The Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/IS) wing in South Asia is intensifying its presence in Pakistan, particularly in areas along the country’s border with war-ravaged Afghanistan, the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) think tank cautions in a new report.
Some new challenges are rearing their heads like the emergence of self-radicalized individuals and small terrorist cells, growing incidence of religious extremism including on educational campuses, persisting cross-border attacks by Pakistani militants relocated to Afghanistan, and increasing footprints of Daesh [ISIS] in parts of the country and convergence of its fighters in Afghanistan near Pakistani border.
These have made Pakistan’s countering terrorism efforts even more challenging, which are also evolving in line with the changing regional scenario especially the pressure mounted by the US administration.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration recently suspended an estimated $1 billion in security aid for Pakistan over Islamabad’s alleged refusal to stop harboring terrorist groups, namely the Afghan Taliban and its al-Qaeda-linked ally, the Haqqani Network.
In response, Pakistan has reportedly annulled its alliance with the United States.
ISIS-K is “actively recruiting from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan,” reiterated American Gen. John Nicholson, the top commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, in November. “So as you’ll recall, when the Pakistan army … in 2014 pushed a lot of the TTP into Afghanistan — hundreds of thousands of TTP fighters and their families pushed into Afghanistan and it’s from these ranks that [ISIS] has been recruiting heavily.”
“Most of these [ISIS] fighters came from Pakistan,” stressed Nicholson, noting that about 1,000 ISIS jihadists are in Afghan provinces that border Pakistan, including “600 to 800” in Nangarhar, considered the group’s primary bastion in the region.
The Afghan Taliban and its Pakistani counterpart consider themselves two separate organizations.
TTP jihadists, their affiliates, and other terrorists with similar objectives, including ISIS members, carried out nearly 60 percent (213) of the total 370 reported attacks in Afghanistan last year, notes PIPS.
The Islamic State (IS) alone was allegedly responsible for the six deadliest attacks in Pakistan, which killed 153 people in 2017.
“IS has claimed responsibility for just six terrorist attacks in the country, but they were the most deadliest ones,” Muhammad Ismail Khan, the senior project manager at the PIPS think tank, told Dawn.
“There is a need to take the matter more seriously because there is a possibility that foreign fighters would come to Pakistan in near future as things are continuously changing in the Middle East,” he added.
As the so-called ISIS caliphate in Iraq and Syria continues to collapse at the hands of the U.S.-led coalition and its allies, the ISIS branch in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region is growing, according to the United Nations.
Known as the Khorasan Province (ISIS-K), the Islamic State wing in South Asia officially established its presence in Afghanistan in early 2015, less than a month after former U.S. President Barack Obama declared the American combat mission in Afghanistan over at the end of 2014.
“Despite a 16% decline in terrorist attacks in 2017, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and its associated groups remained the most potent threat [in Pakistan]; they were followed by nationalist-insurgent groups,” reveals the report.
“Nationalist insurgent groups,” including militants seeking independence in the Balochistan region, were responsible for 138 attacks in Pakistan, which killed 140 people and injured another 265 people, notes the PIPS think tank.
Most of the 2017 casualties in Pakistan are civilians, but they also include security and law enforcement personnel as well as militants.
“The report noted that as compared to 2016, the attacks in the country from across Afghan, Indian and Iranian borders in 2017 witnessed a significant surge (131pc). A total of 171 cross-border attacks claimed 188 lives and left 348 people injured,” reports Dawn.
While Afghanistan and the United States accuse Islamabad of harboring the Afghan Taliban, Pakistan claims Kabul provides sanctuary to TTP.