A PAKISTANI militant group Tehreek-i-Khilafat’s declaration of allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), now calling itself the Islamic State, has surprised many. Though most analysts are suspicious of the declaration and see it as insignificant, because little is known about the group, it does indicate that ISIS has started to inspire some individuals and groups in Pakistan with similar objectives.
The rise of the Afghan Taliban in the 1990s inspired many Islamist political and militant movements across the world. Afghanistan became an attractive destination for thousands of Muslim radicals hailing from different parts of world. Today, ISIS is attracting Islamist militants and also financial resources in an almost similar way. As Pakistani militants and religious organisations do not operate in isolation, it is natural for them to draw inspiration from ISIS.
Indeed, the ideological association and operational linkage between the Pakistani militants and ISIS are not at all new. Pakistani militants were part of the group from its inception. Many militants from Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s Balochistan and Punjab factions constitute the best fighting force of ISIS. It was LeJ militants who set up the Ghazi Abdul Rasheed training camp in the Iraqi city of Arbil in 2013. The militants trained in the camp constituted the Ghazi Force.
Western nations are concerned about their nationals who have joined the ranks of ISIS and other militant groups in Syria and Iraq. But for Pakistan such a threat is far bigger because once the LeJ and other Pakistani militants fighting in Syria and Iraq return to Pakistan, they will add to the sectarian violence, besides strengthening their respective militant groups.
As Pakistani militants do not operate in isolation, it is natural for them to draw inspiration from ISIS.
As far as the Tehreek-i-Khilafat is concerned, the Omer media, the media wing of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, describes the group as a TTP affiliate in Karachi and regularly publishes reports on its terrorist activities. Also, the Tehreek-i-Khilafat has an online presence and has claimed responsibility for some attacks on police and the Rangers in Karachi.
According to Omer media reports, the group came into existence in 2012. Abu Jandal Khurasani is the so-called spokesperson who claims that the group is aiming to get back Muslim territories from the control of the local puppets of imperialist forces, and to establish a caliphate in Pakistan. The group is a strong critic of democracy, like the TTP, and believes that democracy is un-Islamic.
The ideology espoused by the Tehreek-i-Khilafat is not new to Pakistan; most violent and many non-violent Islamist groups in Pakistan believe in it, and even reject what religious forces have achieved thus far in Pakistan. The country presents a unique and complex case of religious activism which cannot be compared with that in any other Muslim country. Multiple religious organisations are operating in the country with different objectives and they have a mixed bag of successes and failures.
Religious forces made early gains on the Islamisation front by managing to define the ideological discourse of the state through the Objectives Resolution of 1949. They also had their say in the shape of a formal constitutional acknowledgment that laws considered divine will have precedence over those made by parliament. They also managed to get many Sharia laws adopted during the rule of Gen Ziaul Haq.
Despite these significant achievements, the religious forces are still struggling for absolute Islamisation of the state. At the same time, the religious forces believe that this objective cannot be achieved until they get control over the state. That is why their agendas are largely political and revolve around capturing power.
The religio-political parties claim they are custodians of the larger religious discourse and tradition in the country. However, in the last two decades, another form of religious organisation has also emerged. It comprises the agents of Islamisation and religio-socialisation but believes that change is impossible within the parameters of the Constitution and with the current political dispensation. It deems democracy and the democratic process inadequate for the change it pursues and advocates.
Some of them see democracy as an idea contrary to the Islamic principles of governance and want to replace it with their own version of the Sharia. Others such as Tanzeemul Ikhwan and Tanzeem-i-Islami believe that the Sharia cannot be introduced in its entirety through the democratic electoral process and consider the use of force to achieve power as an alternative.
These organisations have sectarian and militant tendencies but the dominant approach is characterised by their quest for a complete change of the system. This is contrary to the approach of the religio-political parties, which focus on a gradual change within the system.
Despite the varying approaches adopted by religious organisations and religio-political parties for the enforcement of the Sharia, many extremist groups believe that the change is impossible within the Constitution and current system. Nor do they believe in a mass struggle for bringing about change. They believe in armed revolt against the state and its defence apparatus. The TTP, LeJ and smaller groups like the Tehreek-i-Khilafat fall in this category.
The appeal of their message increases when Islamists succeed elsewhere in the world. But it builds pressure on the leaders of non-violent Islamic movements and political parties because their followers and cadres start comparing the achievements of their leadership with that of Islamist movements succeeding elsewhere.
At the time of the rise of the Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan, non-violent religious groups and religio-political parties had associated themselves with the Taliban with a view to sharing the latter’s successes but they will find it hard to associate with ISIS.
Achieving a goal within the shorter time frame always attracts ideological movements, and spurs extremists to adopt violent ways. If ISIS sustains its momentum and the group succeeds in maintaining its control over the captured territories, it can cause frustration in the cadre of groups such as Hizbut Tahrir and the students’ wings of religio-political parties that believe in non-violent struggle for the establishment of a caliphate.
The writer is a security analyst.
Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2014