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Denial of IS footprint

Updated September 30, 2017

THE vigour and alacrity with which Pakistani authorities deny that the militant Islamic State group has an ‘organised’ presence in the country is matched perhaps only by evidence of an IS footprint in the country. On Thursday, the Foreign Office spokesperson once again denied that evidence of an IS presence in the country, or at least sympathy for IS, is of any significance.

The incident in which a version of the IS flag was confiscated by the police from the outskirts of Islamabad following a civilian report is troubling because authorities were not only unaware the flag was on display but once their attention was brought to the matter, they have been unable to explain who is responsible for the act. Across the board, the security apparatus seems unwilling or unable to recognise the threat that IS may pose.

In Pakistan, the absence of an organised IS network like in the Middle East or that of the TTP can be misleading. A wave of attacks in Europe have demonstrated that a combination of sophisticated propaganda via the internet and the presence of disaffected individuals in society can have terrifying consequences. Pakistan’s vulnerability is also deeper: IS ideology can penetrate existing terror networks or their remnants and morph into a menacing new threat.

Instead of recognising that reality and developing a strategy to combat it, the state seems to be repeating many of the mistakes it made early on in the fight against the TTP and other anti-Pakistan militant groups.

Then too there was a belief a soft approach to militancy or so-called peace deals would prevent the problem from growing out of control. But it did grow out of control, to the point that the state has had to launch the largest internal security operations in its history to fight militancy and terrorism.

Troubling too is the glib manner in which counterterrorism operations are reported by the police.

In yet another incident where individuals who are mysteriously eliminated in police ‘encounters’ are later labelled as members of all manner of terrorist groups, the Karachi police on Thursday killed five individuals, one of whom was identified as a member of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent. The individuals were, according to the police, planning to carry out attacks on Muharram processions. While Al Qaeda does have a sectarian strain in its militant ideology, more details are needed about the victims and their alleged militant affiliations before firm conclusions can be drawn.

What is striking about the police claims is that a hotchpotch of militants was found together — and a typically large number of attacks have been attributed to them. While the incident will soon be forgotten, the broader pattern is clear: the state seems to be lurching from incident to incident without a clear idea of the nature or scale of the threat it faces.

Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2017