The Next Islamic State Battlefield Will Be in South Asia


Lawrence Sellin

Security, Asia

Washington has overlooked the explosive potential of Islamic State influence in Pakistan, which will only accelerate in the expected power vacuum left after a U.S. withdrawal.

The Next Islamic State Battlefield Will Be in South Asia

How did a small, fringe Wahhabi splinter group, led by a fiery speaker with a sixth-grade education, known mainly for defacing Buddhist symbols, carry out a coordinated and sophisticated terrorist attacks on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka?

The answer is, it didn't, not without external support, both direct and indirect.

The Sri Lanka attack reinforces the notion that the Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the attack, is more a brand around which forces with overlapping goals coalesce to exploit local or regional opportunities than an entity.

The events in Sri Lanka were soon followed by the propaganda video reappearance of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who, acknowledging defeat in Syria and specifically citing the Sri Lankan attack, exhorted his followers to expand the fight.

Defeat in Syria has triggered a diaspora of Islamic State fighters either to their native lands or to targets of opportunity such as the thriving extremist networks in South Asia.

The instigators of that extremism and operating continuously in the background are the global promoters of austere and often intolerant forms of Islam such as Wahhabism-Salafism, financed either by wealthy individuals or nation-states that offer forums for radicalization and sources for potential jihadi recruits.

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