“Wilayah of Hind”
ISIS Attempting to Put Global Meaning on a Regional Conflict
By Ajit Maan
In mid-May 2019 ISIS announced the establishment of a province in India. The newly dubbed “Wilayah of Hind” (Indian Province) was announced by its Amaq News Agency. The same statement claimed the infliction of casualties on the Indian Army in Amshipora in the Shopian district of Kashmir.
There are at least five things that are clear:
- There is no physical geographical “province” called “Wilayah of Hind.” The claim is not true and the so-called province is not real.
- While the claim of provincial establishment may seem preposterous, it is not so in light of the larger strategy. An austere and hardline form of Islam has roots in India as far back as the mid 18th century, often centered around the teachings of Shah Waliullah Dehlawi. ISIS is very likely attempting to inspire Indian Muslims with a very personal narrative regarding this iconic Shah.
- The combined statement of the very real and confirmed strike in Kashmir along with the illusory claim to have established a province in India are a continuation of the ISIS strategy of attempting to establish global meaning of regional conflicts and also to reinvigorate their ultimate victory narrative recently suffering dramatic setbacks in the Levant.
- The fact that ISIS claimed a province in India rather than Kashmir may indicate the interests of its financiers. The group’s report card is not looking good as a result of its territorial withdrawals and its financiers may be re-enthused by in-roads into India.
- The group is recruiting in Kashmir for strikes in India.
ISIS leadership is looking for foot soldiers to activate the kinetic tactics that will serve the larger psychological strategy. And it knows that local Kashmiri populations vulnerable to exploitation will be motivated primarily by the potential for territorial defense. Tribal defense narratives are common and effective for rallying support for the group portrayed as “under attack”, true or not. The mythological province is designed for the ears of its financiers and for an audience that is recruitable primarily through appeal to defense of territory and more foundationally – the defense of the identity that is associated with the physical territory. By re-framing the regional conflict as a small instance of a global Salafi-jihadism, ISIS is trying to put a global brand on a regional conflict by attempting to swallow up the conflict and re-define it.
Notice that ISIS is not engaging in counter-narrative (it is not addressing this regional conflict in the terms of the conflict itself and then taking a side and defending it) rather it is re-defining the conflict as a small part of something larger.
Kashmiris are worried about Kashmir. India wants to retain it. Pakistan wants to own it. Other players have their own vested interests. But ISIS is not interested in Kashmiri independence nor in Kashmir as anything more than recruitment grounds for a mythological re-mapping of the caliphate. They are seizing opportunistically on violence driven by factors mostly unrelated to jihadism.
That hard truth will not win recruits from within Kashmir.
In order to get recruits to strike India or even to get civilian support for ISIS operatives in Kashmir, ISIS will have to re-define the nature of the fight, changing it from a dispute over territorial rights to a fight between them and the rest of the world. Doing that will require an alteration in Kashmiri identities from Kashmiri nationalists to global jihadists.
Up until this point Kashmiri separatists have either wanted independence or they want Pakistan to take Kashmir. They have not aspired to anything like a global empire.
Ajit Maan, Ph.D. is author of Counter-Terrorism: Narrative Strategies, Narrative Warfare, and co-author of Introduction to Narrative Warfare. She is Affiliate Faculty, Center for the Study of Narrative and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University, member of the Brain Trust of the Weaponized Narrative Initiative at Arizona State University, and Founder of Narrative Strategies, LLC.