South Asia, where more Muslims live than in the Middle East and North Africa combined, has long been an important focus of Islamic State (ISIS) recruiting, organizing, and violence. Early this year, the group fulfilled the prophecy of its since-slain leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi — who identified India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, amongst others, as target countries in his first public speech in July 2014 — by expanding its reach and organizing attacks in all the countries in South Asia with large Muslim populations.
ISIS continues to operate successfully from an active base in its Khorasan province in Afghanistan with a large cohort of as many as 5000 fighters, almost half of which estimated are foreign nationals. ISIS has even surpassed al Qaeda as a threat, despite the latter group’s being active in the region since the late 1980s, by asserting its presence with violence, aligning with local radical groups, and a southward expansion of operations from Kashmir to island nations in the Indian Ocean. Politically, however, ISIS is far from seriously planting roots in the region, and most Muslims in these South Asian countries find the austere Salafist-Jihadist ideology of the group to be abhorrent. Excluding the Islamic State in Khorasan (ISK), ISIS does not have an emir or a leader in South Asia appointed by the core leadership in Syria and Iraq, nor does it have a sustained ground presence outside of Khorasan.