'India can certainly be counted on to ensure that Al Qaeda's influence doesn't grow to the point that it carves out sanctuaries.'
'The nations where Al Qaeda has built a strong presence have either suffered complete breakdowns in stability, sponsored militancy, or been failing States. None of this, of course, applies to India.'
Al Qaeda's announcement last week that it is setting up an India wing worried the India security establishment.
Michael Kugelman, senior programme associate for South and South East Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Centre for Scholars, a Washington-based think-tank, believes from the Al Qaeda video we can assume that Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is based somewhere in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
'Al Qaeda has been concerned about losing the allegiance of global militants to ISIS, and this might be a way to signify to the world's extremists -- and particularly those in South Asia -- that Al Qaeda is still worth supporting,' Kugelman, left, below, tells Rediff.com
What are your thoughts on the video released by Ayman al-Zawahiri?
This video is meant to show two things. First, Al Qaeda is still relevant in South Asia. Though Al Qaeda Central retains a presence in Pakistan and Afghanistan (we can assume al-Zawahiri is based somewhere in the tribal areas of Pakistan), its influence and capacities have diminished in recent years.
First, its leader Osama bin Laden was taken down in Abbottabad. Its operatives and several leaders have been killed by US drone strikes. And its centre of gravity has shifted to the Middle East and North Africa where its affiliated movements are very strong. The video is meant to announce that Al Qaeda still means business in South Asia.
Second, the video is meant to show that it can compete with ISIS which seems to have much more strength and unity than does Al Qaeda at the moment.
Al Qaeda has been concerned about losing the allegiance of global militants to ISIS, and this might be a way to signify to the world's extremists -- and particularly those in South Asia -- that Al Qaeda is still worth supporting.
How serious is the threat of Al Qaeda expanding to India?
Unfortunately, I think it is quite serious about expanding in India. Numerous Al Qaeda militants in South Asia, including Asim Umar, the leader of the new group, have called on Indian Muslims to mobilise for jihad. So we know that India has been a target for quite some time.
Luckily, I don't think Al Qaeda will be successful. On a superficial level, it may seem like it has much on its side. Consider that most of the militant groups that launch attacks in India -- from Lashkar-e-Tayiba to Jaish-e-Mohammed -- have close links to Al Qaeda.
Also, there are new reports of jihadist cells popping up in India in recent months. All this suggests that there could be an enabling environment in India to allow the group to increase its presence.
However, India can certainly be counted on to ensure that Al Qaeda's influence doesn't grow to the point that it carves out sanctuaries; we can assume New Delhi would adapt very robust counter-militancy plans that don't allow this to happen.
The nations where Al Qaeda has built a strong presence -- from Pakistan and Afghanistan to Iraq and Sudan -- have either suffered complete breakdowns in stability, sponsored militancy, or been failing States.
None of this, of course, applies to India.
Does it look like a desperate bid by Al Qaeda after it lost ground to ISIS?
I certainly think it is a bid to underscore its continued relevance though I really don't see this as some sort of bidding war for the allegiances of the world's militants. Above all, it is an effort to rebuild its presence and operations in South Asia, both of which have suffered in recent years. And I see this is a goal separate from responding to the emergence of ISIS.
Is the video by al-Zawahiri, left, being timed with the West set to withdraw from Afghanistan? Does Al Qaeda feel it would lose to ISIS in Afghanistan as well?
Certainly, the timing of the troop withdrawal may play a role here. Al Qaeda's hope of expanding to India is increased by the withdrawal, given that many anti-India militants -- such as Lashkar-e-Tayiba fighters -- will probably redirect their attention from Afghanistan (where they have been fighting foreign troops) back to India. So in effect, Al Qaeda's interests are furthered by having foreign troops withdraw.
I don't think we should be talking about Al Qaeda and ISIS competition in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is not the kind of country where ISIS can flourish. It lacks the sectarian fractures that ISIS has exploited to fuel its success in Syria and Iraq.
Afghanistan does have sharp ethnic divides, but they aren't as strong as the sectarian ones in the Middle East. Though the situation is dire in Afghanistan, I don't think it is dire enough that the likes of ISIS could emerge.
Of course, if the security situation deteriorates in Afghanistan next year, then the calculus could change and all bets could be off.
How enthusiastic do you think Indian youth would be to this call made by Al Qaeda?
I can't imagine there would be much enthusiasm at all. There is certainly the possibility that radicalised Muslims in India will look favourably upon this development, but that is no different from how small numbers of radicalised Muslims would respond in many countries.
Even the US, after all, has radicalised Muslims that want to fight for Al Qaeda or other militant groups. Fortunately, though, those enthusiastic in India would be a very small number. And that is a relief.
How is the US viewing this development?
Quite frankly, I think the US is so worried about ISIS that Al Qaeda has nearly fallen off its radar. This announcement, then, will bring back old fears about Al Qaeda that have dissipated to some extent as Al Qaeda Central in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been weakened.
My sense, though, is that Washington recognises that Al Qaeda is not what it used to be, and that al-Zawahiri's announcement could be more rhetorical than anything else.
Then again, Washington seems to have underestimated the continued threat of Al Qaeda, and this emphasis on rhetoric more than anything else may be wishful thinking on its part.
Al Qaeda remains a powerful and resilient organisation that won't be going away anytime soon.