By: Mohammad Nafees

Tracing the footprints of Daish in Pakistan

Daish or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an Islamic militant outfit, that emerged in early 2014 from the womb of ongoing war in Iraq and Syria, made its first claim of terror attack in Pakistan on December 4, 2014 when a senior Multan-based lawyer, representing a blasphemy case, received a threatening letter on an IS (Daish) letterhead at his doorstep. A day later, unidentified men fired gunshots at his residence to reaffirm the validity of the threat issued to him earlier. As no casualty took place, this incident couldn’t raise many eyebrows and it was left to reside in the archive of newspapers as a report unworthy of any attention.

This intimidating incident wasn’t out of the blue. The appearances of Daish-related posters, wall-chalking, and leaflets were being reported from different parts of the country since September 2014 onward but most of them met with denials from government officials including the interior minister.

While the state machinery remained in a denial mode, the militant outfits continued doing their homework — forging alliances and urging all mujahideen to set aside their differences, shun their inter-factional fighting and move against the crusade targeting all. Soon after the establishment of Daish or the Islamic State (IS) on June 29, 2014, some splinter groups of al-Qaeda and TTP like Jundullah and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar pledged their allegiance to it and accepted Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Qurashi al Husseini as Amir-ul-Momineen or Commander of the Faithful.

Unlike all its predecessors, Daish had an unprecedented success in pulling a large number of followers into its orbit within a very short span of time including a good number of them from Pakistan. In a confidential report submitted by the Balochistan government to the federal government on October 31, 2014, it was reported that Daish had claimed to have recruited about 12,000 members from Hangu and Kurram Agency. Two days after this report, the interior minister dismissed the presence of Daish in the country and later came a denial from the ISPR saying that the presence of Daish may be some isolated cases.

In January 2016, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah revealed that less than 100 Pakistanis left the country to join militant group, Islamic State, in Iraq and Syria. Another startling revelation he made was that the nine suspects, arrested a week ago from Daska, Punjab, were affiliated with Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD). It was quickly denied by JuD.

The greatest challenge for the country is this ideological divide where the army has no role to play. It is the role of political leadership to deal with this challenge while the army is fighting against the militant aspect of the problem.

Amid these claimers and disclaimers, Daish continued making solo or joint claims for terror attacks throughout the years of 2015 and 2016 without causing any big jolt in a violent ridden country. The great shock the country felt was at the end of 2016 when one of the deadliest suicide attacks of the year occurred at Shah Noorani Shrine in Khuzdar, Balochistan, leaving 62 persons dead and 100 injured. This was the first suicide attack whose responsibility was owned by Daish alone. Prior to this suicide attack, Daish was one of the claimants of the two suicide attacks; one at the Quetta Hospital and the other at the Police Academy in Quetta on August 8, 2016 and October 24, 2016 respectively.

These attacks, varied in strategy and diversified in targets, made it too difficult for the analysts to believe that Daish had its hands in all of them.

At Quetta Hospital, the target was lawyer’s community and the strategy of attack carried footprints of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar. In contrast, the attack of the suicide bombers at the Police Academy was reflective of a similar attack at the Bacha Khan University on January 21, 2016 that was claimed by the TTP alone. The one liner message issued by Daish to claim responsibility for the suicide attack at Shah Noorani shrine carried no information as to what justification they had for that act of violence.

The only convincing reason that came to light was from some official sources who linked the suicide attack at Shah Noorani with the killing of a chief of a banned militant outfit by the security agencies in the Hub area of Lasbela district one day before the Shah Noorani attack. The militant killed was Saqib alias Arif alias Anjum, the chief of Jundullah and nominated deputy chief of Tehreek-i-Taliban Sindh. He was reported to have been involved in several high profile terror attacks that he had carried out in association with al-Qaeda, Jamaatul Ahrar and Islamic State (Daish).

One of the most prominent attacks was the highly despicable and inhuman attack on Ismaili community in Safoora Goth where 47 persons including men, women, and children were massacred indiscriminately by terrorists. Jundullah and Daish were the two militant organisations that had claimed the responsibility.

But the question that boggles the mind is, “Why did Daish and not Jundullah or TTP take it upon themselves to avenge the killing of Jundullah’s chief who was already nominated as deputy chief of TTP-Sindh and had a history of claiming some high profile terror attacks in the country?”

Assumingly, after having acquired allegiances from most of the militant organisations in the country, Daish must have felt a sense of responsibility to prove their worth by showing their ability to act and react against any threat faced by their followers and affiliates. So, within a day after the killing of Jundullah’s chief, a suicide attack was planned and executed at a place that was as remote as Shah Noorani shrine. No other militant organisation except Daish claimed for this attack.

Three months later, another suicide blast occurred at Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s shrine and once again it was Daish alone that claimed responsibility for the attack. By claiming two major suicide attacks all alone within such a short period and at a time when security operations were already going on, Daish tried to prove its might and disprove all those who were denying its presence in the country.

Of the two suicide attacks claimed by Daish alone, the victims were religious persons who were targeted at a time when they were performing their religious rituals. It was contradictory to what Daish claimed in a letter that was dropped at ARY TV channel after hurling a hand grenade at its offices on January 14, 2016. The letter said, “… [Excerpt] Stop siding with the army and government of Pakistan in their global crusade against Islam under the banner of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, by concealing facts. Stop concealing the operation and transgression of this army in the form of missing persons, mass arrests and torture of Ahle Sunnah and relatives of the accused. Stop covering-up the scale of destruction and massacres done through bombardment in tribal areas and Balochistan by the army and plight of IDPs. If the media continues to hide and distort facts and serves as stenographers of ISPR, we will treat it as a military institution and all its personnel as soldiers of the army. So do not proclaim this as an attack on journalism freedom.”

Contrary to what Daish said in its letter, majority of the victims of the two suicide attacks they claimed alone were civilians having no links with the government or security agencies. The sufi saints of Sehwan and Shah Noorani are revered by a large number of people belonging to all sects including Ahl-Sunnah and for the bomb explosion people’s faith has no relevance. Besides, none of the martyred at these shrines was part of the ongoing military operations and probably none of them had any role in any media channel for concealing the facts Daish was very concerned of. Yet, these poor people became target of their wrath and lost their lives.

While Daish was a proud claimant of this heinous crime against innocent people, the religious parties and organisations opted to stay as silent spectators of these mass killings. Even the Lal Masjid cleric felt no need to at least repent for the support and praise that he and the girl students of Jamia Hafsa had conveyed to Da’ish in a video they had released in November 2014.

Could this silence and show of indifference to the sinister crimes of Daish be related to the immunity these religious organisations enjoy from such terror attacks? Whatever be the reason for this apathy, the message is quite clear — the whole nation is not on board in dealing with the wave of terrorism.

The greatest challenge for the country is this ideological divide where the army has no role to play. It is the role of political leadership to deal with this challenge while the army is fighting against the militant aspect of the problem.