Written By: S.M. Hali
It is no coincidence that Indian secret service Research & Analysis Wing, RAW’s senior operative and terror monger, Commander Kulbhushan Jadhav, in his confessional statement also admitted having orchestrated the Safoora Goth attack. This clearly proves the link between RAW and ISIS. It is noteworthy that according to Indian media reports, their National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Intelligence Bureau Director Asif Ibrahim and RAW Chief Alok Joshi traveled to Iraq between 23 and 25 June 2014 while Ajit Doval went onwards to Syria to negotiate with the ISIS, which was holding hundreds of Indians including 45 nurses hostage, to set them free. Indian media reports that no money was exchanged but other sources indicate that Ajit Doval befriended the ISIS leadership, convincing them that his sources would help Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi’s men gain a foothold in Pakistan
Every few years, a new demon is created, which rocks the world till it is replaced by a fresh menace. The world has witnessed the emergence of Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and now the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS, Dáesh or IS) which is the latest menace. Having taken roots in Iraq and Syria, ISIS took a deadly toll on lives and yet held an attraction for not only Muslims as recruits from the Arab world but also from the Occident, Far East and Australia. After nearly a decade of ascendancy, the ISIS has nearly been routed from the Middle East. Its retreat signals trouble for both Central and South Asia. The latter may be a more lucrative hunting ground for ISIS since it is inhabited by 40 percent of the world’s Muslim population.
ISIS leader Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi, whose current status is unclear (there are claims that he is dead, while yet others state that he is critically injured) had divided the world calling it the Islamic State, into various regions. Wilayat Khorasan (Khorasan Province) comprises Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and parts of India. Wilayat Khorasan was apparently leased as a franchise to defectors from Afghan Taliban, who were disgruntled after the declaration of the demise of Taliban leader Mullah Umar, and, members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Initially the footprints were in Afghanistan, from where leaflets, flags and propaganda materials in support of ISIS began getting distributed in parts of Pakistan, including a pamphlet written in Pashto and Dari that called on all Muslims to swear allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Members of TTP publicly swore allegiance to ISIS while in Afghanistan a struggle of supremacy between the Taliban and ISIS ensued.
Disturbed by the defections of Taliban fighters to ISIS and the challenge the latter was posing to the Taliban, its then leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour wrote a letter in June 2015 to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to stop interfering in Afghanistan. He urged the ISIS there is room for only “one flag, one leadership” in their fight to re-establish strict Islamist rule. Adding that the Taliban “based on religious brotherhood asks for your goodwill and doesn’t want to see interference in its affairs”.
Taliban leadership’s plea fell on deaf ears and intense fighting broke out between the two groups in Nangarhar Province, where ISIS managed to gain a foothold for the first time. Trying to spread their wings, ISIS began to expand in other provinces of Afghanistan including Helmand and Farah. Emboldened and desperate for new recruits, by the end of 2015 ISIS began broadcasting Pashto language radio in Nangarhar Province, later adding content in Dari.
A fresh development heightened the morale of the ISIS in Khorasan Province in August 2015 when the Afghanistan-based militant group, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), pledged allegiance to ISIS and declared they were now members of Wilayat Khorasan. Following the pledge, the Taliban and IMU clashed fiercely in Zabul Province. Readers may recall that in June 2015, IMU had claimed responsibility for the deadly attack on Karachi airport. The IMU may not have been formally an ally of ISIS then but they were definitely negotiating with them for gaining formal membership. It was this attack which acted as a catalyst for Pakistan to launch the Military Operation Zarb-e-Azb and destroyed the TTP, IMU and other miscreants in North Waziristan, albeit a few fled to Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban also launched an offensive against the Uzbeks, causing heavy casualties and eliminating its presence in the province by the end of 2015. The Afghan Taliban also succeeded in dislodging ISIS from Farah Province over the same period.
ISIS was ultimately rooted out by the Taliban in 2016, losing control of much of its territory in Nangarhar Province. It was driven out of Achin and Shinwar Districts following a military operation by Afghan Security Forces, while clashes with the Taliban caused them to be driven out from Batikot and Chaparhar districts. Following the loosening of targeting restrictions by U.S. Forces in Afghanistan earlier in the year, the U.S. Air Force began conducting scores of air strikes against ISIS targets. In April 2016 the Taliban reported that a number of senior and mid-level leaders of Wilayat Khorasan in Nangarhar Province had defected from ISIS and pledged allegiance to Taliban leader Akhtar Mansour. The defectors included members of the group's central council, judicial council, and prisoners’ council, as well as several field commanders and their fighters.
The Taliban received a setback around this time when on May 21, 2016 Mullah Akhtar Mansour was eliminated in a drone strike by USA in Pakistan while returning from Iran. On May 26, 2016 Maulvi Haibatullah Akhunzada was promoted to the top position in the Taliban but there are reports of unrest within the group which the ISIS is trying to exploit.
In 2017, the U.S. decided to take major action against the ISIS in Afghanistan. On April 13, 2017 a GBU-43/B MOAB (mother of all bombs) was dropped in an airstrike on a cave complex in Achin District, Nangarhar Province. The devastating bomb attack killed 36 ISIS militants according to the Afghan Ministry of Defense and destroyed the tunnel complex including a cache of weapons.
There are UN reports that after their expulsion from Syria and Iraq, 70 ISIS fighters entered Afghanistan to form the core group of ISIS in Wilayat Khorasan and enhanced their activities in the region. The Afghan government and the Allied Forces in Afghanistan are downplaying the presence of the ISIS on its soil, claiming that over 1,600 ISIS militants have been killed in Afghanistan in 2017. Captain Gresback, the Public Affairs Director of Resolute Support Mission, released the figure speaking to Tolo News of Afghanistan, and declared that ISIS was being targeted by the combined security forces of the United States and Afghanistan thus ISIS is active in only three provinces in the country and ruled out its further threat in Afghanistan. Notwithstanding, there is still a mystery about the sponsors of ISIS. Some fingers point at Israel while others at the U.S. It is apparent with the role of the U.S. in Syria being dubious as the Russians and Syrian have accused the USAF (United States Air Force) of deliberately targeting Syrian civilians rather than known ISIS locations despite the precision guided munitions, drones and satellite imagery available to USAF for accurate targeting.
Similarly, the ease with which ISIS occupied military installations in Iraq, guarded by special forces equipped with state-of-the-art weaponry and trained by the U.S. raised some eyebrows.
In Afghanistan too, the use of MOAB which caused a high collateral damage albeit denied by the U.S. and former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai's insinuation of America tacit support of the menace of ISIS to keep the region embroiled in conflict should not be dismissed.
Meanwhile the ISIS conducted the Karachi Airport attack and prior to it, on May 13, 2015 eight gunmen attacked a bus travelling in Safoora Goth, Karachi. The shooting left at least 46 people dead. All of the victims were of the Ismaili Shia Muslim minority, suggesting the attack was a targeted killing of sectarian nature. The banned militant group Jundallah claimed responsibility for the shooting. The gunmen hailed from Afghanistan. Pamphlets supporting ISIS–with whom Jundallah has pledged allegiance to–were also found at the crime scene. However, the Pakistani government ruled out the connection of ISIS in the attack, stating that the group does not have a physical presence in the country.
It is no coincidence that Indian secret service Research & Analysis Wing, RAW’s senior operative and terror monger, Commander Kulbhushan Jadhav, in his confessional statement also admitted having orchestrated the Safoora Goth attack. This clearly proves the link between RAW and ISIS. It is noteworthy that according to Indian media reports, their National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Intelligence Bureau Director Asif Ibrahim and RAW Chief Alok Joshi traveled to Iraq between 23 and 25 June 2014 while Ajit Doval went onwards to Syria to negotiate with the ISIS, which was holding hundreds of Indians including 45 nurses hostage, to set them free. Indian media reports that no money was exchanged but other sources indicate that Ajit Doval befriended the ISIS leadership, convincing them that his sources would help Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi’s men gain a foothold in Pakistan.
Commander Kulbhushan Jadhav, reportedly a relative of Ajit Doval and handpicked for his clandestine machinations in Pakistan, sang like a canary after his capture. It is evident that ISIS and RAW are working hand in glove to destabilize Pakistan.
The ISIS assailants are targeting Shia’s as well as moderate Sunni’s because they want to establish their firebrand extremism in Pakistan, too. Many Sufi shrines and personalities have come under attack. Even a cursory glance at the timeline of recent attacks in Pakistan signifies this emerging pattern of attacks by RAW. Besides the May 13, 2015 bus attack in Karachi mentioned earlier, on August 8, 2016 multiple attackers carried out suicide bombing and shooting at a government hospital in Quetta, where lawyers were gathered, resulting in 94 deaths and over 130 injured. On October 24, 2016 in an attack claimed by ISIS, an intelligence officer was shot dead. On October 24, 2016 three heavily armed terrorists carried out mass shooting at police cadets in Police Training College Quetta while they were asleep, killing 61 cadets. Besides the ISIS, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi also claimed credit for the attack. The latter have a common agenda of targeting Shias.
The attempts of ISIS to gain foothold in Pakistan is a clear and present danger. A document, allegedly belonging to ISIS was found in the tribal areas of Pakistan by the American Media Institute (AMI). According to reports, the document titled ‘A Brief History of the Islamic State Caliphate (ISC): The Caliphate According to the Prophet’, was discovered in the tribal areas of Pakistan, written in Urdu. Much like Adolf Hitler’s autobiographical manifesto, Mein Kampf, the 32-page document includes a graphic depiction of the six stages of the Islamic State. ISIS, in the document, conveniently declared that Pakistan and Afghanistan are set to be its next target areas for terror attacks.
Another extremist faction, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JA), a Taliban faction that has pledged allegiance to ISIS, has collaborated with the ISIS for many terror attacks over the past two and a half years, including the attack at the Sufi shrine in Sehwan and a military truck in Quetta in August 2017.
The appeal of the ISIS is not only to existing hardcore militants or the impoverished and deprived but also to the educated and enlightened youth, including women. Taking cue from the promise of a life of adventure and action coupled with riding into the mainstream, they have joined the radical group.
Under the above mentioned emerging scenario, Pakistan has no choice but to ensure that the country stays on course of moderate pluralistic Islam, and must ensure that ISIS and their foreign sympathizers and financiers do not gain ascendency. The threat from ISIS (duly collaborated by RAW) cannot be wished away or brushed under the carpet; a concrete and proactive action is must to eliminate this emerging threat.
The National Action Plan (NAP) to eradicate extremism and terrorism, adopted in the wake of the heinous December 16, 2015 attack on Army Public School at Peshawar was a step in the right direction. Alas, apart from few articles of the NAP, to be executed by the armed forces of Pakistan, the others were allowed to slip through the cracks owing to political expediency or the political leadership choosing to remain oblivious to the threat. If Pakistan wishes to avoid the fate of Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen or Libya, it must eliminate this new menace. Emboldened by their power to exploit and even blackmail their way, few radical groups are paving the way for ISIS to gain influence and endanger the very existence of Pakistan, whose founding fathers envisaged it to be a moderate state where religious minorities were not subject to persecution and murder. The time to take cognizance of ISIS—the new menace–is now.
The writer is a former Group Captain from Pakistan Air Force who also served as Air and Naval Attaché at Riyadh (KSA).