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Countering Daesh in Pakistan

S.M. Hali

17th Sep, 2021. 12:51 pm

Dáesh is the Arabic acronym for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS. It wreaked havoc in Iraq and Syria. It is considered to be a Salafi jihadist terrorist organization that follows a fundamentalist, Salafi/Wahabi doctrine of Sunni Islam. Dáesh gained global prominence in early 2014 after evicting Iraqi government forces from key Iraqi cities and capturing Mosul and conducting the Sinjar bloodbath.

United Nations has designated ISIS a terrorist organization while many countries have followed suit individually. The group has terrorized humankind through its brutal videos of beheadings and slaughter of people like sheep. It is also notorious for the destruction of historical and cultural heritage sites.

The origin of ISIS or the Dáesh is murky along with its self-proclaimed leader Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi. Dáesh emerged as Jamáat al-Tawhid wal-Jihad in 1999, which pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and participated in the Iraqi insurgency following the 2003 invasion of Iraq by US-led forces. The group proclaimed itself a worldwide caliphate and began referring to itself as the Islamic State (ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah) or IS in June 2014. As a caliphate, it claims religious, political and military authority over all Muslims worldwide. Its adoption of the title of Islamic State and its idea of a caliphate have been rejected by the United Nations, various governments and mainstream Muslim groups.

In Syria, the group assaulted both government and opposition forces and by December 2015 it controlled a large area in western Iraq and eastern Syria, containing an estimated 2.8 to 8 million people, where it enforced its interpretation of Shariah Law. Dáesh is believed to be operational in 18 countries across the world, including Afghanistan and Pakistan, with “aspiring branches” in Mali, Egypt, Somalia, Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines. In 2015, Dáesh was estimated to have an annual budget of more than US$1 billion and a force of more than 30,000 fighters.

Pakistan was initially in a state of denial, refusing to accept the presence of Dáesh footprints on its soil despite the Safura Goth massacre in Karachi and a few other locations, where Dáesh assumed responsibility for the attacks and left behind its pamphlets and posters.

After the defeat of Dáesh in Syria and Iraq in 2017, the group is trying to reorganize in Afghanistan and is casting an evil eye on Iran and Pakistan. Waking up from its slumber, the Pakistani military launched its largest known operation, Khyber-IV, against Dáesh in Rajgal Valley of Khyber Agency.The operation involved up to 3,000 troops backed by the artillery, army aviation helicopters and Pakistan Air Force to comb and cleanse an area covering roughly 17×15 kilometers for terrorists who had established hideouts there because of its extremely difficult terrain and thick forest cover. Though there have already been three operations in Khyber Agency, and one in this particular valley, the Pakistan Army spokesperson declared it to be a pocket, which had escaped action against it.

Despite the civilized world rejecting the Dáesh, it holds the attraction of motley groups like the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) accepting the franchise for the lure of funds and weapons distributed in abundance by the Dáesh. There was the fear of terrorist groups with sanctuaries in Rajgal, TTP, Jamaat ul Ahrar, and Mangal Bagh’s Lashkar-e-Islami, teaming up with Dáesh that has established its stronghold in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar across the border (as the Khorasan chapter of the Dáesh). In the backdrop of the mass exodus of foreign troops, from Kabul in August 2021, the Dáesh found it opportune to strike and killed 169, including 13 US troops and wounded 140 in a suicide bomb attack. The US struck back in a retaliatory assault, eliminating the Dáesh masterminds of the dastardly attack.

On the ideological front, to counter the Dáeshoffensive in Pakistan, muftis and leading ulema have put full trust in the government and Armed Forces by issuing a consensus Fatwa “Paigham-e-Pakistan” to refute the extremist ideologies and terrorist outfits like Dáesh. According to this Fatwa, the state and the government are Islamic in accordance with Shariah and no individual or a group can proclaim its rule and Jihad in the country. Therefore, the general masses should reject the deception of Baghdadi and Dáesh and they should offer full support to security forces to eliminate Dáesh from Pakistan.

The question arises whether this is enough. The Dáeshis known to have made inroads in the dark world of the terrorist networks still active in Pakistan. The Army has found linkages between the Parachinar bomb blasts in June 2017 to the group based on the Afghan side of the border. Three earlier attacks in Parachinar too, it is believed, were executed on its orders. This implies that a connection already exists between Dáesh in Afghanistan and terrorist groups operating here. In October 2019, ISIS media announced that Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Quraishi was the new leader of the Islamic State, after Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi killed himself by detonating a suicide vest during the US Barisha raid in the Syrian rebel-held Idlib province of Syria four days previously.

Pakistan will have to make a concerted effort combining military as well as ideological resources to counter the ingress of Dáesh in Pakistan.

The writer is a former Group Captain PAF and an author.


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