Islamic State and Pakistan Connections
October 18, 2014
Can Daish flourish in Pakistan?
Or does Pakistan just doesn’t offer the public sympathy it needs?
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also widely known as Daish, is finally in Pakistan. Can it strike roots here and undertake the type of activities it is conducting in Iraq and Syria? What has led a group of TTP commanders to renounce Fazlullah and declare allegiance to Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi?
With six former TTP honchos bidding farewell to Mullah Fazlullah, the terrorist network is split into four factions. The first is the rump that still calls itself TTP and is led by Mullah Fazlullah. The second is the Punjabi Taliban who have renounced armed struggle in Pakistan though still wanting to fight in Afghanistan, the third is Jamaatul Ahrar led by Qasim Khorasani who split from the TTP early last month. The fourth is the one which has announced joining n the Daish.
The process of the break-up of TTP started with the selection of Mullah Fazlullah as TTP chief after Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in a US drone strike. Differences emerged in the network soon after the selection of the new Amir. Unlike his two predecessors Fazlullah did not belong to the Mehsud tribe, which had contributed the largest number of fighters to the TTP. He was unacceptable to others in the tribe ho had hoped to succeed the former Amir.
Fazlullah was an outsider belonging to Malakand Agency who did not enjoy the support of any powerful tribe. Even after being appointed the new Amir, he remained holed up in Afghanistan for most of the time, making it difficult for field commanders to access him. What is more, Fazlullah lacked the ability to arbitrate and maintain the network’s unity possessed by his predecessor. In the charge sheet issued by Jamaatul Ahrar, which parted ways with the TTP last month, he was accused of being responsible for the elimination of some of the commanders he didn’t like.
The Amir’s shortcomings were a continuous source of disillusionment for the TTP commanders. While the differences simmered they remained subsurface. Operation Zarb-e-Azb was to act as a catalytic agent. The humiliation suffered by the terrorist network brought the internal schisms to the forefront.
North Waziristan Agency had served as a secure base area for numerous terrorist groups, particularly the TTP. As a result of the operation the TTP was deprived of its command and control centre, training facilities, premises to lodge and motivate potential suicide bombers, and rendezvous point for activists returning after performing their deadly tasks. The Agency also had factories which produce IEDs and bombs.
In al-Baghdadi, the demoralised elements in the TTP have discovered the type of leader they had been looking for. A dashing commander possessing both temporal and spiritual authority whose army has struck terror among the Iraqi and Syrian troops and who has set up his government in the second largest city of Iraq, where he has been declared Khalifatul Muslimeen. The man has challenged the sole super power while he has made the Gulf sheikhs and kings lose their sleep. Droves of volunteers from all over the world are joining him. The European leaders fear the return of their citizens who have joined the Daish. Many defeated and disoriented Taliban commanders see a ray of hope in Daish. They take vicarious pleasure in his victories.
There are other things also about Daish’s programme that appeal to the clueless among the TTP lot. Three of the six commanders that have announced allegiance to Dai share from Orakzai, Kurram and Hangu where they have been targeting the Shia community all this time. Al-Baghdadi too is bent upon eliminating the community.
What has stopped Jamaatul Ahrar and Fazlullah to continue to own Mullah Umar as Amirul Momineen? Why have both stopped short at complimenting al-Baghdadi while maintaining their loyalty to the leader of the Afghan Taliban. Is it a matter of ideological differences or something else?
Like al-Baghdadi, the three TTP groups agree on one point: establishment of a world-wide khilafat. They also believe the goal can only be achieved through violent methods rather than persuasion. All these groups reject democracy, considering it a western institution opposed to Islam. They maintain that the first thing they would do after capturing power through force is the replacement the prevailing system with Shari’a.
Mullah Omar was initially contented to confine the enforcement of Shari’a to Afghanistan where he had declared himself Amir-ul-Momineen. He remembers the price he had to pay for al Qaeda’s activities to use Afghanistan as a springboard for a world Islamic revolution. This is what TTP originally wanted to do in Pakistan. There were however elements in it which believed Islam is opposed to nation states confined within geographical boundaries.
ISIS is a strong supporter of the destruction of the geographical boundaries as a requirement of faith. Al-Qaeda also wants the elimination of geographical boundaries but is involved in a bloody rivalry with the IS. Al Qaeda also enjoys influence among Jamaatul Ahrar commanders. With the influence of al Qaeda waning, the likelihood of the TTP and Jamaatul Ahrar also joining Daish cannot be ruled out.
What goes against the spreads of Daish in Pakistan is the presence of a strong army and the democratic aspirations of its people. Unlike Iraq and Syria Pakistan army has succeeded in establishing the writ of the state in areas once occupied by the terrorists — like NWA, SWA and Swat. It has contained terrorist attacks in Bajaur and is trying to eliminate various groups which have now congregated in Khyber Agency.
The operations have substantially brought down the incidents of terrorism in the country. However, terrorist groups still try to target law enforcement agencies, attack polio workers and peace volunteers and indulge in explosions in buses in KP. They also continue to launch sporadic attacks in Balochistan and Karachi. However, deprived of the r base in NWA, the TTP groups are no more in a position to launch attacks on jails or kidnap large number of law enforcement personnel. The incidence of suicide attacks has also come down.
There are three requirements to contain the terrorist groups. First, the army has to ensure that the operations against the terrorist sanctuaries continue. Opening a front with India is simply unaffordable while the country is fighting an existential battle against the terrorists. Relations with the new Afghan government have to be improved to jointly deal with the menace.
Second, the civilian government has to focus on strengthening the civilian intelligence agencies and the police, which it has so far failed to do. This is all the more necessary in order to ensure that terrorists do not set up sleeper cells and other facilities to launch attacks inside the cities. It is high time the government focused on strengthening the internal security system
Third, the problems being faced by the IDPs must be urgently resolved. Deprived of their traditional recruiting grounds, the terrorist organisations would turn to the IDPs. Any unrest among the community would provide them a fresh source of recruits.
The people in Pakistan have invariably rejected religious parties with the agenda of enforcement of Shari’a through soft means. The women organisations fought against t the laws that discriminated against them at the height of the Zia Martial Law. There is a unanimity among the major parties about equal rights for minorities. There is thus no public sympathy for the cause of Daish in Pakistan.