Govt in a state of denial about Daesh?

Published February 1, 2015
Islamic State (IS) militants. — AFP/File
Islamic State (IS) militants. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The government apparently remains in a state of denial regarding a massive threat posed by the Middle Eastern terrorist group Daesh (Islamic State), which recently announced its set-up for Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“Islamic State (IS) is not a major threat. It is not a serious problem for Pakistan,” Adviser on Foreign Affairs and National Security Sartaj Aziz said on Saturday in reply to a question on the sidelines of a seminar on US President Barack Obama’s recent visit to India.

Mr Aziz’s assessment gave an insight into the government’s thinking about the challenge from the group and its planning for dealing with the threat.

Daesh had earlier in January announced its organisational structure for “Khorasan” (Pakistan and Afghanistan) led by a former leader of the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) from Orakzai, Hafez Saeed Khan. A former Afghan Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim, was named his deputy.

With the group’s leadership for the region going to a Pakistani and ex-TTP men getting a lion’s share in the 12 top positions, it is clear that the IS plans to focus on the country as part of its ‘expansion into Khorasan’ strategy.

Besides the sectarian angle, Daesh appears attractive for young religious militants because of the territory it controls and the financial resources it possesses. Weakening of the TTP because of desertions and military action has also provided a conducive environment for the IS to establish a base here.

The group first made its presence felt across the country through a wall-chalking campaign and leaflets distribution. Its flags were also noticed at a few places, including some sensitive installations near Rawalpindi.

This photograph taken on September 3, 2014 shows a man holding a pamphlet, allegedly distributed by the Islamic State (IS), in Pakistan. — AFP/File
This photograph taken on September 3, 2014 shows a man holding a pamphlet, allegedly distributed by the Islamic State (IS), in Pakistan. — AFP/File

This was followed by some arrests, which led to a decline in wall chalking and other outreach activities, but the group began concentrating on organisational matters and recruiting.

The Commander of the US-led Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, Gen John Campbell, had in an interview mentioned Daesh’s recruitment drive both in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

IS spokesman Abu Muhammad al Adnani As-Shami, while announcing the set-up in a recorded message released by the group’s media wing, called on fighters who had sworn allegiance to the group’s leader Abubakr Baghdadi to follow the orders of “the Khorasan governor and his deputy” and “prepare for the great tribulations they will face”.

Daesh may not still have challenged the security situation here, but the statement emphasising organisational discipline and preparedness hints towards its planning to step up activities.

The IS chief had received a number of allegiances from this region in the past.

This picture shows motorists driving past an empty police check post with graffiti which reads as “ISIS” along a street on the outskirts of Karachi. — AFP/File
This picture shows motorists driving past an empty police check post with graffiti which reads as “ISIS” along a street on the outskirts of Karachi. — AFP/File

Mr Aziz’s hope of the group not becoming a serious threat is based on the military operations in the tribal areas being successful.

“We have military operations in tribal areas. IS would not become a serious problem, if the situation remains stable,” he said.

Security analyst Zahid Hussain sees the naming of the group’s hierarchy here as a sign of its emergence.

Amir Rana, who heads the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (Pips), an Islamabad-based think tank specialising in security issues, said the move to accept allegiance of militants from here was a “strategic decision” by Daesh after which all factions would have to join hands and pool resources.

The formation of a formal structure, he said, needed to be taken as a serious threat.

Both Mr Hussain and Mr Rana said the terrorist group Jundullah’s acceptance of responsibility of the bomb attack in an Imambargah at Shikarpur underscored the seriousness of the threat.

Jundullah was one of the first groups in the country to have pledged allegiance to the IS chief.

Besides the fears of the sectarian front heating up once Daesh launches its activities here, analysts are worried that a turf war between it, Taliban and Al Qaeda would also begin.

Published in Dawn, February 1st, 2015

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