Can IS Presence in Pakistan Still be Denied

There’s no mistaking it any longer: the self-styled Islamic State is making inroads in the country.

In a militancy-riven landscape like that of Pakistan, where violent extremist groups have had a long run virtually unimpeded by state action until recently, this signifies a dangerous new dimension in the war against terrorism.

However, the stance adopted by the authorities suggests they are either deliberately underplaying the threat, perhaps for public consumption, or else are unmindful of the wider ramifications.

Take a look: Police claim tracing 53 ‘IS-inspired’ militants

According to statements by law-enforcement agencies this week, investigations into the Safoora Goth carnage in Karachi in May have uncovered the existence of a number of terrorist groups “inspired by IS’s ideology”; notwithstanding Sindh police’s denial that it had issued a list of suspected militants linked with these.

The IGP Sindh informed the Senate Standing Committee on Interior that the group responsible for the Safoora Goth massacre is also associated with IS and that its commander had since fled to Syria.

From the outset, the state has emphatically denied the presence of IS in Pakistan; doing otherwise is especially inconvenient at a time when it is seen as taking proactive steps against terrorism.

Law-enforcement authorities are still at pains to point out there may not be any direct links between militants in Pakistan and IS, the entity fighting in the Middle East.

Even if true, that is an inconsequential detail: it is the group’s ideology that matters, and the danger lies in the fact that Pakistan’s militant networks are a natural constituency for this pan-Islamist and violently sectarian ideology.

Moreover, IS has also staked a claim to this region — which it refers to by its historical name of Khorasan — as part of its expansionist agenda; and its territorial gains in Syria and Iraq, where it is putting its ultra-radical ideology into practice, offer a template for terrorist groups in Pakistan.

Among these is the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, one of the main perpetrators of sectarian carnage in the country, whose links with the ‘IS-inspired’ militants have been disclosed by the police.

Others likely to be seduced by the IS model are disaffected elements from comparatively, or nominally, peaceful organisations aspiring to more ‘robust’ means of achieving their objectives.

It seems that even urban, educated youth are not immune, evidence of how Pakistani society as a whole has drifted to the right over the years.

Extremism is not static: if allowed to fester — whether by design or by ill-considered policies — it will spawn ever more radical versions of itself.

The trajectory of terrorism both in the international as well as the domestic arena is illustrative of this.

Many local outfits that began with state-sponsored jihadist objectives have displayed increasingly reactionary, even anti-state, tendencies.

Some, it seems, are still being tolerated, as long as they toe the line. If Pakistan is to definitively change course, there must be no room for such elements on its soil.

Published in Dawn, October 15th , 2015

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