Why ISIS Failed to Gain Foothold in Pakistan?

Why ISIS Failed to Gain Foothold in Pakistan?

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Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the deadliest terrorist organization the world has witnessed so far, has failed to penetrate Pakistan despite attempting several times to set up its operational presence here. Despite its failure, the terror group has been able to attract several sympathizers and was also able to win the support of several terror outfits.

In mid-2014, the propaganda literature of ISIS began appearing in Pakistan. Initially, a booklet titled ‘Fatah’ was distributed in Peshawar and some areas of Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA).

In mid-2014, the propaganda literature of ISIS began appearing in Pakistan. Initially, a booklet titled ‘Fatah’ was distributed in Peshawar and some areas of Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA). Pro-ISIS graffiti also appeared in major cities of the country. However, some cases of pro-ISIS wall chalking were found to be attempts by some individuals merely to create panic.

In November 2014, the provincial government of Balochistan stated in a confidential report that ISIS has offered some elements of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamat to join them in conducting terror attacks in Pakistan. More than two weeks later, Jamia Hafsa, the seminary of Lal Masjid firebrand cleric Maulvi Abdul Aziz, released a video in which female students pleaded allegiance to ISIS and invited the terror group to Pakistan.

Tehreek-e-Khilafat swore allegiance to ISIS in July 2014 and Jundullah did too in November 2014.

Several anti-Pakistan terror groups have also sworn allegiance and support to ISIS. Tehreek-e-Khilafat swore allegiance to ISIS in July 2014 and Jundullah did too in November 2014. Apart from these groups, ISIS was also able to gain sympathizers inside Pakistan by claiming several high-profile terror attacks. Up till now, more than 200 Pakistanis have joined the terror group, a minor figure compared to the figures of fighters joining from Western and Middle Eastern countries.

In January 2015, ISIS established its Khorasan Wilayah (Province) for Afghanistan-Pakistan region. The term ‘Khorasan’ refers to a historical region that comprised of north-eastern Iran, southern Turkmenistan and northern Afghanistan. The ISIS’ Khorasan Wilayah (ISIS-K) has claimed responsibility for several high-profile terror attacks in Pakistan which include:

  • May 2015 Safoora Goth bus attack (45 killed)
  • August 2016 Quetta hospital attack (75 killed)
  • October 2016 Quetta Police Training Centre attack (67 killed)
  • November 2016 Shah Norani Shrine attack (53 killed)
  • February 2017 Lal Shahbaz Qalandar Shrine attack (88 killed)

Up till now, more than 200 Pakistanis have joined the terror group, a minor figure compared to the figures of fighters joining from Western and Middle Eastern countries.

Except the Safoora Goth attack which was conducted by Jundullah, the veracity of ISIS’s claims for other high-profile attacks has been questioned. In fact, it has been reported that most of these were conducted by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al Almi (LeJ-A) and were claimed by ISIS. The spokesman of LeJ-A confirmed that his group and ISIS together were involved in the attack on Quetta Police Training Centre. But ISIS’s claim regarding the attack did not mention the collaboration with LeJ-A, which raises doubts about who actually executed the attack. Following the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar Shrine attack, a member of ISIS-K, told Reuters that ISIS does not have a proper base in Pakistan and that the terrorists enter from Afghanistan into Pakistan, accepting the fact that ISIS has no operational infrastructure in Pakistan.

There are several reasons behind ISIS’ failure to gain a foothold in Pakistan. First, ISIS views the state of Pakistan as a formidable opponent as compared to Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya. The Pakistani security forces have successfully destroyed the infrastructure of terror groups in tribal areas. Consequently, several terrorists managed to flee from Pakistan to Afghanistan through the porous border. In other words, there is no space for a group like ISIS to establish its operational base in Pakistan.

Except the Safoora Goth attack which was conducted by Jundullah, the veracity of ISIS’s claims for other high-profile attacks has been questioned. In fact, it has been reported that most of these were conducted by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al Almi (LeJ-A) and were claimed by ISIS.

Secondly, the law enforcement agencies have been able to detain or kill several terrorists linked with ISIS. In January 2015, Pakistani-Syrian Yousaf al-Salafi, believed to be the leader of ISIS in Pakistan, was arrested in Lahore. In the following months, several ISIS-linked individuals were detained and their cells were also busted in many parts of Pakistan. Last month, a three-day operation by security forces in Mastung the establishment of any direct or indirect organized presence of ISIS in Pakistan. The busted hideout was used by LeJ-A which intended to facilitate ISIS’ foothold in Balochistan.

Thirdly, ISIS’ over-emphasis on hyper-sectarian religious paradigm has also contributed in failing to gain a foothold in Pakistan, losing the support of local terror outfits and creating rifts within ISIS. ISIS, which has adopted the Takfiri variant of Salafism, failed to demonstrate ideological flexibility to make serious inroads in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Contrarily, Al Qaeda, which has also adopted the Takfiri variant of Salafism, co-operated with non-Salafi jihadist groups, realizing its dependence on local outfits.

Following the Mastung operation, LeJ-A immediately claimed that those killed in the hideout were ISIS members and that LeJ-A has decided to renew its oath with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the official name of the defunct state (Sept 1996 – Dec 2001) created by the Afghan Taliban, and regards Afghan Taliban supreme Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzda as the “legitimate spiritual leader” of the Muslim Ummah.  The May attack on the Deputy Chairman of the Senate Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri in which 26 madressah students lost their lives led to the parting of ties between LeJ-A and ISIS. Meanwhile, Ansar-ul-Sharia Pakistan, a group of disillusioned individuals from Karachi and southern Punjab who had travelled to Syria to fight for ISIS, has also come under the spotlight recently.

In January 2015, Pakistani-Syrian Yousaf al-Salafi, believed to be the leader of ISIS in Pakistan, was arrested in Lahore. In the following months, several ISIS-linked individuals were detained and their cells were also busted in many parts of Pakistan.

Despite ensuring that ISIS is unable to gain a foothold in Pakistan, the government along with the military should jointly chalk out a strategy for countering the ideology propagated by ISIS so as to discourage fleeing of individuals from Pakistan to join the ranks of ISIS.

In this regard, the government should run various informational campaigns on electronic and social media. The main idea around which these campaigns should revolve should be the exposition of the brutalities of this group towards both Muslims and non-Muslims. The ideology of ISIS on various social media platforms should also be countered by promoting a counter-narrative. The methodology of UAE-based Sawab Center is a case in point.

Despite ensuring that ISIS is unable to gain a foothold in Pakistan, the government along with the military should jointly chalk out a strategy for countering the ideology propagated by ISIS so as to discourage fleeing of individuals from Pakistan to join the ranks of ISIS.

Extremist views regarding certain sects should be discouraged by punishing those responsible for the promotion of such views. In addition, improvement of governance and speedy social justice are important factors that can help in gaining more public support for the war against terrorism and extremism. Also, the government should emphasize more on the promotion of pluralistic values in the society which is a long-term solution to the poisonous ISIS ideology.

Fahad Nabeel
Fahad Nabeel studies Journalism and Mass Communication from the Virtual University of Pakistan. Fahad has considerably researched on regional geo-political issues and militancy trends. Currently, he is working as an intern in the R&D Department of CSCR.

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