The menace is not yet over
Though reports are coming in that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has lost the last remnants of its territory, which once spanned large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria, to Syrian Free Army and Kurd forces, the jubilation, if any, is misplaced. ISIL still has a caliph in the field, for there is no knowledge of the fate of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the state’s caliph. And ISIL has been left to go back to what it was before, a militant group.
The group had been preparing for the fall of the caliphate, and had been recruiting in Afghanistan, where it had won over many of those individuals and groups fighting the US and NATO forces there. It cannot claim to have won over the Taliban, but it has managed substantial defections from it. There has been some recruitment of groups in Pakistan, and a couple of high-profile acts of terrorism. The fall of ISIS thus is also a Pakistani problem, as it concentrates attention on possible ISIS sanctuaries. While Pakistan stayed away from ISIS in its heyday, it may well find this is not possible now. It may also mean that one of the most cherished of Pakistani goals, that of peace in Afghanistan, may be receding into a future where the present US-Taliban talks are not relevant because ISIL is not at the negotiating table, but also has a military point to prove.
Another dimension that cannot be ignored is that ISIS may well be the most prominent opponent of the USA in the War on Terror, but it was not the first. There was al-Qaeda, which had its origins in the USA’s own proxy war in Afghanistan. By the time Al-Qaeda was destroyed, with its founder and leader Osama bin Laden killed, ISIS had emerged from beginnings as Al-Qaeda in Iraq and Syria. Has the ferment come to an end? It should be noted that one of the markers for ISIS was how it was attractive to young men, and even women, from the Muslim diaspora. If any group begins to attract such recruits, it is not because of a carefully crafted message, but success in the field. The War on Terror was predicted to last decades. Groups like ISIS further that war.