France’s renewed and intensified air strikes against the self-styled Islamic State (IS) in the city of Raqqa in Syria remind one of the US-led military coalition’s post-9/11 attacks on Al Qaeda hideouts in Afghanistan.
The US military operation was successful, shattering the terrorist network and its supporters. It paved the way for uprooting the Taliban government and installing a consensus government in Kabul.
Will the same happen in Syria?
It is difficult to draw a comparison between the Afghan situation of 2001 and the current state of affairs in Syria. While the whole world was standing with the US in 2001, global and regional players have divergent interests in Syria.
The spree of terrorist attacks and suicide bombings that hit France will certainly have huge political and strategic implications.
However, it remains to be seen how these attacks will change the world or at least, Europe, in comparison with the global strategic and political changes that followed the 9/11 incidents of terrorism.
As borders lock down
Some immediate effects can be presumed. The Syrian refugees, who are also victims of the IS, will suffer the most. Many European nations will turn their back on them and anti-immigrant sentiments are sure to rise in Europe.
Political and security analysts are predicting strict security measures, including border security, which may put the Schengen regime in danger.
The Middle Eastern region will face the direct consequences of the Paris attacks. The US and Russia, and their respective allies, will try to address conflicts in the Middle East, but their divergent interests may intensify the turmoil.
Additionally, there is evidence to suggest that an escalated risk of violence and conflict is sure to be exploited by militants operating in the region and beyond.
The Paris attacks: A strategic move?
Although it remains to be seen if the attacks will help IS secure its captured areas, one thing is for certain: the attacks will help it expand ideological and political appeal among other violent and non-violent radicals in Muslim countries and communities.
Some analysts believe that these attacks indicate an adjustment in the IS approach; it has now added a global element to a regional campaign.
The IS had so far manifested a territorial approach, which is to systematically expand its control and appeal, not only in Iraq and Syria but also to other Muslim countries where terrorist activity and militant movements are stronger.
The Russian airstrikes and the US decision to intensify the military campaign against IS have forced the group to alter its operational approach. The group was trying to signal to its opponents through different acts of terrorism outside Syria and Iraq about a shift in strategy even before the Paris attacks.
Political analysts and strategists failed to understand these IS messages, such as the suicide bombing in Beirut a day before the Paris attacks, and its claim of responsibility for the Russian plane crash.
Many experts also viewed the attacks as the Islamic Sate now following the footsteps of Al Qaeda.
This again supports the claim that the territorial approach of IS is weakening, mainly due to the losses it is suffering, and instead, it is transforming into a global terrorist movement.
Some experts even indicate that this change in the group's strategy may bring it closer to Al Qaeda and both international terrorist groups may merge or form an alliance.
Let’s look back at Afghanistan
The Al Qaeda was defeated. The Taliban government in Afghanistan was not treated as legitimate or as a government but as a terrorist group and an ally of Al Qaeda.
They were scattered, but apart from other factors, their claim on Afghanistan brings life to their movement. Now, they are on the path to be recognised as a legitimate partner in Afghanistan's power structure.
This is the only similarity between the Afghan Taliban and the IS: they both consider themselves legitimate governments.
But the world views them as mere non-state actors and terrorist groups. It cannot be predicted that the IS will meet the same fate as that of the Taliban, but they are actively behaving like a state, much like the Taliban.
Despite the existing strategic and operational weaknesses of global and regional stakeholders in Syria and Iraq, they are capable of dismantling the IS infrastructure. But are they also capable of destroying the ideological and political inspirations of this group, especially, when IS has added to its credentials a claim of custodianship of the Islamic caliphate?
The challenge has become multi-fold: a terrorist group has shown that it can establish a state despite not having been acknowledged by the world as legitimate; a situation which can change the world's political, strategic and historical discourses.
Middle Eastern countries are not yet ready to handle the problem efficiently; they do not have operational capabilities, political consensus and perhaps strategic will to deal with common challenges. Thus, the US, Russia and their European allies cannot leave the task unaccomplished or back down while they face the consequences at home.