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Little Evidence IS Taking Over Pakistani Jihadists


A member of Islamic State militants waves the group's flag in the Syrian city of Raqqa in June.

Pakistani politicians and experts say the Islamic State (IS) has not made any major inroads into Pakistan's myriad jihadist organizations despite recent media reports about the militant group's emergence in the country.

They say that, despite a government warning and declarations of support for the IS by some Pakistani splinter jihadist groups, the militant group controlling large swathes of Syria and Iraq has not established its own organization inside Pakistan.

Lawmaker Rehman Malik, a former interior minister, says a recently leaked secret government memo indicates IS, also known as ISIS or ISIL, is present in Pakistan but that the group has not established a specific organization under the banner of IS or Daish, the Arabic name of the group.

"There is no specific ISIS organization in Pakistan, and no one has yet claimed its leadership," he told RFE/RL's Gandhara website.

Last month, a secret memo from the government of the restive southwest province of Balochistan warned Islamabad IS had created a 10-member "strategic planning wing" to wage war against the Pakistani military. The memo said IS claims to have raised some 12,000 followers in the northwest tribal region, which has been the epicenter of a Taliban and Al-Qaeda insurgency for more than a decade.

But current Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has downplayed the warning. "Until now, no organization by this name [IS] exists in Pakistan," he told journalists on November 11. "Some individuals affiliated with militant or terrorist groups have expressed allegiance to the IS."

A journalist who requested anonymity says IS has not established a presence in Pakistan. The reporter, who has covered the conflict in the tribal areas for years, says only the presence of some Al-Qaeda operatives can be established in the tribal areas or the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on the Afghan border.

"As far as IS is concerned, there is no credible information to suggest it has footprints in those regions," he told RFE/RL's Gandhara. "It is just a media construct."

Author and journalist Zahid Hussain, however, says the group must have some presence in Pakistan because in recent months pro-IS leaflets were distributed and the movement's black flag was painted on walls in major cities.

Ayesha Siddiqa, a security analyst, sees IS organizing itself in Balochistan under the leadership of a little-known figure believed to be a relative of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The former Al-Qaeda militant leader is currently in Guantanamo Bay on charges of masterminding the September 11 attacks.

"Instead of creating a large organization, IS is willing to work with small militant groups," she said.

A large faction of Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, the erstwhile umbrella Taliban group, and some of its commanders have already pledged loyalty to IS in recent months.

This, Malik says, is symptomatic of the Pakistani groups coalescing around an international organization. "They need someone they can rely on and [whom] they can use. So I think they are now heading toward using the IS [brand]."

He says that, during his stint as interior minister between 2008 and 2013, he saw the breakdown of Al-Qaeda in Pakistan, which prompted its members to join Lashkar-e Jhangvi, a hardline Sunni Muslim militant group that often targets Pakistan's Shi'ite minority.

However, he warns that Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan and Iran need to unite to prevent IS from becoming a major threat in the region.

"If small militant organizations succeed in forming an alliance under the auspices of IS, it will threaten Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran," Malik said.

as/fg

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