Is ISIS just a name?

The emergence of the terrorist group in Pakistan is a cause for concern

Is ISIS just a name?
Late last year, the people of Bannu noticed slogans in favor of the terrorist network that calls itself the Islamic State (IS) painted on their walls. Soon, similar graffiti began to be appear in Pakistan’s major cities, especially Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Multan. When the phenomenon was reported in the media, the government played them down. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan publicly denied the existence of the IS in Pakistan on a number of occasions, despite warnings by his predecessor Rehman Malik.

Amidst the denials, the graffiti led to some arrests too, but their organization continued to strengthen. Six top Taliban commanders, including the former Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Shahidullah Shahid, announced joining the IS, pledging allegiance to Abu Bakar al Baghdadi instead of the Taliban emir Mullah Omar. Last month, Hafiz Saeed – a former commander of the TTP in Orakzai Agency – was appointed the head of the group in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Then there were reports that Mufti Hassan, one of the TTP commanders who had defected to al Baghdadi, had been appointed the head for the Peshawar region.

On February 2, the Counter Terrorism Department of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa revealed in an official communique that they had arrested an alleged militant named Misal Khan Afridi – from the Khajuri area of Bara tehsil in Khyber Agency – who was affiliated with ‘Amarat-e-Islami’. They were investigating extortion calls to a local trader after a case was lodged under the Anti Terrorism Act of 1997. Senior officials later said the Amarat-e-Islami is not IS, but a local group from Khyber Agency.

Some are questioning whether the emergence of IS is a cause of concern when more resourceful groups of foreign militants such as the lethal Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Al Qaeda, militants from Chechnya and even European jihadis fighting on the Pakistani and Afghan soil, who are among the targets of the military operation in the tribal areas. The inspector general of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police, Nasir Khan Durrani, believes only the names of organizations will change. “Otherwise, their foot soldiers are the same,” he says. Most IS commanders have fought in Iraq and other countries along with Al Qaeda since as far back as 2002, leaving the network only in early 2014. They have fought Bashar al Assad in Syria since June 2006. In June 2014, they renamed their the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to just the Islamic State – a sign that they wanted to expand their operations.
Six top Taliban commanders, including their former spokesman Shahidullah Shahid, announced joining the IS

In September, pamphlets were distributed among Afghan refugees in Pakistan asking them to pledge allegiance to the group against “America and the rest of the infidels”. In November, NBC News reported that the Balochistan government had sent a secret memo to Pakistan’s intelligence officials that the IS had set up a strategic planning wing to devise a plan to join hands with local militants to fight Pakistan Army, and start sectarian violence in Pakistan. But the Balochistan home secretary told them it was a ‘routine’ communication.

Police say they plan to probe the group’s presence in Pakistan by looking at its internet activity. A police officer said the Cyber-crime Wing of the Federal Investigation Agency will try to apprehend people who use the social media accounts and websites of the IS. “This will help us find as to who are the people who log into these social media accounts or websites,” says Tanveer Mustafa, a superintendent of police (SP) in Peshawar.

But as Jundullah claimed responsibility for the January 30 attack on an Imambargah in Shikarpur that killed at least 60 people, security analysts are concerned the government is ignoring a formidable threat. Jundullah was among the first groups in Pakistan to announce allegiance to IS.