AS Pakistan’s militant landscape evolves, we continue to ignore the emerging threats, deeming them insignificant.
It seems the security institutions also do not want to shift their focus away from the immediate threats confronting the country at present.
In a way, that is understandable because a prospective evaluation of emerging threats requires concerted efforts while denial costs nothing.
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, the question regarding the presence of the affiliates and supporters of the militant Islamic State (IS) group in Pakistan has become even more important.
But, predictably enough, the Foreign Office spokesperson has come out with a categorical denial of any footprint of the terrorist group in the country.
Notwithstanding this official stance, it is a fact that IS’s Khorasan chapter exists in this region and many militants, commanders and small terrorist groups have already declared allegiance to IS.
The denial on the part of the state stems from a weak and superficial understanding of the threat matrix. Ironically, the security institutions also do not appear ready to expand their threat perception beyond the Pakistani Taliban in the tribal region and sectarian terrorist organisations in mainland Pakistan.
Evolving militant movements like IS can pose a significant threat to the country’s internal security.
Two alarming reports have appeared in the Pakistani media in recent months. The first was about the arrest of some self-radicalised individuals in Karachi, who were on their way to Syria to join IS.
They told investigators how they had made contact with the terrorist group in cyberspace. It is an alarming indication of an emerging trend of self-radicalisation among educated Pakistani youth.
However, Pakistan’s political and security circles consider the phenomenon, also linked to the ‘lone wolf’ concept, as being confined to Western countries.
The second report was about about an operational IS network in Sindh, the existence of which was disclosed by senior police officials.
I have said time and again in this column that the IS factor has provided a lifeline to the militant groups operating in our region.
The IS model has illustrated the importance of controlling territory in order to project and establish power on the ground. IS’s territorial gains in Afghanistan are also an indication of emerging threats for Pakistan.
The Khorasan chapter is not only meant for Afghanistan but also includes this country and parts of Central Asia.
Though it would be difficult for IS to penetrate Pakistani territory, it can add to the insecurity at the Pak-Afghan border and heighten the risk of cross-border violence and attacks inside Pakistan.
There is a need to understand that the security challenges facing Pakistan do not come only from banned groups like the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LJ) but that evolving terrorist movements like IS can also pose a significant threat to the country’s internal security.
No doubt groups such as the TTP and LJ have been losing their operational edge since the launch of military operations in parts of the country, but their supply line of human resource is still intact. As these groups are further weakened, there is a possibility that this supply line will divert to other groups including Al Qaeda and IS.
The nature of the human resource available to Pakistani terrorist groups is as diverse as these groups themselves.
Educational institutions and radical segments of religious groups are still attractive as sources of recruitment for sectarian terrorist groups, as are tribal militant groups like the TTP and Jamaatul Ahrar.
Radical tendencies among educated youth, from both public and private educational institutions, have the potential to serve the purpose of global terrorist movements as well as local violent radical groups. Self-radicalised individuals who are influenced by militant ideologies fall in this category.
Many among them, not formally affiliated with any local or international terrorist organisation, remain in search of causes that resonate with their radicalised worldview.
The members of conventional militant groups like Jamaatud Dawa and the banned Jaish-e-Mohammad always remain available for Al Qaeda and ultra-radical violent movements.
Understanding the dynamics of conventional militant groups is always a difficult task. The militant groups do not operate like criminal syndicates; they fight for certain political and ideological causes and need public support to sustain their activities. Therefore, they also have to be on the surface to sustain and expand their support base.
The religious-ideological discourse has acted as a catalyst for them. It has not been easy for these groups to survive on the strength of their old religious-nationalistic tendencies or to adopt a more political role.
Militant groups can shift the focus away from an enemy-centric to a condition-centric approach. This is what happened in the fight against the militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas, where the state remained confused over the exact status of the enemy, and where it tried to pursue the ‘talk-and-fight’ approach, which did not prove effective. Such approaches have an impact on policymakers’ assessments.
On the other hand, militants’ strategies continue to evolve, and their overall strategy combines both violent and political means.
A generational perspective of the militants can help improve the threat perception.
The conventional militant groups are custodians of the first generation of militants, who evolved under the influence of the jihadi culture of the 1980s-1990s and who had certain nationalist tendencies.
The second generation was nurtured in the post-9/11 world under the influence of changing global and regional political scenarios; this was the transformational generation.
Though the third generation is also the product of a changing political environment, it also experienced an ideological transformation.
Most militants from this generation have not had any experience of the first or second generations.
Their views were taking shape amid the socio-religious changes at the time and in a static political environment. This generation feels more attraction towards groups like IS.
First, during their affiliation with the TTP, LJ or conventional groups, members of this generation transform themselves on an ideological level to reach a stage where they start acting like independent groups. Once they become independent in following their ideological drive, they are more prone to joining groups like IS. In this perspective, the actions of this third generation of militants are key to shaping and transforming the militant landscape.
The writer is a security analyst.
Published in Dawn, November 22nd, 2015