“What Do Jihadis Want? The Caliphate”

DP note: This chapter, based on a talk delivered at the India Foundation conference on counterterrorism in Jaipur in February 2016, was prepared for publication without my assistance. I have made slight changes to the text. Original title: “The Caliphate, Al-Qaeda, and Global Jihad.”

A question often asked is, “What do the jihadis [Mujahideen] want?” The answer is surprisingly obscure, as most of their attacks do not include clear demands.

The horrific attacks on Mumbai in November 2008 and on Paris in November 2015 were carried out by suicide squads, with gunmen carrying out mass shootings. Elsewhere, they have resorted to machine gun assaults, beheadings, bombings, hijackings etc. After the attackers have been neutralised by the security forces, an assessment is carried out of the damage they caused and detectives attempt to trace the identities of the perpetrators, to look into possible motives. Shadowy websites then make post-hoc unauthenticated claims, which still belie the question, “What do the jihadis want?”

Motives for Jihadi Attacks

Why do the motives go unexplained? Post the attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001, analysts are still speculating on the likely motives. In broad terms however, we can state that there are two general categories or motives for attacks.

The first is to change specific policies of the state which has been targeted. As an example, this could pertain to seeking withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq and Afghanistan or to get Riyadh to expel foreign troops from its soil. It could also be aimed at pressuring governments to end support for Israel or to pressure New Delhi to cede control over Kashmir.

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