The evolving nature of IS

Terrorism is ever-evolving, sometimes quickly, and the Islamic State (IS) is evolving faster than most

Editorial September 10, 2016
Fighters pose with an Islamic State flag. PHOTO: REUTERS

Terrorism is ever-evolving, sometimes quickly, and the Islamic State (IS) is evolving faster than most. In its present form, it has only been around since April 2013 and since that time has had a profound effect globally. Initially it was aggressively territorial and captured and subjugated parts of Syria and Iraq. Military advances against it in the last six months have shrunk the borderless caliphate but it remains a potent force militarily, and has sophisticated and far-sighted planning processes. The IS is shrinking territorially, but at the same time on fast-forwards as to where it is going both operationally and ideologically.

It is entirely possible that it will be defeated in purely military terms, and that not in the far distance either, but the ideology has attained narrative status in a number of places, Pakistan included, and the way the IS is going to fight future wars will be on the basis of the narrative being the activator, the catalyst for self-creating, funding and servicing operations that are in the micro rather than the macro, beneath the radar. A small number of operatives will proselytise in the West as well as more traditional areas of operation, but the IS of the future will be diffuse, highly flexible and adaptive and composed of dots that by design will not be joined up. The capacity to spread fear and terror will be undiminished even if the borderless caliphate shrinks to a rump or even ceases to exist as an entity. This presents nation-states with any number of problems, evident here in Pakistan by the long-term state of denial that the government maintained — and still maintains — as to an IS presence. The IS vision is long term and the temporary setback of the loss of, say Raqqa, does nothing to diminish the power of the narrative and may well serve to strengthen it. The next iteration is going to be the caliphate of the mind, and the IS is well on the way to achieving that. Just because you cannot see it, does not mean it is not there.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 11th, 2016.

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