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Groups like the TTP Are Accepting the ISIS Franchise Because Of the Cash and Weapons It Can Provide

By S M Hali

June 23, 2018

Daesh is the Arabic acronym for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS. The terrorist group is known all over the world for the havoc it wreaked in Iraq and Syria. It is a Salafi Jihadist terrorist organisation that follows a fundamentalist, Wahhabi doctrine of Sunni Islam. Daesh gained global prominence in early 2014 after evicting Iraqi government forces from key Iraqi cities and capturing Mosul and conducting the Sinjar bloodbath.

The United Nations (UN) has designated ISIS as a terrorist organisation, while many countries have followed suit individually. The group has terrorised the entire world through its brutal videos of beheadings in which they slaughter people like sheep. It is also notorious for the destruction of historical and cultural heritage sites.

The origin of ISIS or Daesh is murky along with its self-proclaimed leader Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi. Daesh emerged as Jamaat 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-Islamiyah) 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 has been rejected by the UN, various governments and mainstream Muslim groups.

In Syria, the group assaulted both government and opposition forces and by December 2015 it controlled a large swathes of territory in western Iraq and eastern Syria, containing an estimated 2.8 to 8 million people, where it enforced its interpretation of Shariah Law. Daesh 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, Daesh was estimated to have an annual budget of more than $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 Daesh footprints on its soil despite the Safura Goth massacre in Karachi and a few other locations, where Daesh assumed responsibility for the attacks, even leaving behind its pamphlets and posters.

After the defeat of Daesh in Syria and Iraq in 2017, the group is trying to reorganise in Afghanistan and has both Iran and Pakistan in its crosshairs. Last year, the Pakistani military finally launched its largest known operation, Khyber-IV, against Daesh in Rajgal Valley of the 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 255 square kilometres of terrorist-controlled territory. IS 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 so far escaped Pakistani military operations.

Despite the civilised world rejecting Daesh, it continues to attract a motley of smaller groups like the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), who are accepting the franchise because of the cash and weapons it can provide. There was the fear of terrorist groups with sanctuaries in Rajgal such as the TTP, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, and Mangal Bagh’s Lashkar-e-Islami, teaming up with Daesh that has established its stronghold in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar across the border (as the Khorasan chapter of the Daesh).

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

The question arises whether this is enough. It is now known that Daesh has made inroads into the shadowy world of Pakistani terrorist networks. 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 Daesh in Afghanistan and terrorist groups operating here. It is worth recalling that top US commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson in a Congressional testimony earlier in February 2017, had mentioned that Daesh’s core in Afghanistan comprises mainly of Pakistani terrorists.

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

S M Hali is a retired Group Captain of PAF. He is a columnist, analyst and TV talk show host, who has authored six books on current affairs, including three on China