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Darkening Tangle

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By Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management

On November 12, 2014, Security Force (SF) personnel reportedly confiscated a few flags, bearing the Islamic State (IS, formerly Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham, ISIS) monogram, near the main entrance to the Pakistan Ordnance Factory (POF), based in a closely-guarded part of the historic city of Taxila, near Islamabad. Some more flags were recovered from nearby electricity poles. 

On the same day, Fahad Marwat, a ‘spokesman’ for Jundullah, an al Qaeda affiliated anti-Shia terrorist group, claimed that a ‘delegation’ from the IS had visited the organisation's leaders in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan Province, in the preceding week. He added that the purpose of the visit was to see how IS could work to unite various Pakistani militant Islamist groups. Significantly, the Balochistan Government had submitted a ‘secret’ report, dated October 31, 2014, in which it had noted,

It has been reliably learnt that DAISH (al Dawlah al Islamiyah fi al Iraq wal Shâm, ISIS) has offered some elements of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Ahl-e-Sunnat wal Jamat (ASWJ) to join hands in Pakistan. DAISH has also formed a ten-member Strategic Planning Wing and now seek to inflict casualties on Pakistan Army outfits who are taking part in operation Zarb-e-Azb.

Meanwhile, on November 13, 2014, wall-chalkings welcoming IS appeared on City Road, Cantonment Road, Dera Ismail Khan Road and Miran Shah Road in the Bannu District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. There were similar reports from other parts of the country, including Karachi and Peshawar, regarding emerging support for IS.

Again, on October 14, 2014, six top ‘commanders’ of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), including its ‘spokesman’ Shahidullah Shahid, announced their allegiance to Abu Bakar Al-Baghdadi aka Khalifa Ibrahim, the chief of the IS. The TTP leaders included the group's chiefs for the Orakzai Agency, Saeed Khan; Kurram Agency, Daulat Khan; Khyber Agency, Fateh Gul Zaman; Peshawar, Mufti Hassan; and Hangu, Khalid Mansoor. Shahidullah pledged “allegiance to Amirul Momineen Abu Bakar Al-Baghdadi” and declared that he would “abide by all his (al Baghdadi's) decisions ... whatever the circumstances I shall be loyal to him and obey his directives”. The TTP later sacked all these leaders, reiterating support for Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

Significantly, in June 2014, while announcing the formation of the Islamic State, the group had released a map purportedly showing the areas IS planned to bring under its control within five years. These areas included all of Pakistan within the projected ‘Islamic Caliphate’. In a decisive step towards the goal, in September 2014, IS appointed Abdul Raheem Muslim Dost chief of its 'Khurasan' region. Soon after his appointment, Dost started extending IS outreach into Pakistan and Afghanistan, distributing IS propaganda booklets in the Afghan-Pakistan tribal belt and in some Afghan refugee camps in Peshawar. Several reports emerging since suggest that IS has succeeded in extending its influence in pockets across Pakistan. 

Unsurprisingly, the Balochistan Government's report clearly states that IS has claimed to have “gathered 10-12 thousand followers from the Hangu and Kurram Agency”. Referring to the widespread influence of the IS, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief, Altaf Hussain, on October 31, 2014, stated, “IS flags were visible from the south of Pakistan's Punjab all the way to the Federal capital of Islamabad.” Another commentator noted,

If the Pakistan security apparatus fails to check their footprints, it could be a setback for them in future. It appears that the IS wants to focus on Pakistan and Afghanistan, particularly at the time when US Forces begin to withdraw from Afghanistan. If not checked, IS will pose a major threat to South Asia and the Persian Gulf.

At least 330 Pakistani terrorists are already known to be fighting along with IS Forces in Iraq and Syria.

Meanwhile, al Qaeda terrorist offshoot, Jamaat Qaiadat al Jihad fi Shibhi al Qarrat al Hindiya (Organisation of the Base of Jihad in the Indian Subcontinent or Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, AQIS) has made deep inroads into Pakistan. On September 6, 2014, attackers planned to hijack Navy frigate PNS Zulfiqar from the Karachi West Wharf Dockyard. Naval Commandos from PNS Iqbal rushed to the incidents site and a gun battle ensued. One Navy trooper was killed and another seven were injured. Three attackers were killed. On September 11, AQIS claimed responsibility for the attack, claiming that the dead attackers included Pakistan Navy officers. Subsequently, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif told Parliament, on September 10: “We cannot rule out inside help in this attack because without it the miscreants could not breach security. The operation near Karachi shore was an attack by al Qaeda in the subcontinent.”

Significantly, on September 3, 2014, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, in a 55-minute video posted on the Internet, announced the launch of AQIS to spread Islamic rule and “raise the flag of jihad” across the Indian subcontinent, including Pakistan. Maulana Asim Umar, chief of al Qaeda’s Sharia Committee in Pakistan, was named leader of AQIS.

IS, which has captured large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria and is striving to establish a global ‘Caliphate’, is a breakaway faction of al Qaeda, and is deeply aware of the fact that Pakistan provides it an alternate sanctuary in any ‘adverse situation’. Moreover, the rising anarchy and Islamist extremism across Pakistan offer ample opportunity to recruit more fighters, as well as to establish a base in the region, which accounts for over 31 per cent of the world Muslim population. Conscious of these ‘advantages’, IS and AQIS are vying with one another to fill the vacuum created by the failure of governance in Pakistan.

It is useful to note that there are a total of 60 banned organizations in Pakistan, according to the Government's National Internal Security Policy (NISP) 2014-18 document. The document notes,

Pakistan’s economy has suffered a loss of more than US$ 78 billion in last 10 years only. More than 50,000 Pakistanis, including civilian, Armed Forces and Law-Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) personnel, were affected or sacrificed their lives... Pakistan is facing serious traditional and non-traditional threats of violent extremism, sectarianism, terrorism and militancy... Subversive activities and a pattern of targeting the national security apparatus and key installations by the terrorists and non state armed groups have compounded the challenge.

Further, a report prepared by the US Congressional Research Service for distribution to multiple congressional offices in February 2013 noted, “Islamist militant groups operating on and from Pakistani territory are of five broad types: Globally-oriented militants, Afghanistan-oriented militants, India- and Kashmir-oriented militants, Sectarian militants, and Domestically-oriented militants.” The South Asia Terrorism Portal has listed 37 terrorist outfits as ‘Trans-national Organisations’ (which carry out operations in neighboring countries); 12 groups as ‘Domestic Terrorist Organizations’ (which engage in violence within Pakistan), and another four as ‘Extremist Groups’ (engaged in the propagation or imposition of Islamist extremist doctrines and codes).

Islamabad has been forced to take some actions against domestically-oriented terrorist organisations, as the internal security environment deteriorated, creating an existential threat to the state. Nevertheless, as the NISP document notes, even in this regard, "Traditionally, the entire internal security apparatus acts in a reactive rather than proactive manner". Pakistan's orientation to the externally directed terrorist formations, however, remains malefic, as state agencies, prominently including the Army and its Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, continue to provide covert and overt support to terrorist formations that serve their purported ‘strategic objectives’.

In its latest (October 2014) six-monthly report on the current situation in Afghanistan, the Pentagon observed, "Afghan-and Indian-focused militants continue to operate from Pakistan territory to the detriment of Afghan and regional stability. Pakistan uses these proxy forces to hedge against the loss of influence in Afghanistan and to counter India's superior military."

Despite the enormous domestic costs of terrorism, the Pakistani state and its agencies continue to create an environment that allows a range of Islamist terrorist formations to operate from and flourish on its soil, even as the state continues to promote radical Islamist ideologies through its various institutions and polices. It is this environment - and substantial direct support to a range of terrorist formations, including al Qaeda - that has made the country extraordinarily vulnerable to the consolidation of global jihadist organisations such as AQIS and IS. Since state agencies are yet to abandon Islamist terrorism as an instrument of domestic political management and strategic extension, it is unlikely that a focused state action will effectively block the expansion of AQIS and IS across the country.

Indeed, current orientations suggest that the Government is inclined to deny, rather than confront and solve the problem, with Federal Minister of the Interior, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, on November 11, 2014, dismissing evidence of the presence of IS in the country, declaring, “No organisation of this name exists in Pakistan.”

[Source: SATP]

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