ISIS in Pakistan | Myth or Reality?

Recently, through a classified report, the Balochistan government conveyed to the federal government and law enforcement agencies a warning of increased footprints of the terrorist group ISIS or Daesh in the country. The report says that the ISIS has recruited 10,000 to 12,000 followers from the Hangu district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Kurram tribal district. The organization has created a 10-man strategic planning wing with a master plan, to inflict casualties to Pakistan Army outfits who are taking part in operation Zarb-e-Azb. They are trying to join hands with local militants. This harbingers tough times ahead if immediate steps to withstand this onslaught are not taken immediately.

Pakistani state’s protracted apathy and inaction on security issues has provided non-state actors the space to grow and expand their influence. They are propagating their ideologies and narratives unchecked. In a report presented to high-level officials, Pakistan’s intelligence agencies have said that three ISIS commanders had entered Karachi and two others had reached Lahore. At present, more than 370 IS fighters are present in the country, including 22 in Karachi.

This sudden rise of ISIS in Pakistan is emerging as the gravest threat especially when the country is lagging far behind the world due to its precarious security situation.

It is noteworthy that the ISIS is the only extremist movement that is unanimously accepted as a threatening menace by all. This is a danger for Pakistan because public’s sentimentalism towards Islam and Islamic movements has always been a cause of providing these outfits with some public acceptance.

For instance, Taliban are considered a terror organization by all the world powers and majority of the Muslims of the region (including Afghanistan). But in remote areas of Pakistan as well as Afghanistan, many people believe that the Taliban are fighting a holy war — or more rightly, Jihad — against the foreign occupiers. This is so because according to Islamic rules, when a Non-Muslim power occupies a Muslim country by force, jihad becomes obligatory on all the adult men. However, this obligation comes with so many conditions which must be understood well before one decides to take part in jihad. Because of this fanaticism, Taliban are continuously getting the moral, financial and physical support from so many areas of both the countries. Though the popularity of Taliban saw rise and fall after their ouster from power, yet it never plummeted to naught.

ISIS couldn’t get such soft corner in the hearts of Muslims due to a number of reasons.

First, they utilized the most brutal and extremely barbarous methods to treat their enemies. There are numerous video clips and pictures on the Internet in which prisoners were shot to death or slaughtered by the ISIS militants. The beheading of Western journalists was given much coverage on the international media and thus raised the level of hatred against them. Though they do so in the name of Islam, scholars have chastised them for their heinous acts and have issues edicts to term those absolutely against Islam.

Secondly, the ISIS militants damaged or destroyed a number of places considered sacred by all Muslims. They bombed shrines and tombs of prophets and other holy personalities. And in this regard, they didn’t discriminate between the Sunni or Shia sects.

The third reason for their unpopularity is the dubious sources of their support. They have latest vehicles, sophisticated weapons and adequate supply of money for their food and other needs. Of course, such a big setup cannot be established and run with public donations. A number of such organizations that rely upon public donations really struggle for their survival because majority of the Islamic countries have very small economies and the general public is also not financially sound and stable. It is commonly believed that they have the financial support from Saudi Arabia and some other rich Arab states, but many go beyond this point. How a close ally of the US could develop this force without its consent and financial support? Moreover, in an audio message of ISISI leader Abu Bakr Baghdadi, he had avowed to launch attacks in Saudi Arabia. It is the reason why Arab media accuses the US of being the financial and strategic supporter of ISIS. Those who have access to the media might have seen the true face of ISIS but people in our country’s remote areas are always in danger of falling into their trap. The biggest problem is of those people who still dream of a traditional Islamic Caliphate being completely indifferent as how this would happen. Many social media users congratulated others for the resumption of Caliphate in Iraq when the ISIS emerged on the scene. They were jubilant with the hope that soon this Caliphate will be the only power in the Islamic world. If this is the mentality of people having access to modern means of communication, then imagine what would be the level of danger present in our villages and remote areas where only source of inspiration, knowledge and connection to the outside world is a religious scholar or ‘Mullah’ who has a complete sway over their course of lives.

In Pakistan, there has always been a group wary of West. Such people think that they are justified given all too visible animosity between Islam and the West and the US. Moreover, India threat is also not absolutely irrelevant. So, this angry group has become so disappointed that they would welcome any power that should make them get rid of the “enemies of Islam”. For them, no cruelty or logic is going to make any difference.

There were reports in media that pamphlets of ISIS or Daesh are being displayed in some cities of Sindh and Punjab. In Karachi, the wall chalking in support of Islamic State fighting in Iraq and Syria sent a ripple of concern through the security administration. The Dawn reported on its website that the ‘secret information report’ dated October 31 states that ISIS has claimed to have recruited a massive 10,000 to 12,000 followers from the Hangu district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Kurram tribal district.

The situation becomes further alarming when there are news that Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Shahidullah Shahid along with five other senior TTP commanders had joined the ISIS. Graffiti, welcoming Daesh’s entry into Pakistan and urging people to support the newly established Caliphate in Iraq and work for the same in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has been found in different parts of Pakistan. The current TTP leadership — mainly Fazlullah and his deputy Qayum Haqqani, and Khalid Khurasani group in Mohmand and Bajaur agencies of Fata — are leading this movement, not only on the militant, but on the ideological front as well. But, is it not the height of our apathy and indifference to the threat when Federal Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, said that there is no presence of ISIS elements in the country?

Given the gravity of the situation, we cannot afford to lower our guard against this looming threat. Though some may believe that the Daesh is not a threat now but if it is left unchecked by the government, it can turn into a threat that might not be very easy to be controlled. The above reports show that Daesh has definitely started its activities in Pakistan but we are not sure if our government have also started planning to control them. In past, such situations have been dealt very non-professionally which worsened the situation.

If we want to charter a safe and secure Pakistan, The key is to develop a counter-terrorism strategy that not only meets Daesh on its terrorism-based tactics but also drains their sources. Unfortunately, there seems to be a deficit of long-term understanding of the fallout effects of short-sighted policies carried out individually and nationally. Apparently, as the treatment requires long term and persistently focused implementation, no such strategy is being pursued. Therefore the disease is being treated symptomatically at best. This will not work.

The pot is still simmering. The government should not wait for it to boil.

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