For exactly one month now, Islamic State, ISIS, has struggled without its charismatic leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was killed during a U.S. military operation in a northwest Syrian village of Barisha on October 26, 2019. The main question now is whether it will meaningfully undermine the popularity of the ISIS Takfiri ideology or was this simply the death of a symbolic leader who played only a role in the evolution of Sunni Jihadism?
The month after al-Baghdadi’s death
As subsequent events have shown, the violent ideology of Salafi-Jihadi groups has not undergone significant changes. Moreover, ISIS has used al-Baghdadi’s death to strengthen its position and has appealed to its supporters to continue the apocalyptic battle with polytheists and other enemies. On October 31, 2019, the al-Furqan Media issued a statement of the Islamic State’s new spokesman Abu Hamza al-Qurashi, who confirmed the death of the group’s previous leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and prior official spokesman, Abu al-Hassan al-Muhajir. He also went on to announce the appointment of a certain Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi as the new “commander of the believers and caliph of the Muslims.”
An analysis of this statement by ISIS showed that the main engine of contemporary jihadism is not a specific person, even if he was Caliph himself, but the idea about building the new Caliphate, the fight against idolaters and the idea of achieving the rule of Islam throughout the world. The attractive force, which caused thousands upon thousands of Islamists from all over the world to rush to Syria and Iraq, was not the figure of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, rather it was the idea of the Islamic Caliphate. It must be recognized that the professional propaganda machine of the Islamic State has skillfully used Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death and eulogized him as a martyr who gave his life for Allah.
Abu Hamza quoted the Qur’an, Surah al-Nisa’, “God the Blessed and Exalted has said: ‘So let those who sell this worldly life for the Hereafter fight in the path of God and whoso fights in the path of God and is killed or overcomes, We will grant him a great reward’ (al-Nisa’ 74).”It is likely that the ISIS spokesman quoted the Surah al-Nisa’ with the aim of qualifying the death of “the mujahid Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (may God Almighty accept him)” as ‘Shaheed’ (Martyr).
To die a Shaheed in the path of Allah in the Islamic faith is one of the greatest honors. The concept of Shaheed constitutes the basis of the militant ideology of the Salafi-Jihadi movement. ISIS statement leads to the logical conclusion that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi fellShaheed on the path of Allah. He was eulogized as a great mujahid, who with the authority of Allah “revived the jihad,”established the Caliphate and the laws of the religion that had been impeded by the “Tawagheet,”(impurity),of the “Arabs and the non-Arabs” and “protected the honor of the Muslims”. He was described as a warrior of Allah who “…was steadfast on his religion, going forth and not turning back in flight, a mujahid against His enemies.”
Then, the new ISIS representative characterized the new Caliph Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi as “the knowledgeable, worshipping, working and God-fearing Sheikh,” an indication that he is a connoisseur of the Islamic Fiqh. The statement conveys that he fulfills “…the symbols of the jihad and amir (leader)of war,” who fought against the protector of the Cross-America – and inflicted on it woes upon woes.”
Apart from this short characteristic from the Quraysh’s tribe, to the general public nothing is known about the new Caliph. Analytics and scholars of Islam cannot yet appreciate his ideological views and theological knowledge without his audio or video performances during the Salaat-ul-Jumu’ah. In the midst of this situation, President Trump has tweeted intriguing information, “ISIS has a new leader. We know exactly who he is!”
Abu Hamza claims the decision of the Caliphate’s Shoura Council about the appointment of Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi as the caliph was taken “after consultation of their brothers and implementing the counsel of the Caliph of the Muslims (may God accept him).” That is, when appointing the new caliph, the testament (wasiyya) of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi himself was also taken into account. The Islamic State’s chief mouthpiece wrote, “O Muslims everywhere, rush to pledge bay‘a to the Amir al-Mu’mineen and gather around him.”
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s “Spiritual Gift”isstill strong
As subsequent events showed, the Islamic state skillfully used the “transition period” to expand its harsh ideology of Jihadi-Salafism (al-Salafiyya al-Jihadiyya). The call for Bay‘a toa new caliph was heard by supporters of the Islamic state around the world. In early November, almost all the wilayah (provinces) of the Islamic state, which are located in different regions of the Middle East, Central and Southeast Asia, Africa and the Caucasus, swore allegiance to Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi.Islamic State supporters around the world are publishing their pictures of the bay‘a campaign on the Pro-ISIS Telegram Channels almost daily.Also, the Caliphate’s official weekly Al-Naba widely published the process of Bay‘a in different countries, which means that the group attaches great importance to the process of “legalizing” the new caliph.The bay‘a campaign intended to illustrate the legitimacy and unanimous acceptance of the new leader.
Over the past two years, due to the shrink and loss of territory in Syria and Iraq, ISIS has chosen the tactics of building and expanding its regional branches, the so-called wilayah. As is well known, for the time being, besides Iraq, ISIS now claims to have wilayah in Syria, Libya, Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Somalia, Pakistan, India, the Philippines, Chechnya, Mali, Niger, Chad, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, and Turkey. Also, local Islamists in Bangladesh and Tunisia conduct their terrorist activities under the flag of ISIS and the announcement of the wilayat there is a matter of time. The Bay‘a campaign had given the Islamic State’s wilayahs and underground cells an opportunity to once again assert itself, to update its rigid and hard-line ideology and to launch terrorist attacks in some places.As a sign of revenge for the murder of Baghdadi, ISIS supporters conducted terrorist attacks in Tajikistan, Mozambique, Iraq, Algeria, Syria, Mali, DR Congo, and Nigeria during the month after Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death.
The hopes of some ideologists of al Qaeda and its offshoot, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), that the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the anonymity of the new caliph, could undermine the morale of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s supporters in the world and inflict a serious blow on the Islamic State’s prospects did not materialize. It seems one of the al-Qaeda ideologists, prominent Salafi cleric Abdullah al Muhaysini, who called al-Baghdadi’s death “a glorious night in Muslim history” and urged ISIS supporters to join al Qaeda, was deeply disappointed by the rise of a new wave of al-Dawla al-Islamiyya’s(Islamic State) ideology in the world.The Bay‘a campaign has now demonstrated the truth, that the death of Al Baghdadi raised to a new level the long-standing competition between ISIS and al Qaeda, the two main Sunni militant groups, for the soul of Islamists in the world.
The new Caliph was challenged not only by al-Qaeda and HTS but also by internal opponents who left the Islamic State and have now become vocal critics.On November 22019, the al-Wafa’ Media Agency published two essays under the titles “The Pincers Tearing Apart the Illusions of the Caliphate’s Claimants” and “The Collapse of the Fiction” in response to the appointment of al-Hashimi. The authors are Nasih Amin and Ibn Jubayr, who, according to the fellow of the Yale Law School, Cole Bunzel, were former Islamic State scholars.The authors questioned the legitimacy of the appointment of the new Caliph due to his anonymity and they denounced the Islamic State as wayward and illegitimate.They ridiculed Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi, calling him, “secluded paper caliph” (al-khalifa al-kartuni al-mutasardab).
Indeed, according to the Hadiths, a future caliph is traditionally expected to meet seven qualifications, including being Muslim, male, free (not a slave), a descendant of Quraysh, just, sound of mind and learned, or capable to rule the Caliphate.Both writers decried the Islamic State’s new leader for the appointment as caliph a one who is “an unknown nobody” (majhul ‘adam).It should be noted that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi was also criticized when in 2014 he declared himself a caliph. Then the prominent ideologists of the modern Salafi-Jihadi movement Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi and Abu Qatada al-Filistini issued written statements against giving bay‘a to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and strongly called on the Mujahideen in Syria to abandon him. Their calls did not, however, stop the wave of Islamists in different parts of the world who swore allegiance to him, accepted the ISIS Takfiri ideology and made Hijrah (migration) to Iraq and Syria. This time, as the post-Baghdadi period showed, cruel criticism and disqualification of al-Hashimi from the point of view of Islamic law, did not stop the flow of the Bay‘a campaign.
What’s the Future of ISIS without Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?
The post-Baghdadi time once again demonstrated that the Islamic State has become a franchise organization with allegiance to a set of aims and ideas, rather than to a hierarchical organization centered upon a single charismatic individual.Therefore, optimistic forecasts should not be built that the bloody path of jihad will stop after the death of the Caliph. Judging by the new wave of the Bay‘a campaign, heated disagreement among prominent ideologists of Jihadi-Salafism about Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi did not particularly concern the ISIS supporters in the world. Islamic State’s ebbs and flows introduced important new ideas to jihadi ideology, most importantly that the ideas of holy jihad are not founded on men, but on creed. Baghdadi’s death has further strengthened this idea, and future ideologists of Salafi-Jihadism will likely invoke the Islamic State’s background to unite militants around the Jihadi’s creed.
Since losing ground in Syria and Iraq, and killing Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during the last few months, ISIS is likely to change its tactics and strategy of global jihad. Now, it had already started focusing on building and developing its regional wilayahs and underground cells. Its decentralization tactic might divert efforts from the attacks on the West. This does not mean that the menace of ISIS sleeper cells and lone-wolf terrorist attacks in Europe and America has ended.
Additionally, further strengthening of the ideological struggle between ISIS and al-Qaeda could be expected. Today both groups are approximately in the same starting conditions, which existed in 2012-13.The ideology and objectives of the group are similar. The audience, faith environment and potential supporters of both groups are almost the same. Disputes over the timeline of the Caliphate’s creation, which al-Qaeda considered premature, turned both Salafi-Jihadi groups into sworn enemies. The fierce competition for leadership among the Sunni-Jihadi movements could only lead to further waves of deadly violence in the world. In reality, al Qaeda and its affiliates remain a threat to the U.S. and its allies in Europe, while the Islamic State attacks are aimed at the Middle East and U.S. interests in Caliphate’s wilayahs area.
The ideological legacy of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has already become a spiritual tool for Sunni terrorist groups.It will undoubtedly be used to spread the worldview of militant Takfirismand inspire a new generation of jihadists to new attacks. His heritage carries the banner of terror, caliphate, and jihad.His ideology propagates inter-Muslim war, interfaith hatred, and killing of murtads (apostate) and munafiqs(infidel). Al-Baghdadi’s legacy teaches us that ISIS Salafi-Jihadi ideology cannot be defeated with bombs alone.
Despite acknowledging strict measures, Pakistan has to stay on the grey-list in FATF
President of The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), Dr. Marcus Pleyer, announced in a press conference held on 25 February 2021 after the four-day virtual plenary meeting in Paris, France, that “Pakistan remains under increased monitoring,” adding that while Islamabad had made “significant progress,” there remained some “deficiencies” in mechanisms to plug terrorism financing.
The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is an inter-governmental formal decision-making body. It was founded in 1989 during the G7 Summit in Paris to develop policies against money laundering. It is a “policy-making body “that generates the political will to bring about national legislative and regulatory reforms in money laundering. It has also started dealing with virtual currencies. The FATF Secretariat is located in Paris. It sets standards and promotes effective implementation of:-
a. Legal, regulatory, and operational measures for combating money laundering.
b. The FATF works to identify national-level vulnerabilities to protect the international financial system from misuse.
Pakistan has been on the FATF grey list since June 2018 and has been asked to implement the FATF Action Plan fully by September 2019. Pakistan has implemented almost 90% of the recommendations; only three out of 27 points are not fully implemented.
Pakistan has suffered heavy economic losses due to being put on the grey-list; according to some estimates, Pakistan has suffered US Dollars 38 billion.
The FATF president noted that Pakistan was working towards its commitment made at a high level to implement the illicit financing watchdog’s recommendations, saying “that is not the time to put a country on the blacklist.”He added that as soon as Pakistan completed the action, the watchdog “will verify the reforms’ sustainability and discuss in next plenary in June.”
However, there are no chances that Pakistan could be put on the blacklist because it has at least three members of the FATF — China, Turkey, and Malaysia — that can sustain all pressures against any downgrade.
The government of Pakistan is committed to fully implementing the action plan, and to date, the progress achieved is admired by other FATF members.
However, FATF is also being used as a political tool against other nations. By reviewing the countries on the blacklist, the new additions are North Korea and Iran- the West’s adverse enemies. Also,the addition of Morocco, Burkina Faso, Senegal, and the Cayman Islands, are political decisions. As a matter of fact, the Western world is using international organizations, including FATF, to coerce their political opponents. Pakistan was a close ally with the West during the cold war era, and the front line state on Afghan war and non-NATO ally in the war on terror, yet faced worst sanctions like Pressler Amendments, Kerry Loggar Bill, etc.
Pakistani journalist Adeela Khan stepped up and raised a question asking FATF president Marcus Pleyer why India is not on the grey or blacklist of FATF even after financing proxies in Afghanistan, using Afghan soil to end terrorism in Pakistan, and violating human rights in India Occupied Kashmir. There more than forty banks in India involved in money laundering. The Incident of terrorism in Sri Lanka can be traced back to India. Yet India is not on the grey list or blacklist. India has been playing an ugly role in keeping Pakistan on the grey list. Although the EU Disinfo lab has revealed that Indian state-sponsored media think tanks and professionals play a dirty role in spreading fake news and disinformation against China and Pakistan yet, the world has not realized India’s evil intentions.
A bais and discriminatory attitude may harm the FATF’s reputation ultimately.
Many neutral people ask similar questions and demand justice and a fair playground for all nations, above the political motives and discrimination. The international community may maintain the reputation of International organizations and integrity – merit-based decisions.
On the one hand, Pakistan is trying its best to implement the FATF plan fully, and on the other hand, it is demanded that a fair playground be provided to judge the case for Pakistan. It is expected that in the next plenary session to be held in June 2021, Pakistan will come out of the grey list.
‘Disturbing spike’ in Afghan civilian casualties after peace talks began
Civilian casualties in Afghanistan witnessed a sharp rise since peace negotiations started in September last year, even though overall deaths and injuries dropped in 2020, compared to the previous year, according to a UN human rights report launched Tuesday.
In their annual Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Annual Report, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Assistance Mission in the country (UNAMA) documented some 8,820 civilian casualties (3,035 deaths and 5,785 injuries) in 2020, about 15 per cent less than in 2019.
It was also the first time the figure fell below 10,000 since 2013.
However, the country remains amongst the “deadliest places in the world to be a civilian”, according to Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“I am particularly appalled by the high numbers of human rights defenders, journalists, and media workers killed since peace negotiations began in September”, she said.
At least 11 rights defenders, journalists and media workers lost their lives since September, resulting in many professionals exercising self-censorship in their work, quitting their jobs, and even leaving their homes and the country – in hope it will improve their safety.
Rise in ‘targeted killings’
According to the report, the overall drop in civilian casualties in 2020 was due to fewer casualties from suicide attacks by anti-Government elements in populated areas, as well as drop in casualties attributed to international military forces.
There was, however, a “worrying rise” in targeted killings by such elements – up about 45 per cent over 2019. The use of pressure-plate improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by the Taliban, air strikes by the Afghan Air Force, and ground engagements also resulted in increased casualties, the report said.
According to the report, anti-Government elements bore responsibility for about 62 per cent civilian casualties, while pro-Government forces were responsible for about 25 per cent casualties. About 13 per cent of casualties were attributed to crossfire and other incidents.
2020 could have been ‘a year of peace’
Deborah Lyons, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, called on all parties to take immediate and concrete action to protect civilians, urging them “not to squander a single day in taking the urgent steps to avoid more suffering”.
“2020 could have been the year of peace in Afghanistan. Instead, thousands of Afghan civilians perished due to the conflict”, Ms. Lyons said.
The “overriding objective” of the report is to provide the parties responsible with the facts, and recommendations, so they take immediate and concrete steps to protect civilians, she added.
Ms. Lyons highlighted that “ultimately, the best way to protect civilians is to establish a humanitarian ceasefire” – a call consistently made by Secretary-General António Guterres and the Security Council.
“Parties refusing to consider a ceasefire must recognize the devastating consequences of such a posture on the lives of Afghan civilians.”
UNAMA-OHCHR report: Women casualties (killings and injuries) documented between 1 January 2009 and 31 December 2020
‘Shocking toll’ on women and children
The report went on to note that the years-long conflict in Afghanistan “continues to wreak a shocking and detrimental toll” on women and children, who accounted for 43 per cent of all civilian casualties – 30 per cent children and 13 per cent women.
“This report shows the acute, lasting needs of victims of the armed conflict and demonstrates how much remains to be done to meet those needs in a meaningful way”, High Commissioner Bachelet said.
“The violence that has brought so much pain and suffering to the Afghan population for decades must stop and steps towards reaching a lasting peace must continue.”
Attacking civilians ‘serious violations’
With the conflict continuing, parties must do more to prevent and mitigate civilian casualties, the report said, urging them to fully implement the report’s recommendations and to ensure that respect and protection of human rights is central to the ongoing peace negotiations.
It also reminded the parties that deliberately attacking civilians or civilian objects are serious violations of international humanitarian law that may amount to war crimes.
Is Blacklisting on Cards for Pakistan?
Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has been an integral part of the economic decision making and regulatory procedures of the country. The days of the ultimate decision are finally on cards as the Global Watchdog is expected to evaluate and review the performance and strategies of Pakistan via virtual meeting tentatively scheduled for February 22-25, 2021. This would be a much-anticipated review since a keen eye would be payed following a long hiatus to the litigations recently undertaken by the country to eliminate the risks and gaps in the financial framework which might earn Pakistan, a way out from the grey list. However, while the preceding meeting only guided more hopes for better litigation and measures to curb terror financing, brimming foreign propaganda and nefarious rulings within the country itself might hamper the way out but instead could dig the trench further towards a harrowing financial turmoil.
Pakistan was placed on the grey list back in June 2018 due to strategic deficiencies. Just before the Covid-19 pandemic wreaked havoc in the world, Pakistan was allowed a breather of 4-months to comply with the 27-point action plan; of which Pakistan met only 14 targets while missing out on the rest of 13 targets. Moreover, Pakistan could only satisfy 10 of a total of 40 recommendations devised by the task force. These lags led to a major pitfall in the Pakistan’s Stock Market; PSX plummeting bellow 30,000 points. Furthermore, a bitter narrative started blooming regarding arch-rival India pulling all the strings to push Pakistan down further, even in the blacklist. This was largely shunned by the Indian representatives but the failure of the economic and diplomatic front of Pakistan was evident by now.
The FATF plenary was scheduled, like traditionally, in June. However, all scheduled evaluations and review procedures were deferred for 4-months in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, allowing yet another unforeseen yet thoroughly welcomed relief span to Pakistan to strive more actively to meet the requirements.
In the preceding 4 months, Pakistan acutely worked to amend the contradicting laws and policies, the parliament playing an agile role to introduce new bills relating to counter-terrorism and countering money laundering as an act to expedite compliance to the international laws and ultimately meeting up all 27 points in the action plan. Almost all the bills presented, albeit some political resistance, were eventually passed which even led to optimism in the stock market; PSX climbing back over 40,000 points after more than half a year, rallying to record high levels despite of the pandemic wreaking havoc on the investors’ mentality across the globe.
The meeting held, after a steep deferral, back in October 2020; the FATF committee observed and commended on the vigilant stance assumed by Pakistan to crawl out of the Grey list. Pakistan has since delivered on 22 out of the 27 core points of the action plan defined. However, the meetings adjourned till February, retaining Pakistan in the grey list under the tag of ‘jurisdiction under enhanced monitoring’ whilst praising the steps of counter-terrorism and anti-money laundering adopted by Islamabad.
Pakistan was warned back in February last year that if not complied by the 27-point action plan, it could be a great threat to the foreign mechanism and would be eventually moved to the monitored jurisdiction, notoriously also known as the ‘Blacklist’. Later this month, FATF would examine if Pakistan meets the 8 key categories of the action plan; remedial actions taken against money laundering, counterfeit terrorism while also reviewing the vigilance of the institutions in countering Terror Financing and actively managing risk. The committee representing Pakistan would perpetually convince the plenary that the country in-fact meets the criteria and transitioning over the next month, the fate of the tormented economy would finally prevail in light of the decision made.
However, Pakistan has been sluggish in taking action against the notorious entities linked to terrorism around the region. The meeting nears with the pinned watch of UN regarding Pakistan’s role of providing a safe haven to Lashkar-e-Taiba founder, Hafiz Saeed, or the notorious acquittal of Ahmed Omer Sheikh, the prime culprit of the Daniel Pearle Murder case of 2002. Pakistan, however, claims to have made virtue on 22 of the defined 27 points while has garnered ‘Substantial progress’ on the remaining 5 points. Thus, the optimism brews that the meeting would push the country out of the list and would open more financial avenues especially in these distressful conditions.
Although Pakistan’s Foreign Office including the Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, appears optimistic to climb out of the grey list after 3 years, the infamous decisions passed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the excessive money laundering cases surging against the ex-office holders of Pakistan and the determined efforts of India to subvert Pakistan in global politics, all thwart down that optimism bit by bit. And while some of the economic experts claim that the decision of advancing Pakistan off the Grey list would be naïve move and would arguably impact regional dynamics, the decision could fall in tandem with the preceding outcome of sustaining the grey list status or could deteriorate the level further as gauged by a political expert, opining his narrative: “The facts demand that Pakistan remain on the grey list. The FATF shouldn’t just keep Pakistan on the grey list. It should rather warn Islamabad that absent rapid and wide-ranging reform; blacklisting is coming”.
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