ISIS presence in Pak-Afghan region: An unresolved mystery

KARACHI: Whether Daesh or ISIS has really set its foot in the region of Pakistan and Afghanistan is a question that has assumed considerable significance particularly in the wake of terrorist events of the past weeks and months in the region.

However, security and government officials in the country have, on more than one occasion, denied in unequivocal terms the presence of Daesh, Arabic name of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), in Pakistan.

Daesh leaflets were found from two crime scenes in the port city of Karachi. First, from the site where Dr Debra Lobo survived an assassination attempt last month. Second, from the bus of Ismaili community whose 44 passengers were brutally murdered near Safoora Goth area a week ago.

The Counter Terrorism Department of Karachi claimed to have arrested four terrorists involved in both the attacks while police sources claimed that all the nabbed suspects had ties to al-Qaeda.

Defence analyst Brigadier (retd) Saad Khan says other Daesh like-minded groups in the country were faking affiliation with ISIS and using its name with an aim to impress its (ISIS) leadership.

He said Daesh does not have any infrastructure in the region; however the retired Brigadier added that its sympathizers and those who endorse the group’s ideology were actually trying to convey a message to the ISIS leadership. They want ISIS to provide them cover and financial support and they would work for the group in the region, he added.

“Jundullah, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and other groups have no live connection with the Daesh as they are Al-Qaeda affiliated groups, however, he said these outfits can later on endorse and adopt the ideology of any group”, he added.

The retired brigadier said Pakistan is an easy target for the Daesh as we promote the narrative of Jihad-fi-Sabeel Allah and Khilafat. But, he said, Afghan Taliban groups are not only loyal to Mullah Omar but also nationalists. “Therefore, Daesh will have to face resistance from groups that operate under the influence of Afghan Taliban.”

Sediq Sediqi, spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Interior (MoI) told The News that the security forces of his country have gathered information about some of the Taliban members who called themselves as part of Daesh.

He claimed Mullah Rauf, believed to be working for Daesh as deputy governor of Khurasan province, was killed in Afghanistan during an operation conducted by Afghan National Security forces.

“Daesh is a threat for the security of Afghanistan like other terrorist groups and it will be dealt with accordingly,” he said.

He said Afghanistan is the frontline state in the fight against terrorism and the battle will continue against all elements posing threat to his country.

“Our fight and sacrifices are not only for the security and stability of Afghanistan but for the stability of entire region”, he added.

The former head of the Afghan Intelligence Agency, Amrullah Saleh when contacted denied the presence of Daesh in Afghanistan and said the extremist group is an Arab ‘Salafi-Wahabi reaction to Shia emergence’ in the middle-east. Therefore, he said, the group is alien to Afghans in terms of its ideology.

The former Afghan spy master further said the President Ashraf Ghani talks about the presence of Daesh because he knows that mere Taliban threat is no longer enough to attract western aid and assistance.

“If ISIS does come in a big way, they will co-opt and sponsor TTP first. So, in order to keep safe from this threat, Pakistan will have to go against the militants without any discrimination,” he added.

The director of Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) Amir Rana said the ISIS had announced groups for furthering its campaign in Khurasan. Mullah Rauf and Mullah Daud were appointed as leaders for Daesh’s Khurasan region, he added.

He said groups like Jundullah, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) had sworn allegiance to Daesh but their allegiance was not accepted by the ISIS leadership.

He said Al-Qaeda had also formed its franchise for the Indian Sub-continent to undermine the influence of Daesh in the region.

The former president of Tribal Union of Journalists-FATA, Safdar Dawar talking to this scribe said Daesh had claimed responsibility of Jalabad bombing and the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had also said the group was involved in the attack.

“Daesh had also carried out an attack in Orakzai agency so we can’t deny its presence in the region”, Dawar added.

He further said Jundullah had also sworn allegiance to ISIS; however the group has not confirmed Jundullah as its affiliate.

He said Daesh, Jundullah and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi are ideologically same, target Shias and share the same agenda.

Safdar Dawar quoted Shahid ullah Shahid as saying, “Mullah Omar was Ameer ul Momineen on a regional level (Pak-Afghan) while Abu Bakar al Baghdadi is the international leader. That’s why we joined ISIS.”

Many key commanders of Pakistani Taliban, who already have a network in the region, have joined ISIS, he added.

Comparing Al-Qaeda in the Indian Sub-continent (AQIS) with the Daesh, he said the latter has claimed responsibility for several attacks but on the other hand the former seems to be weaker.