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IS has arrived at India's doorstep

By Rajeev Sharma
July 02, 2016 17:15 IST
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'If Islamic State were to get entrenched in Bangladesh and Myanmar it will have disastrous implications for India as both countries border India's northeast, a restive and volatile region,' says Rajeev Sharma.

India's National Security Advisor Ajit Doval has been busy since around 9 pm on Friday when the news broke out about armed terrorists taking hostages at a cafe in Dhaka's diplomatic enclave.

Doval has been in touch with the top brass in the Bangladesh security establishment as well as security managers in India.

What makes Doval uneasy is the fact that the dreaded Islamic State or Daesh has claimed responsibility for Bangladesh's first-ever hostage crisis.

The Dhaka terror attack is a rude jolt for Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who has been in denial mode for well over a year on the issue of Islamic State's presence in her country.

Her ostrich-like act of refusing to see the glaring reality has brought her face to face with a security threat that may be the beginning of worse things to come.

Islamic State is known to first dig in its heels and then unleash a wave of terror attacks. Ask Turkey. Ask European capitals like Brussels and Paris.

What worries Doval and the Narendra Modi government is that for long Islamic State has made noises of increasing its footprints in two continuous neighbours -- Bangladesh and Myanmar. The Bangladesh threat has just been implemented.

The Indian security establishment cannot be dismissive of the IS threat in its neighbourhood, even more so after IS recently appointed an 'Amir' of 'Khalifa's soldiers in Bengal'.

This 'Amir' -- Shayakh Abu Ibrahim Al Hanif -- has made it clear in speeches and interviews that his gaze is directed at the whole of Bengal, which includes the Indian state of West Bengal.

Islamic State has long eyed Myanmar which has a sizeable Muslim population.

Though official estimates of the Muslim population in Myanmar have been put at just four percent of the country's total population of 51 million, the figure may be many times more. A decade-old International Religious Freedom report from the United States pegged the number of Muslims in Myanmar anywhere between 14 and 20 per cent.

If Islamic State were to get entrenched in Bangladesh and Myanmar it will inevitably have disastrous implications for India as both countries border India's northeast, a restive and volatile region.

Any uptick in Islamic State's terror activities in Bangladesh and Myanmar will have a pincer-like impact on India.

Bangladesh's first-ever hostage crisis shows that the IS drumbeat is getting louder. The IS drumbeat may become more deafening in the near future if Sheikh Hasina's government does not take effective counter measures in double quick time.

Doval's immediate task would be to ensure that IS thugs do not travel across to neighbouring West Bengal.

The Modi government will have to work closely with the state governments in West Bengal and northeastern states to avert this possibility.

About 50 Indians have thus far joined IS. This number may seem minuscule in a country of 1.25 billion people, but India needs to deal with the IS threat pro-actively.

Neither Bangladesh nor India can be complacent about the Islamic State threat. Both nations will ignore or downplay the IS threat at its peril.

IMAGE: Bangladesh soldiers take positions near the Holey Artisan restaurant after Islamist terrorists attacked the upscale cafe in Dhaka, July 2, 2016. Photograph: Mahmud Hossain//Reuters

Rajeev Sharma, an independent journalist and strategic analyst, tweets @Kishkindha

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