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ICCS Research Fellow Dr Chris Wyatt attended the 8th Historical Analysis for Defence and Security Symposium held by Dstl on 25 and 26 May. The aim of the event was to bring together historians, analysts and policy makers to discuss the use of historical events to understand topical and enduring defence and security issues. For over 30 years, MOD and Dstl have used analysis of historical campaigns and developments in academic understanding of conflict to provide a useful ‘reality-check’ to UK defence policy. This event continued to add value in that tradition.

Dr Wyatt’s paper was entitled: The Search for Legitimacy and Leadership in South Asian Sunni Islam: Afghanistan and the Khilafat and Hijrat Movements, 1918-1924. With the defeat of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War, old questions re-arose about legitimacy and leadership in South Asian Sunni Islam, as the existence of the Caliphate came into question. In understanding the dynamic in the region at the time, it is necessary to address the question: What role did Afghanistan play in the leadership of the Sunni Muslims of South Asia after the First World War? For many South Asians, the Ottoman defeat led them to question many of the certainties they had taken for granted and accepted norms were overturned. The consequence was that many abandoned seeking accommodation with the British as heirs to the Mughals, as Sayyid Ahmed Khan had done. Others rejected the Islamic modernism of men like Sayyid Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, even while paying lip service to it. At the same time, the leaders of the Khilafat Movement, the Ali Brothers and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, wanted to preserve the Caliphate. Yet this was increasingly less possible in Turkey, unlikely in the emerging Arab states, undesirable in Persia and impossible in India. The one place where it could be possible was Afghanistan. This position gave the newly-independent state leverage to exert itself and it did so during the Hijrat Movement of 1920. This was not as successful as was hoped and was followed by Afghan abrogation of Islamic leadership in South Asia and subsequently by the Abolition of the Caliphate. This also led to another period where legitimacy and leadership were sought, this time in a uniquely South Asian way, as the ideas of Muhammed Ali Jinnah and Allama Muhammed Iqbal came to the fore. The debates of almost a century ago have many parallels with the present day and offer insights into potential contemporary narratives.

Other speakers spoke to aspects of Daesh/ISIL and covered areas such as Daesh – Dawn or Twilight? the Shi’ite Response to ISIS: Cohesion and Fragmentation, and Prospects for Daesh in South Asia: A Historical Perspective. These were helpful perspectives and others discussed individual aspects of counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency in their papers. These were on Air Power Utility - The Effectiveness of Air Power in Counter Insurgency and Coercion; Success and Failure in State-Building by Armed Groups: a Research Proposal; and Terrorism and Radicalization: Understanding Processes of Conversion. These papers were able to open up aspects of what the Islamic State is and what it represents, as well as to be able to discuss all-important aspects of what work and what does not.

Other papers explored other aspects of the contemporary environment. In focus, the most widespread of these was the second day keynote on Making Sense of the Present and Future Operating Environment: Hybrid Threats and Hybrid Strategies in a Historical Context. This was followed by papers covering individual aspects of Soviet and British involvement overseas. These were on: Adversarial decision making: The Ogaden war and the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan; British Internal Security Assistance and Capacity Building in Cold War Southeast Asia: Lessons for Conflict Reduction and Countering Violent Extremism in the Global South? And British Military Contract Officer Serving in Arabian Gulf Militaries and their Relationship to UK's Defence Diplomacy in the Middle East (The UAE case: 1960 to 2015). The final paper spoke to the difficulties encountered across the refugee pipeline from Asia, entitled Conflict Migration: Afghanistan, Syria and Europe. All these papers added real value to the areas they covered. They fulfilled the aim of the event and contributed to the tradition of using analysis of past events to inform contemporary policy. The impact of such work may not always be in evidence due to operational considerations but the additionality of the approach is clear.