Growing influence of ISIS in Pakistan

Spearhead Analysis – 19.06.2015

By Abdulla Wasti
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

To go with PAKISTAN-UNREST-AFGHANISTAN by Emmanuel DUPARCQ with Usman Sharifi in Kabul
In this photograph taken on October 16, 2014 shows Pakistani motorists driving past an empty police check post with graffiti which reads as ISIS along a street on the outskirts of Karachi. The Islamic State organisation is starting to attract the attention of radicals in Pakistan and Afghanistan, long a cradle for Islamist militancy, unnerving authorities who fear a potential violent contagion. AFP PHOTO/ Asif HASSAN        (Photo credit should read ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images)The first wave of wall chalkings pledging support to the Islamic State appeared in Karachi, back in October 2014. Since then there have been sightings of walls spray painted with the ISIS logo, posters, and even flags in various parts of the country. Most recently, last month, after an attack carried out by Islamic State affiliate Jundullah on Ismailis travelling on a bus, there have been reports that IS literature was found at the scene. However, the Pakistani Intelligence and security sources continue to claim that Islamic State has no operational links in the region. What is of more concern is the government’s stance on the issue, as it seems to deny the possibility of the IS even existing in Pakistan. When asked about the growing influence of ISIS in the region and more importantly in Pakistan, Sartaj Aziz, advisor on foreign affairs and national security, dismissed the threat by stating that, the immediate worry is to deal with the situation at the border and to suppress the insurgency in Afghanistan.

The government’s utter disregard of this considerable threat is surprising taking into account the rise in sectarian violence and how the IS could give the plethora of splinter groups in the country a lifeline. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, more than 2400 Shiite Muslims have been killed since 2001 in either targeted attacks or while worshipping at mosques or imambargahs.  According to reports, allegiances have surfaced in sectarian flashpoints such as Orakzai, Hangu, and Kurram agencies. Therefore, carrying out sectarian violence will be an easier way for these affiliates to prove their loyalty to the Islamic State. Moreover, in an article published by Christine Fair, she explained that the Islamic State has garnered attention in the region with the help of its brutal and barbaric methods. Despite the fact that al-Qaeda has enjoyed a long presence in Pakistan and Afghanistan; ISIS has quickly captured the imagination of Muslims in the subcontinent. This has resulted in sort of a tussle for influence in the South Asian region between the two global terrorist organizations. On September 30, 2014, Zawahiri released a video in which he announced a revivified and more ambitious al-Qaeda presence in South Asia called the “Organization of the Base of Jihad in the Indian Sub-Continent” or simply al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, or AQIS. Zawahiri’s al-Qaeda likely hopes that its focus upon the Indian subcontinent and the past glories of the Mughal Empire in South Asia will be more attractive than the political order offered by its rival Islamic State (ISIS).

On the other hand, when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi gave his first public speech, he mentioned India as one of several countries in which Muslims’ rights have been denied. Second, he referenced the long-standing allegations of atrocities in Kashmir. In contrast, al-Qaeda had been almost completely silent about the Kashmir issue. Third, he explicitly stated that this new caliphate included India along with several other countries and territories. Furthermore, ISIS has also released recruitment videos in Hindi, Urdu, and Tamil. This struggle for power between the Islamic State and al-Qaeda is not only a serious concern for Pakistan, but the region as a whole. In addition, the two militant organizations have been gaining a lot of traction over the social media as well. For instance, the TTP’s website has not been blocked and a recent post on the Cyber and Jihad Lab, a cyber terrorism watchdog, reveals that the group has in fact launched a mobile app geared toward its younger supporters. It is difficult to ascertain how many social media accounts have been created under the Islamic State manifesto in Pakistan, since monitoring has neither been streamlined, nor is seen as a priority on its counterterrorism agenda. We have had a history of recognizing terrorist groups at the point that they are organized enough to carry out and claim terrorist attacks. However, this time around as the Islamic State begins to cast its shadow on the region, the government cannot afford to be in denial and preemptive measures need to be put into place.