Pakistan's Security Challenges And The Islamic State Group

IS-K expanded into the Khorasan Region in 2015 and this region encompasses parts of Iran, Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan

Pakistan's Security Challenges And The Islamic State Group

The self-styled Islamic State - Khorasan (IS-K) is one of the most bloodthirsty and fanatic religion based terrorist groups in the world today. The very recent suicide bombings in the city of Kerman in Iran have once again proved that this bunch of fundamentalist fanatics may be weakened but it is definitely not out of the game of terrorism and is still capable of causing death and destruction in many parts of the world to prove its global presence and reach. 

This is not the first time that the IS-K has struck in Iran but this has been the most deadly attack so far, in which over 100 people lost their lives and hundreds more suffered grievous injuries. The attack was launched when people had gathered to observe the death anniversary of the assassinated Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. The group also attacked the Iranian Parliament and the mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini in 2017. 

All Muslim countries including Pakistan should practice extreme vigilance to ensure that this bloodthirsty extremist group not be allowed to sink its tentacles into Muslim societies to further its own political agenda in the name of the religion of Islam. Iran seems to be the common target of Israel and the IS-K. Syria and Iraq, too, have suffered the consequences of the bloody onslaught of the IS-K, but Da’esh as it is also called, has never shown any sympathy for the Palestinian people’s struggles or the recent gore being enacted in the Gaza Strip. In fact, some Iranian commentators have even called the IS a tool of the Israeli intelligence. It has been proved again and again that all Muslim states including Pakistan and Afghanistan are IS targets and have indigenous cells of the organization in all major cites of the country.

The Islamic State group, or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), known by its Arabic acronym Da’esh, is a multinational Salafi extremist terrorist group founded in 2004 by Abu Qamar Al-Baghdadi and was aligned with Al Qaeda during the insurgency in Iraq. This group attracted global attention and prominence by 2014 when its fanatical fighters conquered large swathes of territories in northwestern Iraq and eastern Syria, and managed to control a population of over 12 million people, where it enforced its strict interpretation of Sharia law. It had more than 30,000 fighters under its command. By the year 2019, due to intense battles with Iraqi, Kurdish and US forces, the group lost control of most of its territories. 

But now it appears like the rebirth of this deadly group as it begins operations from its hideouts and tries to regain its former power in the Islamic countries.

The Islamic State has changed tactics since its defeat in Iraq. Once ensconced in the Syrian city of Raqqa and the Iraqi city of Mosul in its heyday, the group has now taken shelter secretly in the ruins of these cities. Its fighters are scattered in autonomous cells, its leadership is clandestine and its overall size hard to quantify, although the United Nations estimates it at 10,000 fighters in its heartlands. The movement went underground and formed sleeper cells that launch hit-and-run attacks, according to an Iraqi government security adviser who is part of a high-level security unit that follows Islamic State activities in Iraq and neighbouring lands. All key foreign fighters fled Iraq for countries such as Afghanistan, Syria and Pakistan. Most have joined Islamic State's Khorasan branch which is active along Iran's borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

IS-K expanded into the Khorasan Region in 2015 and this region encompasses parts of Iran, Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Despite the initial scepticism about the group’s  existence and capabilities by analysts and govt. officials in Pakistan IS-K has been responsible for over 100 attacks against civilians in Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as over 250 armed clashes with US, Afghan and Pakistani security forces since 2017.  

It was in 2014 when the Pakistani militant Hafiz Saeed Khan was chosen to lead the IS-K in Pakistan. Saeed, a seasoned veteran of the TTP brought with him many other fanatics including Sheikh Maqbool and some district chiefs of the TTP who pledged allegiance to Baghdadi and became members of the first Khorasan Shura or the central leadership council. Hafiz Saeed Khan was killed by a US drone attack in Afghanistan in 2016 and after him three other leaders of IS-K have been eliminated by US airstrikes. All these leaders had meaningful experience of the local militant movements in Afghanistan and Pakistan even before joining IS-K. 

The agenda of the IS-K includes global objectives. In 2015 in a globally distributed video series they declared “There is no doubt that Allah the Almighty has blessed us with Jihad in the land of Khorasan since a long time ago, and it is from the grace of Allah that we fought any disbeliever who entered the land of Khorasan. All of this is for the establishment of Sharia.” 

It went on to say: 

“Know that the Islamic State is not limited to a particular country. These young men will fight against every disbeliever whether in the west, east, south or north. Like the Islamic State core leadership in Iraq and Syria, IS-K seeks to establish a caliphate beginning in south and central Asia, governed by Sharia, which will expand as Muslims from across the region and the world join. IS-K disregards international borders and envisions territory transcending nation states like Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Since its founding, IS-K has repeatedly rejected demands by the international community’s notion of what it means to behave like a sovereign entity. If the Islamic State is engaged in state-building, its project has been defined by conquest, brutality, and a demand for theological obeisance among the population it controls, all wrapped in a peculiar form of managerial acumen. In the event that a future version of the Islamic State seeks recognition as a sovereign State, that entity could continue to exercise control over many facets of public and private life—certainly, nothing in international law prohibits the maintenance of Sharia law. But ethnic cleansing, torture, sexual slavery, the violent persecution of religious minorities, and accompanying incitement or rhetorical support thereof is antithetical to a fulsome conception of sovereignty. Pakistan now is in the line of fire of the IS-K and there are plenty of local sympathizers and abettors safely ensconced in some religious institutions spread across the country, as well as in urban centres. 

The spread of IS-K’s tentacles through central and southern Asia poses a grave security threat, to which Pakistan is perhaps most vulnerable due to its many ongoing economic, political and security challenges.