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ISIS Presence in Pakistan, a major threat

March 15, 2019
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ISIS Presence in Pakistan, a major threat

Islamabad: Intelligence agencies of Pakistan have warned about threats from terror group Islamic State, also known as ISIS or Daesh, suggesting the home department to take adequate measures across the country to counter threats. The warning came on heels of Pakistan-India tension across Line of Control following the Pulwama attack. “We have received input from Intelligence agencies. Necessary steps have been taken countrywide to keep them [ISIS] at arm’s length,” a senior official of Pakistan’s interior ministry said.

The warning came a few weeks before high profile visits of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Bin Mohamad to Pakistan. While dates for Erdogan’s visit are yet to be announced, the Malaysian PM will be guest of honour at the Pakistan Day parade on March 23, 2019.

A report published by Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, an Islamabad-based think tank, in January revealed that despite sharp decline [about 29%] in terrorist attacks across Pakistan last year, militant organisations Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and ISIS remained the most potent threat to Pakistan’s security. The report stated that 595 people were killed in acts of terrorism around the country in 2018, of which 38% were killed in five lethal attacks claimed by ISIS in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces. As many as 354 people were killed in Balochistan alone – 59% of the 2018 toll.

Pakistani officials are currently struggling to compile data of Pakistani youngsters with links to ISIS. Since offences coordinated between several nations routed ISIS from its strongholds in Syria and Iraq, a number of Pakistanis who travelled to join the extremists’ so-called “caliphate” are unaccounted for and Pakistan’s security agencies worry they may have gone underground and pose threat in future.

Even the officials of the counter-terrorism department believe that ISIS is the new threat. “ISIS has begun to challenge us. Last year it had shown its muscles. But, we are ready to take the bull by the horns,” Pervez Ahmed Chandio, chief of Karachi’s counter-terrorism department said. “It is one of the most dangerous threats that Pakistan faces today and we are ready to fight this war,” he added.

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While Pakistan’s armed forces are engaged on safeguarding Eastern and Western borders, police in Pakistan is not best trained to fight militant outfits like TTP and ISIS. Also, lack of resources with the counter-terrorism department makes senior officials like Chandio worried. “As soon as we disrupt one militant cell, another emerges, sometimes within weeks and often in an unrelated part of the country,” Chandio said.

While Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies have sacrificed a great deal while dismantling terror networks, they still face a daunting task of unearthing ISIS’ sleeping cells across the country. “ISIS hideouts, structure and strategy is unknown. No one knows the strength of its members. This is the most worrying factor for counter-terrorism department,” said Mohammad Amir Rana, executive director of the Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, which tracks militant movements in the region.

The footprints of ISIS emerged in Pakistan in mid-2014 when pro-ISIS graffiti and propaganda – a booklet titled ‘Fateh’ – appeared on the streets of Pakistan’s big cities including Peshawar, Karachi, and the Federally Administrative Tribal Areas (FATA). First time, the Islamic State’s tangible presence was reported in November 2014, when a confidential report by the provincial government of Balochistan to the federal government warned of the group’s increased footprints in Pakistan.

The report clearly stated that ISIS has allegedly recruited hundreds of followers from the Hangu and Kurram Agency tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. The report called for adopting preventive measures to halt its growth. Later on February 10, 2016, director general of the Pakistan Intelligence Bureau informed country’s Senate Standing Committee on Interior that the Islamic State was emerging as a threat. He claimed that Pakistan-based terrorist groups, including Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, had a soft corner for ISIS.

ISIS marked its entry into Pakistan on August 8, 2016 when it claimed a terrorist attack that killed at least 70 people and wounded more than 100 in the southwestern city of Quetta, the provincial capital city of Balochistan, which shares borders with war-torn Afghanistan and Iran. Islamic State and a Taliban faction claimed responsibility. It was a wake-up call for the Pakistan government, but its response in devising a strategy to counter ISIS had been slow. The ‘caliphate’ struck again in Quetta on 24 October, 2016, targeting the police training college. Three heavily armed terrorists attacked sleeping cadets, killing 61 of them and injuring more than 165 others. ISIS along with Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the attack.

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Officials of Pakistan’s home ministry claim that the ISIS has established a base in Pakistan which it calls Wilayat-e-Khurasan and has considerably stepped up efforts to broaden its network here. According to the 20th report from the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team, ISIS enlists “partners of convenience” in Afghanistan and “outsources” terror attacks to Pakistani organizations such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar.

Last year, Aftab Sultan, director general of Pakistan’s Intelligence Bureau told lawmakers that ISIS was emerging as a potential threat with the help of its Pakistan-based affiliates including Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar. He asked the government to launch a countrywide crackdown to dismantle the ISIS threat. “ISIS can pose a serious threat in the days to come. We need to take steps to counter it,” a lawmaker quoted former Director General of Intelligence Bureau, Aftab Sultan, from a meeting held last year.

It is interesting to note that Pakistan quietly helped Iraq in its fight against ISIS which reached a major milestone in July last year with the liberation of Mosul from the terrorist group’s control after three years of occupation. “Pakistan was among a number of countries that supported Iraq in fighting the ISIS,” ambassador of Iraq to Pakistan Ali Yasin Muhammad Karim told reporters in Islamabad last July at the embassy while briefing Pakistani media about the eviction of the IS from Mosul.

A report compiled by Pakistan’s interior ministry has stated that witnessing a gradual decline over the past few months, the number of terrorist attacks in Pakistan surged once again during January, 2019. As many as 26 terrorist attacks took place in Pakistan this January, compared to 11 in the month before, which claimed 30 lives and wounded 69 others. Among those killed were nine security officials, 14 civilians and seven militants and the injured included 31 security personnel, 36 civilians, and two militants. Most of the attacks were claimed by ISIS and its affiliates including Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar.