Nuclear-armed Pakistan is reportedly concerned about an increase in Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) recruitment at religious schools and universities within its borders and the jihadist group’s growing presence in and around the country despite a crackdown on Islamist organizations carried out by the Pakistani military.
ISIS “has launched a fresh recruitment drive in Pakistan, defying a military crackdown and challenging established Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda and the Taliban as it seeks to expand its foothold in South Asia,” reports the Times.
“As Pakistan grieves after the devastating suicide bombing in Lahore that killed 69 people and wounded hundreds on Easter Day, [ISIS] recruiters are operating at universities and madrassas [religious schools] in major cities,” it adds. “It is exploiting the lawless tribal areas that have provided refuge and willing recruits for a host of terrorist groups in the past.”
Soon after President Barack Obama declared an end to the U.S.-led combat mission in neighboring Afghanistan, ISIS announced the establishment of its Khorasan province. Khorasan is an ancient name for a region that includes Afghanistan, Pakistan, and parts of other neighboring countries such as Iran and India.
In May 2015, ISIS first announced its presence in Pakistan after claiming responsibility for an attack in Karachi that left 45 Shiite bus passengers dead.
Ever since, the jihadist group has fatally targeted Pakistani law enforcement officers and capitalized on the lawless tribal areas along the country’s border with Afghanistan, notes the Times, adding that Islamabad is becoming concerned that other terrorist groups will join ISIS’s ranks.
“The increased presence of militant groups like the Taliban, Al Qaeda and now ISIS within Pakistan, the only Muslim nation to possess nuclear weapons, is alarming world leaders with the possibility of militants getting control of the country’s weapons,” reports the Foreign Desk.
“Despite coordinated efforts by Pakistan’s military and law enforcement to kill hundreds of militants and arrest thousands in the wake of several tragic attacks in recent years… the numbers are steadily increasing,” it adds.
U.S. defense officials warned late last year that ISIS’s Afghanistan branch had established a stronghold in eastern Nangarhar province, which borders Pakistan. The group’s Khorasan province (ISIL-K) is known to operate in the tribal areas that make up the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
According to a recent report by Khaama Press, ISIL-K is also seeking to expand its footprint in Afghanistan, where it has engaged the Taliban in turf battles. The Taliban remains the largest jihadist group in the region, and its ties to ISIS rival al-Qaeda are reportedly growing.
The Times learned from an unnamed Karachi-based senior counterterrorism official that ISIS does not yet have a command structure in Pakistan.
Moreover, counterterrorism officials reportedly confirmed that some professors at Pakistani universities have been detained for disseminating ISIS propaganda in school.
ISIS has also developed a relationship with Pakistan’s elite, notes the Times.