Security forces have successfully busted several attempts by Islamic State to establish itself in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, but their continued activities in Pakistan show the threat they pose is as real as it gets.
The militant organisation, originally based in the Syria-Iraq region, recently claimed responsibility for the attack on Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s shrine in Sehwan, which killed over 80 people. In Lahore ahead of Punjab assembly, which killed 7 people along with police officers, Now in Mastoung attack more than 30 people were killed and dozens are injured. Last year,it had taken responsibility for an attack on the police academy in Quetta.
Islamic State was not considered dangerous until it located itself in Nangarhar province of Afghanistan, bordering Pakistan’s tribal areas. It announced its formal establishment in January 2015 and since then has expanded its influence in the war-torn country by launching attacks in Jalalabad and Kabul and by making alliances with the local militants in the country.
After establishing itself in the volatile Afghanistan, the banned outfit is believed to have developed ties with militant organisations in Pakistan. The possibility of Islamic State trying to grow its influence in Pakistan was already feared because many of its leaders and members in Afghanistan have strong connections with Pakistan. Its first head in Afghanistan Hafiz Saeed Khan was born in Orakzai Agency and was a TTP commander initially. His maiden twelve-member shura consisted of nine Pakistanis, two Afghans, and one person of unknown origin. Abu Haseeb, who succeeded Khan after he was killed in a drone attack, studied in Pakistani madrassas and has links with Pakistani militants.
A number of other TTP commanders and militants also joined Islamic State after they escaped military operations in Pakistan. Videos were released in 2014 and 2015 showing several of the TTP former commanders pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr alBaghdadi — the leader of Islamic State. Several members of other militant groups have done so such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi which reportedly partnered with Islamic State for the attack on Quetta’s police training school last year.
Reports show pamphlets were distributed in Kurram Agency with threats of attacks in the area. Pro-Islamic State wall chalking was also reported in different parts of the country including Karachi and Gilgit.
As a militant organisation with regional ambitions, radical ideology, and large recruitment pool of existing and potential militants, Islamic State poses a threat not only to Pakistan and Afghanistan but to the entire region. Its recent expansion to Afghanistan’s eastern and northern parts rightfully ringed alarm bells to as far as Russia which blames the US for Islamic State’s presence in Afghanistan.
With widespread military efforts against militants across Pakistan, it will be hard for Islamic State to establish itself in Pakistani territory. But its existence in Afghanistan can allow the banned group to continue carrying out cross-border attacks or coordinating with local militants to hit targets in Pakistan.
The situation demands strict border management which, as many analysts maintain, can only be possible if ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan — currently marred by a lack of trust — improve drastically.
Unofficially, Afghan government using these terrorist elements against Pakistan on the wish of India and USA, Pakistan must be raised voice against it in international forums like UNO.
A comprehensive response, in addition to security cooperation with Afghanistan and elimination of safe havens, should also include police training and programmed to counter radicalization.