IS in Pakistan?
By Muhammad Akbar Notezai
On January 13, 2016, two masked men reportedly threw a grenade and fired gunshots at the office of ARY News Channel in Islamabad, injuring one media person. The self-styled Islamic State’s (IS) Afghanistan chapter claimed responsibility for the attack in pamphlets and stated it was in reaction to the coverage the channel is giving to Operation Zarb-e-Azb.
Besides this, in late December, the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) claimed that it had busted a cell of the militants, belonging to the IS group operating in Sialkot. Accordingly, they arrested eight suspects and seized weapons, explosives and laptops, as well as a large number of compact discs containing publicity material. Moreover, media reports stated that the suspects had taken an oath of overthrowing democracy and introducing Khilafat in Pakistan through armed struggle, and the suspects, who were arrested by CTD, are said to be belonging to different districts of the Punjab province of Pakistan. But Sialkot, according to media reports, served as the base of their operations.
“The suspects dislike democracy in Pakistan while they hate police and Pakistan Army,” official documents said, further stating, “In order to persuade other people to join their organisation, they would show them some video clips in which the Rangers were seen shooting a young man in Karachi. The prime objective of the [IS] men was to fan hatred against the country’s law enforcement agencies (LEAs).” According to CTD investigations, the suspects were indoctrinated and recruited by two brothers — Babar Butt aka Abu Akasha and Nadeem Butt. They also told reporters that the suspects had sworn allegiance to al Baghdadi and joined IS in Daska tehsil of Sialkot district in June last year.
Talking to media persons in Islamabad after an event, the Adviser to the Prime Minister (PM) on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, said that the rise of IS in Afghanistan was a point of concern for Pakistan, and he went on to add that certain elements trying to associate with IS were arrested from Sialkot.
After the arrest of eight suspects in Sialkot, it is reported that a Lahore based women called Bushra Bibi along with her four children left for Syria to join the IS in Syria, and a civilian intelligence agency has reported that around 20 men, women and children connected with Bushra’s network also left to join IS.
A week after the CTD claim of busting a cell of IS in Sialkot, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sana Ullah said that those who were arrested had been tasked with setting up sleeper cells for IS, and that those arrested include the purported IS Islamabad chief Amir Mansoor, his deputy Abdullah Mansoori and the group’s chief for Sindh province, Umer Kathio. He further stated in the statement, the arrests were the result of raids in four Punjab cities over the weekend.
Meanwhile, an Interior Ministry report revealed that youngsters from Pakistan are being sent to Afghanistan to join IS. According to the report, the total number of people sent from Pakistan to Afghanistan is between 40 and 50, and that they were also paid a salary between Rs 30,000 and Rs 50,000 each. It was also stated in the report that several banned organisations and Taliban commanders were merging with IS.
Tashfeen Malik, the 29 year old Pakistani woman, involved in the San Bernardino shooting had also reportedly pledged allegiance to IS. In Pakistan, Tafsheen’s family comes from Layyah District of the Punjab province, and it comes into Southern areas of the Punjab, a hotbed of extremism in the country. From 2007 to 2012, Tashfeen studied in Bahauddin Zakariya University in Multan, the biggest city in Southern Punjab. A national newspaper reports that southern Punjab, with thousands of seminaries and a history of having provided foot soldiers to militant and sectarian outfits for decades, now offers a promising opportunity for IS to strengthen its network in the region. On the other hand, analysts believe that Tashfeen, before moving to the United States, was in Saudi Arabia where she was radicalised.
According to a poll by the Pew Research Center, IS has potential to make significant inroads in Pakistan. According to the poll, nine percent of Pakistanis held a favourable view of the IS, while 28 percent had a negative view. But very surprisingly, the 62 per cent had no opinion regarding the group, which raises concerns.
In recent months, IS launched an anti-government radio-station called “Voice of the Caliphate” in Nangarhar, Afghanistan. IS’ militants use it to promote themselves and attract new recruits. This station can also be clearly heard in Pakistan’s bordering tribal areas called FATA, which is likely to increase militancy in FATA, as it borders Afghanistan.
In 2014, three months after IS announced a global Islamic caliphate, IS propaganda pamphlets were found in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and FATA in the Pashto and Dari languages. The 12-page booklet called “Fatah” (Victory) was being mainly distributed in Afghan refugee camps on the outskirts of Peshawar, the provincial capital of KP. The logo of the pamphlet had the Kalma, the historical stamp of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and a Kalashnikov assault rifle. Moreover, some copies were also reportedly sent to journalists working in Peshawar.
In May last year, 46 Ismaili Shias were killed in an attack on a bus near Safoora Chowrangi, Karachi. The Jundullah, which had pledged allegiance to IS, claimed responsibility for the attack. In 2015 the same year, the IS also announced its Khorasan chapter, which includes parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
It is reportedly said that eight suspects who were arrested in Sialkot and had pledged allegiance to IS originally belonged to Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD). The JuD is listed by the UN as a terror organisation, and its chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed has a $10 million US government bounty against him. After 2008 Mumbai attacks which killed 166 people, the UN declared JuD to be a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) (which was blamed for the attack). Following 9/11, former Pervez Musharraf proscribed LeT due to its involvement in some high profile attacks in Indian administered Kashmir and Indian cities. Subsequently, the name ‘Lashkar-e-Taiba’ was replaced with that of ‘Jamaat-ud-Dawa’ on the signboards of the group’s offices and recruiting centres all over Pakistan. Ahmed Rashid, a noted Pakistan author, said in an interview, “There is no evidence to suggest that the LeT is a part of the [IS]. But I think as a tactic of war, they are very impressed [with Let]. Of course, such attacks are very complicated. You have got to get explosives, guns, bomb makers and trained personnel to use those weapons. For IS, to do all this in the heart of Europe is complicated. It is not like training someone in Iraq’s desert which is very easy to do compared to this.” Nevertheless, it is obvious that IS is gaining a foothold in the country, and hardliners, who are from JuD, are joining the group. Therefore the government should take strict actions against them.
The author is a freelance journalist and researcher based in Quetta. He blogs at http://www.akbarnotezai.wordpress.com and tweets @Akbar_notezai