment in the region. We argue this will lead to both an increase in the numbers of foreign terrorist fighters joining IS from South Asia, and local fighters mimicking its notoriously violent tactics and propaganda.

Quilliam therefore questions the continuing policy of tolerance and proxy use of jihadist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, not simply because of their own terrorist actions, but because of the legitimacy such support gives to ideas, narratives, and groups that will subsequently be exploited by IS and others for their own gain.

We also warn that continued use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs, or drones), the lack of regional co-operation against jihadism, and the gap of coherent grassroots counter-extremism strategies in the region will aid those spreading violent ideologies, and allow global jihadist actors, including IS, to continue to exploit the region in the coming years.

As such, Quilliam makes the following recommendations for the international community, regional governments and civil society in the region:

To the international community:
• Make counter-extremism and human rights central to all foreign policy and international development in the region
• Support grassroots reconciliation efforts and civil society initiatives that offer positive and sustainable forms of post-conflict solutions
• Critically review the legal, moral, and military arguments for UAVs in military operations, weighing the ideological and security costs of their use against their military advantages

To regional governments:
• Co-operate with other regional governments to develop comprehensive policies to defeat transnational terrorist organisations such as Islamic State
• Support, as a priority, grassroots counter-extremism initiatives, actors offering counter-narratives to violent ideologies, and reconciliation initiatives
• Reinforce legitimate state institutions such as prisons, schools, and courts to counter the appeal of radicalisation through the reduction of corruption, the promotion of the rule of law, and the implementation of civic education, and ensure the strengthening and integrity of the justice sector in particular
• Undertake research based on public health frameworks to investigate the causes and consequences of both violent and non-violent extremism, and invest in new counter-extremism initiatives according to the findings of that research

To civil society:
• Treat extremist political ideologies with civic intolerance rather than accepting them as legitimate religious views, and treat jihadist violence as a criminal act rather than as a religious act
• Deny sectarian preachers unchallenged platforms to propagate ideologies that discriminate against minorities or promote violence in places of worship, educational institutions and the media
• Create safe spaces for activists to counter extremist ideologies and narratives, promoting alternative pluralistic interpretations of religion that are compatible with universal human rights standards

Co-author of the report and Quilliam researcher, Nikita Malik, says:

“Islamic State threatens global security and will exploit the ideological support that South Asian jihadist groups can offer. The international community, regional governments and civil society must take immediate and robust action to challenge the causes of this threat.”

For a copy of the report please click here.

The report will be launched at an event in central London on Tuesday, the 23rd of June, an invitation for which can be accessed here. If you would like to attend, please email Annabel Toller at [email protected].

For further comment, please contact Quilliam’s media desk on 02071827284 or by emailing [email protected].