Ahmed Rashid, a renowned journalist and author of bestselling “Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism” spoke on the rise of ISIS, Yemen Crisis and their impact on Pakistan in a talk hosted by The Last Word. The Last Word is a celebrated book store in Lahore which, according to its Facebook page, caters to a ‘readership that thrives on ideas, creativity and explosive concepts’. Such talks and public events are a regular feature at The Last Word which has soon established itself as a popular venue for Lahore’s literati. Attended by a house full of around 70 people, the hour long candid talk was followed by questions and answers session.

“Rise of ISIS is not a surprise for me”

Starting with the history and genesis of ISIS, Ahmed Rashid asserted, “The birth of ISIS and their swift escalation is not a surprise for me as it is the outcome of a highly destabilized Iraq, crippled by violence and wars.”He further attributed the long standing insurgency and the huge power vacuum in Iraq as the key factors giving birth to ISIS.

Iraq grew to be the nucleus of terrorism after the American invasion which soon begot large scale sectarian violence, and terrorism owing to Al-Qaida’s presence. The violence and marginalization suffered by a number of groups provided the context which thrives radicalization and terrorism. The ISIS came as a natural culmination of these circumstances, he opined.

ISIS, according to Ahmed Rashid, was born out of Al-Qaeda.It was after the death of al-Zarqawi, al-Qaida’s head in Iraq, in 2006 that ISIS’s formation was declared under the leadership of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the predecessor of current emir of ISIS known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Al-Qaida and ISIS

Speaking on the similarities between ISIS & Al-Qaida, Rashid pointed out that in terms of ideology there is not much of a difference.In terms of strategy, however, they are poles apart. ISIS believes in capturing the territory and establishing a caliphate in whatever form, which then be used as a base for further expansion and fighting the enemies of Islam. Al-Qaida, on the other hand, believes in fighting US and other perceived enemies of Islam, and sees the establishment of Caliphate as the long-term objective.

Answering a question on ISIS’s stance on Palestine issue, Rashid highlighted that interestingly ISIS is virtually silent on Palestine and never challenges Israel’s hegemony. On the contrary, Palestinian refugee camps in Syria frequently become victims of ISIS’s cruelties.

ISIS: A look inside the cadre

“The hierarchy of ISIS is comprised of several ex-officers of Saddam’s Army, along with Uzbek, Tajik and Chechen fighters. They are all professionally trained jihadi militants,” told Rashid.

About 25,000 recruits from 90 different countries have joined ISIS in the last couple of years, which is roughly equal to one thousand recruits per month.ISIS’s numbers have multiplied exponentially in no time. Young people from Britain, France, and astonishingly, from all over Europe are rushing to join ISIS. Another element which distinguishes ISIS from other jihadi militias is their success in attracting female recruits, explained Rashid while talking about traction for ISIS.

ISIS is currently the richest terrorist group on the planet. They are controlling nearly 50 oil wells and further using smuggling and kidnapping for ransom to generate revenue. They are also employing thousands of women and young girls in sexual slavery. They are earning a million to two million dollars a day which makes them the spearhead of terrorism in the world. Al-Qaeda never achieved anything like this.I think we are going to witness further spread of the ISIS, said Rashid whilst commenting on the gravity of the situation.

“Media manipulation paved way for the success of ISIS”

Explaining the motives of the ISIS and their techniques of media manipulation, Rashid explained that ISIS not only wants to abolish the borders between Iraq and Syria, they want the expansion of their Khilafat by all means. Unlike Al-Qaeda, ISIS believes in exterminating all minorities residing in the areas under their control.They are doing mass killings, beheadings, suicide bombings and major terrorist attacks not just in Iraq and Syria but in places like Jordan and recently, in Saudi Arabia.

After expunging all other media sources which could expose their activities and whereabouts, ISIS choose themselves what and how they want to show to the rest of the world. They have been using footages of beheadings and bombings for fear and propaganda. The online propaganda had a massive impact on the radicalized youth all over the world.

The Yemen Conflict

“Yemen is in a state of civil war for the last five years”, said Rashid. Commenting on the sectarian facet of the conflict, he was of the view that it is not mainly a proxy war. Because of doctrinal differences, Iran may not consider Houthis as proper Shia. Houthis have been marginalized in the post-Saleh political setup which led to their revolt against the regime.

“Yemen has 95 million guns for 25 million people”

Rashid said that Yemen is currently the most armed country in the world. With a population of about 25 million, there are 90 million guns in Yemen. In such a heavily armed country with tribal allegiances, poor governance and infrastructure, very cautious measures need to be taken to address the Yemen crisis. Unfortunately there has been no serious diplomat effort on Yemen so far.

What is the rest of Muslim world doing?

Rashid said that the Arab countries and their lack of leadership is quintessentially resulting in the spread of ISIS. The Americans and other Western countries are taking steps against the organization which should have been a task completed by the Arab countries.

“The 60 state alliance against ISIS should have been led by the Arab countries rather than America”, Rashid lamented.

Talking finally about Pakistan, he said, “Pakistan did the right thing by not sending it troops to Yemen”. The situation in Yemen is far too complex to be handled through military operation. Only diplomatic effort and political solution has the answer.

Commenting on the possibility ISIS’s upsurge in Pakistan, Rashid said that the kind of vacuum ISIS requires to grow is not there yet.

Rashid was warmly appreciated by the echoing applause in the end of the talk and he thanked all his listeners for showing interest

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