Terrorist groups often play a game of bluff to mislead the security agencies and confuse the public. In what has now become a common practice, many of them jump in to claim responsibility after every attack.

The practice appears to have become the norm with groups like the militant Islamic State group (Daesh), Jamaatul Ahrar as well as a faction of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al Alami (LeJ-A). Every attack is followed by a race between them to claim credit.

As if this were not enough, a terrorist attack on policemen in Karachi saw yet another outfit, Ansarul Shariah Pakistan (ASP), claiming responsibility. The attack was one out of three that terrorised the country during the last week of Ramazan. The terrorists struck at Parachinar and Quetta too, causing mayhem all over.

Claims are usually considered authentic only if terrorist groups release details of an operation, such as in the form of videos or pictures. Sometimes, however, bigger groups tactically do not accept responsibility, making the claims of smaller groups seem ‘reliable’.

This reliability is then taken at face value by security bodies. The so-called security alerts start echoing names of these smaller groups. Obviously then, investigations into the attack are troubled from the start.

Take the case of LeJ-A’s claim about the Parachinar attack. The group does not have an operational network in the area, but many security officials gave weight to the group’s claim because it is considered a strategic partner of the IS, which recently tried to expand its outreach to the Tora Bora caves, a part of which lies on the other side of the border between Kurram Agency and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

As terrorist attacks rise, groups gain tactical edge by managing bluffs easily and even appear to be expanding their geographical outreach.

The recent developments on the militant landscape, with all the attacks and claims, point towards another transformation — the erosion of terror groups.

Terrorist groups divide because of the strategic or tactical decisions their leaders take. Usually any one of four key factors is enough. The first is money. Greater resources cause rift among a group’s leadership, something happening since the Afghan-Soviet war. Another could be power or control. The banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) suffered because its leaders squabbled for dominance.

Yet another factor could be ideology, evident from the birth of Jamaatul Ahrar as well as the militant Islamic State group. Finally, operational strategies of different groups can also be a source of division or attraction to others; the operational capabilities of Al Qaeda, for instance, always give it edge over other groups.

Daesh meltdown

A study of these factors in the context of today’s militant landscape indicates the meltdown of Daesh in the region, a development that promises to trigger major changes.

Daesh, the Arabic acronym for IS, is not only losing on the military front in Iraq and Syria, but its ideological allure is dimming in Pakistan as well. Its over-emphasis on religious paradigm, essentially hyper-sectarian in nature, caused its regression.

Once terrorist outfits in Pakistan were in a race to show their allegiance to IS’s so-called caliphate in the Middle East; now, the same groups are rapidly distancing themselves from it.

Among them is even its strategic partner, LeJ-A.

Security forces launched an extensive operation against a terrorist network in Ishpelinji caves, near Balochistan’s Mastung district, last month in an attempt to recover two abducted Chinese citizens. An official handout released by the Inter Services Public Relations claimed the death of 12 terrorists belonging to LeJ-A.

The group immediately came up with a rebuttal, surprising many by claiming that those killed were Daesh members and that it (LeJ-A) had decided to renew its oath with Emarat-i-Islami Afghanistan, the official name of the now-defunct state created by the Afghan Taliban. The group further said it now regarded the Afghan Taliban’s Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzda as the “legitimate spiritual leader” of the Ummah.

The LeJ-A’s rebuttal hints that it was not satisfied with Daesh’s operational strategy. The terrorist attack in May on Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, a leader of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl), in which 26 madressah students were killed, annoyed LeJ-A, prompting it to part company with Daesh.

Another example of a meltdown of Daesh in Pakistan is a newly-emerged outfit, Ansar-ul-Sharia Pakistan (ASP), the one which accepted responsibility for the attack on policemen in Karachi late last month. A recent media report claimed that the group consists of disillusioned individuals from Karachi and southern Punjab who had travelled to Syria to fight alongside the Daesh.

Some security sources believe the group is an offshoot of the local Daesh network. It is thought to have ‘rigid sectarian views’ not only against Shias but also against other Sunni sects. Its advocacy of indiscriminate attacks on civilians has apparently caused rifts among militants.

Even though Daesh has weakened, fear remains high about the potential threat posed by fighters returning from Iraq and Syria. Events in Europe lend strength to these fears as many youngsters had left for Syria and Iraq to fight alongside Daesh; on their return they showed violent intent, some even participating in terrorism.

It is these people with violent intentions who may help revive and strengthen the existing Daesh network in the country.

There is a probability that such elements will connect with their chapter based in Afghanistan, commonly known as IS-Khorasan.

Yet those individuals who were disillusioned after their experience with Daesh in Iraq and Syria and those groups having similar experience may join local versions of the Al Qaeda and TTP factions.

With this transformation, Al Qaeda can become stronger again.

Daesh affiliates having any association with Al Qaeda in the past may even rejoin their parent group. Similarly, the radicals at the fringes may prefer to join Al Qaeda rather than an apparently-decaying Daesh.

However, chances of the emergence of a new movement, with hyper-ideological and political motives, cannot be ruled out.

Published in Dawn, July 3rd, 2017

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