New Delhi: Will Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death end the sort of terrorism he spearheaded? Assuming the news is confirmed, the answer is: Maybe, and no.

On Osama Bin Laden’s assassination, this writer was the first to analyze that the Al-Qaeda was finished as an international terrorist organization. The Al-Qaeda was on the retreat following the US invasion of Afghanistan post the 9/11 attacks. Bin Laden was the slender thread that kept it intact. His number two at the time and the present Al-Qaeda chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has a powerful terrorist lineage. But al-Zawahiri was never known to possess leadership skills of an order required to sustain the Al-Qaeda after the United States neutralized Bin Laden. The organization’s decline is scarcely surprising in the circumstances.

But whereas Al-Qaeda was more or less finished after the death of Bin Laden, Islamic terrorism mutated into other forms. This was expected and probably controllable except for one imponderable introduced by the United States itself. This was the Iraq War which deposed the stabilizing secular figure of Saddam Hussain. Saddam maintained a harsh equilibrium between Sunnis and Shias which broke down with his deposition and death. The Shias gained in ascendency helped in no small measure by Iran’s rise. This produced Sunni disaffection and caused the emergence of the Islamic State headed by the pseudo caliph, al-Baghdadi.

Al-Baghdadi’s death in a drone attack, if true, would deal a crippling blow to the Islamic State. It is unlikely that a subordinate leader would be as effective as he. It would be a repetition of the Bin Laden/ Al-Qaeda story with a sting in the tale. If the ground situation does not improve in the Middle East in general and in the lawless territories of Syria and Iraq, a third leader will rise in succession to Bin Laden and al-Baghdadi.

Islamic terrorism is driven by two chief factors besides several subsidiary ones. The first is Islamism’s visceral opposition to the West which was triggered by the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and the United States’ insane backing of the so-called mujahideen. After the Soviets were thrown out, it was the turn of America, its European allies, and the perceived Middle East puppet states of America to face the violence and bloodshed of Islamic terrorism. It is actually Sunni terrorism. Shia terrorism is mostly limited to Iran’s long war with Israel and its support to militant groups like the Hezbollah of Lebanon.

The second chief factor driving Islamic terrorism is the great Shia-Sunni divide. This divide became more pronounced with the deposition of Saddam Hussain which demolished Iraq as a Sunni Arab counterweight to Shia Iran. Since the Shias are in a majority in Iraq, the internal balance has shifted in their favour, and this has given the Sunnis a major sense of victimhood. The victimhood is quite real in some cases. The anti-Shia sentiments have also brought together Saddam’s leaderless Sunni legions, and they form the backbone of al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State.

With al-Baghdadi’s removal, an obstacle to peace has gone. But the underlying antipathies have to be overcome to prevent the rise of another of his kind. Iran has to address the growing distance between Shias and Sunnis with Sunni powers like Saudi Arabia. The hostility between Saudi Arabia and Iran must end and both states ought to agree to the territorial integrity of the nations of the Arabian peninsula and to a general ceasefire among its proxy armies. (Turkey must be compelled to abandon its ambitions for a Greater Turkey.) Uncontrolled violence could provoke such instability in the region as to threaten the security of local powers.

The second line of action for Middle East peace post al-Baghdadi must originate from the West and Russia. The West’s antagonism against Russia is unavailing. Russia felt threatened by a prospective Western intervention in Ukraine and took steps to secure itself. The differences between the two sides must be sorted out at the European level. The differences should not spill over to the Middle East and ruin united action against Islamic terrorism.

The United States has alternated between extreme action and none in the Middle East. The previous American President was trigger happy. The incumbent advances every argument not to act. If Vladimir Putin’s Russia had not intervened with air strikes coordinated with Iran in Syria, the Islamic State would have grown more monstrous,

Russia has shown a talent for calibrated action. The United States can learn from the Russians. Without seeking to alter the politics of the Middle East, the West must partner with Russia to keep the peace in the region. Only with peace and prosperity and a movement towards moderation and democracy will the terror of Islamism see an end. For a successful transition to peace, the Sunni and Shia powers have to be proactive.

It is not impossible. But without statesmanship on all sides, things can go even more horribly wrong.