New Delhi: The Paris attacks by the Islamic State were inevitable. Islamic State (IS) is like a plant with roots, stem and branches. Plant-like, it is also fixed to a place, which in the case of the IS primarily is Syria and secondarily Sunni regions of Iraq. Its fixed nature also reveals its essential vulnerability like the Al-Qaeda’s, which never really flourished outside its mountain redoubts of Afghanistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan. IS may be destroyed by the strategy adopted for the Al-Qaeda but it would have to go farther. Al-Qaeda traced older roots to the Afghan “mujahedeen” wars of the 1980s while IS has recent origins in the 2003 Iraq War and Saddam Hussein’s deposition and death. The IS has the backing of Arab sheikhdoms notwithstanding their denials. The Al-Qaeda later lost their support. This makes the IS more healthily alive compared to the Al-Qaeda, but because of its newness, more prone to a sudden collapse. The collapse has to be properly planned and executed, and would need all the resources and ingenuity of Russia and the West.

IS has its roots in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the other Sunni regimes threatened by the rise of Shia power following the end of Saddam Hussein’s rule. The legitimization of Iran’s rise with its nuclear deal with the United States has increased Arab support to the Islamic State. The collapse of the Al-Qaeda with the death of Osama Bin Laden and Islamism’s search for a new rallying point have also led to the growth and spread of the Islamic State. All these multiple rootlets of support to the IS cannot be destroyed unless the main roots are axed, which means Arab monarchical funding and other support to the terrorist group have to cease. Only the United States and select NATO powers have the means to pressure the Arabs against the Islamic State. No military campaign against the IS will succeed till its Arab roots are cut through.

Next in order comes the stem of the Islamic State. It is located in civil war-torn Syria and restive Sunni Iraq. A comprehensive bombing campaign in these territories against Islamic State assets is fully merited. The United States was remiss about its duties till Russia forcefully intervened. Now with the Paris attacks, all Europe is involved. The bombing campaign would have to target the rank-and-file because, falling below a minimum number, the Islamic State will lose its military viability. Targeting the IS leadership is of equal and perhaps more importance for the allied forces and Russia. The Islamic State will crumble when its leadership is wiped out. It will be neutralized for the most part like the Al-Qaeda. But the campaign cannot be restricted to bombing. It plays to the Islamic State propaganda that the West is afraid to send ground forces, which is untrue. President Barack Obama is right to the extent that he wants states in the region (except of course Israel) to fight the Islamic State on the ground. This brings legitimacy to the campaign. But the West should lead spectacular special strikes against the IS leadership. It will build morale. One such strike killed Bin Laden and shook the Al-Qaeda to the core. The Islamic State should grow to fear Western and Russian special forces.

Only when the Islamic State is destroyed in its roots and stem will its branches spreading terror to the West and elsewhere weaken. Lone wolf attacks will continue for some time because extremism usually outlives its inspiration. But the sort of coordinated bloodshed experienced by France will become rare. Beyond the Islamic State menace, the state system of the Middle East must be strengthened, and the Arab sheikhdoms must be nudged towards democracy. Only democracy and free elections can manage the contradictions of the Middle East and contain the Sunni-Shia discord. Religion must be separated from politics in the region. As impossible as this seems today, it is the only way to go.