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Opinion

October 23, 2015

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The rise of Daesh

The rising activities of the self-styled Islamic State (Daesh) are posing a serious threat to the regional security in the Subcontinent. Pakistan’s Army Chief General Raheel Sharif’s recent address in London is an eye-opener.
“Daesh is a bigger threat than Al-Qaeda”, the army chief disclosed in his address at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), adding that some elements in Islamabad wanted to join up with Daesh.
General Raheel’s statement was a veiled acknowledgement of the potential threats Pakistan and the world could face in the times ahead, though the army chief showed strong determination that he would not allow even the shadow of the militant organisation on his soil.
Coming out of the Middle East, the IS has expanded the war from physical to virtual spaces which has made the challenge of terrorism even more complex. Daesh, with its expansionist designs to establish a caliphate over the entire region, is busy struggling to hold its sway in the AfPak region. The organisation faces a tough resistance by the Afghan Taliban which would rather deny it space on their soil.
The fight between the two rivals have left hundreds of militants dead and injured on both sides in the recent past. The IS tried to exploit the situation by capitalising on the internal differences within the Taliban leadership, after the news of the death of its reclusive leader Mullah Omar broke out. However, the Taliban’s recent takeover of the northern Kunduz province as a show of strength – with its new leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansur, at the helm – was a clear message to Daesh.
This was a setback for Daesh in Afghanistan. But it did work in Pakistan, where Daesh was able to attract some influential TTP-affiliated commanders after differences came to the surface over grabbing the top managerial slot when (former) amir of the TTP Hakeemullah Mehsud was killed in a US drone attack in November 2013.
TTP-affiliated top-level six Taliban commanders

including Hafiz Saeed Khan and spokesman Shahidullah Shahid pledged allegiance to Daesh in January this year.
Hafiz Saeed, who was later appointed as head of the IS – an offshoot of Abu Bakar al Baghdadi’s militant group that spans over the Khorasan area including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and parts of Central Asia – with his deputies Abdul Rauf Khadim, Abdul Qahar and Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost had to lead the way.
The leadership – all the three bigwigs – were killed in US drone attacks in Afghanistan. Hafiz Saeed and Shahidullah Shahid were reportedly killed in a US drone attack in Eastern Afghanistan on July 8, 2015.
Abdul Rauf Khadim, an Afghan Guantanamo Bay detainee and an anti-Shia hard-liner was killed in a drone strike in western Afghanistan’s Helmand province. His co-deputy Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost, another Guantanamo Bay detainee and author of a book ‘The broken Chains of Guantanamo’, is in hiding.
Pakistan’s Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has long been in a state of denial. But the arrest of two IS-affiliated terrorists from the Attock and Jhelum districts of Punjab last week certainly points to this home-grown problem.
Senior Superintendent of Police for the Counter Terrorism Department Rana Shahid, while speaking to media, confirmed that one of the suspects, Shahid Farooqi, had been assigned to organise IS sympathisers in the Attock area. The police officer added that a laptop containing information regarding their operations was also recovered from the other suspect Muhammad Ali, who was arrested from District Jhelum.
Several questions had been raised by law-enforcement agencies about IS sympathisers since the assassination of Punjab’s home minister Col Shuja Khanzada in a suicide attack in Attock on August 16 this year. Besides Khanzada, the lethal attack left 17 people dead and 23 more injured. The CTD, since then, had been working on reports that the group was consolidating its position in Attock area.
It is widely believed that the attack was a coordinated activity of the IS in close collaboration with the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) – a banned sectarian outfit.
Khanzada is said to have been under threat following the killing of LeJ chief Malik Ishaq in July this year as part of a crackdown against banned sectarian militant outfits.
Lashkar-e-Jhanvi’s agenda is a perfect match to the ideological stance of the anti-Shia Daesh.
Earlier, the organisation claimed responsibility for killing 43 people when its men opened fire on a bus carrying passengers belonging to the minority Ismaili community in Karachi in mid May this year.
English leaflets were reportedly found on the bus inscribed with: “Advent of the Islamic State!” with words also blaming the community for its “barbaric atrocities in Iraq and Yemen”.
In December 2014, a video depicting a group of female students representing Lal Masjid-affiliated Jamia-e-Hafsa in Islamabad expressing their support to the Islamic State, came as a major blow to the government’s counterterrorism and de-radicalisation initiatives. The women were chanting slogans and urging people to join the IS, led by Abu Bakar Al Baghdadi for the establishment of a caliphate.
The pro-IS slogans written on walls in parts of the country instigating people for jihad say: “move forward: we are with you!”.
Besides, pamphlets and stickers calling on the young jihadi zealot to join the movement were branding Baghdadi as the khalifa (caliph). Some of the supporters were seen decorating their cars with posters and names of the organisation.
Some of the political experts see an evil nexus between the Afghan Taliban and Daesh if it comes to the survival of the Afghan Taliban in the wake of tough resistance from the Nato-backed Afghan forces. However, those keeping an eye on the events taking shape in the region believe that the Taliban’s collaboration would mean the group compromising its legitimacy.
The vacancy for the top managerial slot (amir of the Khorasan region) offers attraction for many to join Daesh inside Afghanistan and Pakistan. Omar Khalid Khorasani, head of the TTP splinter group, Jamatul Ahrar, seems to be the next contender to fit the bill. Commander Ehsanullah Ehsan has been hinting out in media
Unhappy with the new Afghan Taliban leadership, the field is open to disgruntled Taliban leaders like Mullah Qayum Zakir and Mansur Dadullah. The Afghanistan-based Pakistani militants’ leadership is another option. On the run as a result of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, they may join hands with the organisation as part of their resistance campaign against the Pakistani military.
The TTP leadership has not yet pledged allegiance to the new Afghan Taliban leadership. So their allegiance to Daesh cannot be ruled out.
Daesh is the new face of militancy in the Af-Pak region; it poses a potential threat not only to Pakistan and Afghanistan but also to the Subcontinent. We need to tackle this problem before it becomes a monster. That will need coordinated efforts on the part of all regional and global actors to play their role in curbing the menace.
The writer is the Executive Director of Zcomms in Islamabad.
Email : [email protected]

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