Iraq crisis: Is India in touch with Abu Bakr al Baghdadi to secure release of its 39 hostages?

This is the kind of question that no one in the Indian government would ever confirm or deny: in its efforts to secure release of its 39 hostages in Iraq is India in touch with Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the leader of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) who has declared himself as caliph of a new Muslim caliphate called simply The Islamic State?

It is but logical that India must have none other than al Baghdadi on the radar screens of its ‘trap doors’ diplomacy for securing the release of the 39 Indian construction workers who have now completed one month in captivity of the ISIL, the outfit he is the supreme commander of.

Establishing such a contact with this elusive ISIL leader has become all the more doable now that his video sermon last Friday, 20-minute-long, has popped up. In this video footage, al Baghdadi, dressed in black robes and black head gear and flashing an expensive watch, is shown telling the Muslim world – read Sunnis – to obey him.

 Iraq crisis: Is India in touch with Abu Bakr al Baghdadi to secure release of its 39 hostages?

Representational Image. AFP image

We will come to that later. But first, we should take up the issue of why the Indian government should be targeting al Baghdadi more than anyone else to secure the release of the 39 captive citizens.

Al Baghdadi is the supreme leader of the ISIL (the outfit that is keeping 39 Indian construction workers hostage and the outfit that on Friday released 46 Indian nurses). He has, as per his own statements, a vision of his newly-announced Muslim caliphate. Would he like to soak his hands in blood of innocent people not even remotely connected with his supposed fight at a time when he has just declared his caliphate?

It is doubtful that the Indian nurses from Kerala could have been released without his express permission. This is despite the fact that India happens to figure in the list of countries that the ISIL has proclaimed as targets of jihad by the outfit.

Also, ISIL is unique in its profile considering the fact that unlike any other terror outfit it is control of large swath of territory in Iraq and Syria.

Till now, al Qaeda has been the undisputed and sole leader of the Islamist jihadists. But the emergence of ISIL has changed the game.

Al Qaeda has never directly controlled any territory. It surely exerted lot of influence in Afghanistan, an immediate neighbour of India, during the Taliban regime in the country for five years from 1996 to 2001. But al Qaeda, per se, did not control any territory in Afghanistan though Taliban and al Qaeda have always been seen as ideological brethrens.

This grants immense leverage to al Baghdadi which the Indian government must exploit to secure the release of its 39 hostages in Iraq.

Al Baghdadi’s Video Sermon

The Indian government must take the cue from al Baghdadi’s video sermon of 4 July. Certain points made by him during this sermon should come in handy for the Indian government.

Apart from his tough talk, there are a few instances where al Baghdadi has come out as a reasoned and a reasonable man.

Consider the following quotes from al Baghdadi’s sermon of last Friday:

"I am being entrusted with this heavy burden (of being the caliph) and duty to be your imam, although I am not the best one among you."

"Therefore, if you see me as righteous, you should help me and if you see me wrong, you should advise me and help me. Obey me as long as long as I obey God in ruling you. ...If I disobey God, then you are no longer obligated to obey me."

Utterances such as these, and in case he is actually meaning every alphabet of his statements, denote that he is not averse to logical arguments. Of course, it is up to the Indian government to touch base with him and convince him that holding on to 39 Indian hostages any further does not further his causes, whatever they are.

ISIL versus al-Qaeda

This is the scenario of immediate future in the Iraqi political chessboard that may have a direct bearing on the Indian hostages in that country.

It takes no rocket science to say that the al Qaeda won’t accept supremacy of the ISIL; not now, not ever.

Al Qaeda leader al Zawahiri had expelled him from his outfit just about four months ago for rebelling against his authority. In any case, al Baghdadi never acknowledged al Qaeda’s supremacy even in the times of Osama bin Laden.

It is but natural that al Qaeda would take on the ISIL. The bloodbath can’t be averted for long. The ISIL had asked al Qaeda to declare its subservience to the ISIL and the al Qaeda did not consider it necessary to dignify the ISIL diktat with a response.

If al Qaeda is to take on the ISIL, it will rock the boat of the 39 Indian hostages in Iraq. Simply because when elephants fight, the grass suffers.

Therefore, time is at a premium for securing the release of the 39 Indian hostages.

The writer is the Firstpost Consulting Editor and a strategic analyst who tweets @Kishkidnha

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Updated Date: Jul 07, 2014 12:00:49 IST