ISLAMABAD: The foreign office broke its silence on Monday regarding the Islamic State's (IS) activities inside Pakistan, admitting that the radical Islamist group posed a "serious threat" to the country.
Speaking to the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee at Parliament House today, Foreign Secretary Azaz Ahmed Chaudhry acknowledged IS was indeed a real concern, while simultaneously assuring those present that the government would talk all steps necessary to counter the threat.
"Under UN resolutions, Pakistan is firmly against extremist organisations like ISIL [IS] and is taking all actions to counter them", Chaudhry told the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee.
Chaudhry disclosed that after Operation Zarb-e-Azb was launched in North Waziristan, some extremist elements tried to emerge together on the IS platform, but their efforts were countered.
"There is concern in the Gulf and other Muslim countries about ISIL", the foreign secretary noted.
IS arrests, ongoing activity
Leaflets calling for support for IS were seen in parts of Northwest Pakistan, while Pro-IS slogans have appeared on walls in several cities.
|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. — Photo by AFP
In January this year, security forces had arrested a man they believed was the commander of IS in the country as well as two accomplices involved in recruiting and sending fighters to Syria.
Intelligence sources, who had spoken to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the man, Yousaf al-Salafi, was arrested in Lahore and confessed during interrogation that he represented IS.
Rifts among the Taliban and disputes about the future of the insurgency have contributed to the rise of IS's popularity but security sources believe there are no operational links yet between IS and South Asia.
Disgruntled former Taliban commanders have formed the so-called Khorasan chapter — an umbrella IS group covering Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and other South Asian countries — in recent months but have not been involved in any fighting. Their leader, Hafiz Saeed Khan Orakzai, a former Pakistani Taliban commander, appeared in a video address this month urging people in the region to join the group.
In Afghanistan, one militant commander said many have turned to IS, or Daish as it is also known, because they are frustrated at the lack of leadership by Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Afghan Taliban chief who has not been seen in public for years.
“Look, we have been fighting for years but we don't have an inch of land in our possession in Afghanistan,” said the senior commander, who spoke from the Afghan province of Kunar.
“On the other hand, Daish, within limited time, captured vast areas in Iraq and Syria and established Sharia. This is what is being discussed all the time in our circles.”
“We have serious doubts about whether he (Omar) is alive at all ... Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is visible and is leading his people,” the commander said, referring to the IS leader.
Elements of TTP on board
Multiple Pakistani Taliban commanders and three lesser cadres from the Afghan Taliban have pledged their support.
In January, an online video was released showing former militants of the Tehreek-i-Taliban (TTP) pledging allegiance to the Islamic State group. The video shows former TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid along with dozens of other militants in a wooded area.
The SITE Intelligence Group, a US-based terrorism monitor, said the video was released by the Islamic State group on Twitter and jihadi forums.
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.
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.
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.