Two weeks back, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan spoke at the US Institute of Peace in Washington D.C. where he asserted ‘with full confidence’ that the terrorist group Islamic State (IS) only exists in the Middle East and has ‘absolutely no presence’ in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
That’s a lie or maybe not if Khan isn’t aware that Afghan officials have already confirmed of IS’s operations in the southern part of the country earlier this year, after people saw black flags and were contacted and invited by a man identified as Mullah Abdul Rauf to join IS. There have also been reports of clashes between Afghan Taliban and IS which left at least 19 people dead. But it is very unlikely that Khan is unaware of this.
The Afghan government has acknowledged the presence of the IS and will be combating it as much as their capacity allows them to do so. However the Pakistani government still cannot make up their mind about whether or not the IS is present in the country.
Five days after Khan denied IS’s presence in the country, the state’s Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry said that the government is on ‘alert to the IS threat in the region’ and has directed authorities to ensure that no group or individual in the country is in contact with the IS.
It is impossible that IS suddenly became a threat to Pakistan in a mere five days of time. So why would the Pakistani government not admit to the IS threat before? The discrepancy among the attitudes of the interior ministry and foreign office towards IS’s threat has left the nation confused.
One need not visit a fortune teller to tell whether the IS is present in Pakistan. But one just need to review some recently reported news to know that IS has very successfully made its way into Pakistan.
Since August last year, groups have chalked walls of cities in the country with slogans supporting and welcoming IS, pledging loyalty to the self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. They were seen in major cities like Quetta, Karachi and Multan but a day ago, they were spotted in an area of the capital Islamabad, not too far away from where the interior minister sits. And this is not it. Such wall chalking was also seen on the walls of an army cantonment in Bannu.
Also last year in September, a group distributed booklets in parts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and the tribal areas, particularly in Afghan refugee camps. The Pashto and Darri language booklet which had the IS flag with a Kalashnikov called upon people to support IS, saying that they will soon expand to Khurasan (Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia).
Distribution of pro-IS booklets and the wall chalking is evidence that some groups have pledged allegiance to Baghdadi and are possibly in contact with IS militants, are currently operating in Pakistan.
Two of the groups that had split from Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), namely Jamat-ul-Ahrar (JUA) and Jandullah (JA) have also pronounced Baghdadi as their Emir earlier this year. Both JUA and JA have claimed major terror attacks like the Wagah border and Peshawar church bombing respectively.
Jandullah also claimed the recent Shia mosque bombing in Shikarpur. Since the attackers have joined IS, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that IS bombed the Shia mosque.
In January, IS officially announced a 12 member Khurasan Shura in which it has appointed its representative in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It includes terrorists that are currently in Pakistan, for instance Mufti Hassan Swati (member of IS’s Khurasan Shura) is in Peshawar.
A few days before the army school massacre in Peshawar, a video in which students of Jamia Hafsa – a girls’ madrassa in the capital – swore allegiance to the IS and pledged to impose their version of the sharia, went viral in Pakistan and by now the video has been talked about openly by the media and an opposition party. If common citizens and journalists know about the official presence of IS in Pakistan, it is impossible that the government does not.
The media also obtained and reported about a secret letter that was sent from the provincial government of Baluchistan to the federal government, informing that the IS has claimed to recruit ten to twelve thousand from north western areas of Pakistan and that it has recruited some members of banned outfits as well. It also went on to say that IS plans to attack military installations and the minority Shias.
Neither the foreign secretary nor the interior minister has admitted to the official presence of IS. It is not just a threat haunting Pakistan. They are now recruiting people within the state’s borders.
Denials would do nothing but to make the situation of an already terrorism-stricken country worse. Acknowledging their presence will widen the scope of intelligence, police and military to take action against them physically or virtually stopping them from recruiting more people. Taking the nation into confidence will be an attempt to educate the masses about the atrocities committed by the IS in Iraq and Syria, which can prevent many from being brainwashed by them.
The first step towards solving an issue is to recognize the problem itself. The Pakistani leadership will definitely be desperate to get the country rid of IS militants but is currently denying that they are a problem.