Is Pakistan in denial about ISIS presence on its soil?


    Or is the foreign office behind the curve as usual?


    Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry recently categorically ruled out the possibility that the Islamic State (IS) had any presence in Pakistan.

    Chaudhry went onto assert that Pakistan was fully capable of keeping IS at bay, and that no one would be allowed to have links with the terror organisation. These assertions were made at a time when Maulana Abdul Aziz was simultaneously reiterating his need to transform Pakistan into a proper Shari’a compliant country.

    For those who don’t know, apart from being the leader of Lal Masjid — the one which garnered a military action from the Pakistani authorities and yet continues to stand — Aziz is also the man who has previously written love letters to IS.

    Aziz is also not the only problem. Reports that IS had started to infiltrate Pakistan first hit news in 2014 when wall chalkings supporting IS appeared in the country. IS recruiters may have found their way into Pakistan well before the December 16, 2014 attack on Peshawar’s Army Public School.

    2015 itself has seen IS peppered into the news. Security forces arrested an IS commander in January, while two others who were recruiting and exporting fighters to Syria were also taken into custody. The cost of one human fighter? $600.

    Pakistan could be right in its assertion that IS is not a problem right now. But how long before it becomes one?

    “We are the ones who are supposed to know things, and it’s very true when we say that there is no IS,” a source from within the foreign office told Pakistan Today on the condition of anonymity.

    However, the presence of graffiti and arrest of recruiters paints another picture.

    “The problem of online propaganda exists everywhere. Even if they are recruiting people from any part of the globe doesn’t mean they have a foot print there. If we go by that logic then Belgium would have the biggest foot print. Europe has seen a lot of recruitment, but you won’t say that IS operates from there,” the source maintained.

    Najibullah Quraishi has covered war in Afghanistan and recently infiltrated IS camps. His work shows that the terror group is making itself comfortable in the areas it has taken over.

    Reports that IS had started to infiltrate Pakistan first hit news in 2014 when wall chalkings supporting IS appeared in the country. IS recruiters may have found their way into Pakistan well before the December 16, 2014 attack on Peshawar’s Army Public School


    “It was the hardest work I have ever done in my career. It was scary, risky and dangerous,” he said.

    On the threat to Pakistan he said, “They were more against Pakistan than Afghanistan, their aims are to go after Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Tajikistan, Iran and Uzbekistan. I’m talking about the groups that I was with,” he said.

    Quraishi’s work comes after eight months of effort. It shows IS spreading out with few problems. While some Taliban are joining ranks with the IS, others are fighting against it. The terror group is also actively recruiting children into its ranks.

    Afghanistan’s entire peace process has been destabilised after talks between the government and the Taliban were torpedoed by Da’ish. Pakistan’s shared border with Afghanistan is fractured and ineffective — and in some areas missing altogether. When the country has historically had trouble keeping the Taliban out — a fact reiterated repeatedly by the ISPR post Badaber — what can it possibly do to keep IS out?

    “The border question is a good one. Our operation is currently being undertaken against known elements. And because our border is not secure and some of them run off to Afghanistan, we still maintain that people who were part of the December 16 APS attack are in Afghanistan. So we know that people are coming and going but the trail is often missed because it’s not very easy to man that border,” the source from the foreign office acknowledged.

    “But it is also true that IS does not exist in the manner that people think. The army is sitting in many border areas. So unless there is an incident, which would be proof of their existence, all of this talk about IS is speculative,” he added.

    The problem is, however, that if and when IS shows up it will not be setting up an office to operate from. How does the government plan to prevent them from infiltrating the country?

    “If there is a network it can be tracked. There is a money chain and our intelligence can identify their operatives and their targets. We can see a network, and we just don’t see it right now. Like you know that Boko Haram is operating from Africa but no one has seen them — the intelligence knows,” the source maintained.

    Oddly enough, while local intelligence agencies seemingly haven’t found a money trail, General John F Campbell, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan had earlier said that it does exist. The US general previously went on record to say that terror groups are only recruiting but are not yet operational.

    “There’s recruiting going on in Afghanistan, there is recruiting going on in Pakistan. There is money being passed back and forth,” said General Campbell. His statements came at a time when IS had not acknowledged that they were in Afghanistan. Things have long since changed. The Taliban which were said to be rebranding back then, have actually done so now. Fighting between IS and Taliban has become a reality — could a future attack on Pakistan become one, too?

    The foreign office source, however, said that the areas in which IS is operating currently are not linked to Pakistan. So infiltration will not be happening anytime soon.

    Muhammad Amir Rana, a security and political analyst and Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) director, thinks that the IS threat is a very real one.

    “I think the foreign office’s statement is a contradictory statement to the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Raheel Sharif’s statement a few weeks ago, where admitted that IS is here, and also acknowledged that it will be a major threat in the future. This means that some evidence is available which proved that they are present in Pakistan,” Rana told Pakistan Today.

    “We can argue what type of presence it has and whether it has any operational capabilities, but nobody can say that it has no network or presence,” he said.

    But what of characters like Abdul Aziz in the story. People who are ready to welcome the Da’ish with open arms, what becomes of them?

    The situation in Afghanistan — while alarming — is different, according to Rana.

    “In Afghanistan, Da’ish is trying to create a safe haven, or territories from where it can launch the movement. That type of operation in Pakistan is not possible. When they have their operational basis in Afghanistan and then they will consider launching their operations in Pakistan, but right now we cannot anticipate what kind of operations they will launch… whether it will be the same as what al Qaeda has done in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the past or if it will recreate the corridors or infiltrate areas which were once under control of the non-state actors in Pakistan,” he added.

    Rana feels that the military can keep Da’ish out.

    “Right now the military has proved that it is capable of dismantling terrorism networks. An increased level of vigilance is needed,” he said.

    “Yes, we can’t rule out terror attacks. They can do it but right now their focus is first to creating safe haven in Afghanistan. In the future, things could be different. They can pose multiple types of threats, right now we cannot predict what they will do,” Rana said.

    But what of characters like Abdul Aziz in the story. People who are ready to welcome the Da’ish with open arms, what becomes of them?

    The foreign office doesn’t seem too worried.

    “The school of thought that IS uses to recruit people i.e., the wahhabi-salafi school of thought, we don’t have that in abundance here so they won’t find much success while recruiting people here. In my point of view, they will not find fertile ground for their activities here,” the source from the foreign office said.

    “We would be worried more if they joined ranks with other terrorist organisations that are already here, but we don’t think that will happen either,” he added.

    Rana doesn’t agree with this assessment.

    “Because of the Da’ish’s rise in the world, their achievement is providing inspiration to the more radical minds in the country,” Rana lamented.

    Will those radical minds come out on top or will Pakistan be able to put its terrorism infested past behind?