The Director General of Pakistan’s Intelligence Bureau (IB), in a recent testimony given before a Senate committee, admitted that the Islamic State (IS) was posing a serious threat to the security of the country. While the Pakistani federal government has constantly denied IS’ presence in the country, the mounting evidence suggests otherwise.
The clandestine activities of ISIS have been reported in major cities such as Karachi, Lahore, and even the capital, Islamabad. Moreover, there are reports of people being recruited and sent to Iraq and Syria by various militant outfits. Reportedly, the number of people leaving from Pakistan to Syria and Iraq to join IS is in the hundreds. A few months ago, Pakistani security agencies busted a female terrorist wing of the group and during the past month, dozens of people across the country were arrested in connection with IS.
Many banned sectarian groups in Pakistan have been forging alliances under the umbrella of the Islamic State. IS’ name has also surfaced in a number of recent terrorist attacks which had sectarian motivations. Reportedly, the IB chief also said that sectarian militant groups, such as Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and Sipah-i-Sahaba have a “soft corner” for the Islamic State and have been involved in recruitment for the group. Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, which has recently claimed responsibility for many terrorist attacks, closely coordinates with the Pakistani Taliban as well.
Indeed, the Pakistani Taliban has also been coordinating with ISIS in the country: “Even TTP in Pakistan coordinates with ISIS though both are dead rivals in Afghanistan,” said the IB chief, using the Islamic State’s old name. While Pakistan’s military operations against the Taliban have proven effective in reducing the group’s operational capability, in just the last few months, the Pakistani Taliban has struck back in many places, raising concerns that the group’s infrastructure is still intact and as fatal as it was before the military operation, known as the Zarb-e-Azb, got underway. In one of the most vicious attacks reported this year, a terrorist group associated with the Pakistani Taliban attacked a university campus near Peshawar last month, killing more than 20 people. The Pakistani Taliban has vowed to target more schools and universities.
While Pakistan claims that it has targeted all militant groups, many still accuse it of not acting decisively against the India-focused militant groups – the single largest hurdle to a cordial relationship between Pakistan and India. Many of these groups are also merging into the Islamic State, making the militant situation more complicated. Recently, Pakistan’s intelligence agencies arrested several former Jamaat-ud-Dawa operatives who had joined the Islamic State.
The New York Times recently published a report which alleged that Pakistan was responsible for the rise of the Islamic State in the Middle East. The report claimed that “Pakistan was cooperating with Qatar, and perhaps others, to move international Sunni jihadists (including 300 Pakistanis) from Pakistan’s tribal areas, where they were no longer needed, to new battlefields in Syria.” It further asserted that this was “just another reminder of Pakistan’s central involvement in creating and managing violent jihadist groups.” However, the Pakistani Embassy in the United States rejected the report, terming it baseless.
After the launch of Zarb-e-Azb in the country over a year ago, militant outfits have been shifting alliances and reorganizing under different names and groups. The Islamic State may not be an imminent threat at the moment, but its potential to wreak havoc cannot be ruled out. Pakistan cannot afford to be soft on militancy any longer. The bottom line is, if Pakistan is to become terror free, it needs to act decisively against all militant groups and their terror-loaded ideology. Pakistan can no longer afford to adopt policies that appease certain militant groups and interests at the cost of its very existence and national unity.