Terrorism: Is Pakistan hosting IS-Khorasan on its soil?
Pakistan which hosts various terrorist groups on its soil, had treated world’s dreaded terrorist and al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden as its state guest
“A leaked Taliban internal memo reports of ISKP (Islamic State Khorasan Province) training camps inside Pakistan's tribal area and warns of ISKP cadre massing from Pakistan into their Logar province,” Bilal Sarwary, an independent journalist recently said in his tweet attaching with it the purported memo of the Taliban government’s Ministry of National Defense.
This input displays an interesting twist in Pakistan-Afghan relations as for the first time Taliban reports of threats from Pakistan, a country which had provided them with safe havens from 2002-2021 and on whose assumption of power, ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan had proudly stated that the Taliban had broken the “shackles of slavery.”
This input from the Taliban, which had itself possessed training camps in the same region, would not be wrong. Further, these camps could not have been created and sustained without the support of Pakistan’s deep state.
What remains unknown is which faction of the ISKP is Pakistan supporting. The ISKP, as an organization, is the regional affiliate of the ISIS (Islamic State Iraq and Levant), whose so-called Caliphate in Iraq and Syria were overrun in 2017. The ISKP was founded in 2014 intending to establish a similar Caliphate in Afghanistan.
ISIS's brutality in regions under its control and against members of other communities has been well documented. The ISKP is no different, largely targeting minorities while accusing the Taliban of not adhering to strict religious norms.
The ISKP has challenged the Taliban leadership by carrying out attacks on embassies and government offices in Kabul. It is rumoured to have also fired at the Pakistan embassy in Kabul for which Islamabad accused the Taliban of failure in maintaining law and order. Its increased presence in Afghanistan is a threat to the Taliban leadership. The fact that it has bases in Pakistan is adding to its ability to project power in Afghanistan.
Rawalpindi is attempting to place Kabul under pressure by quietly backing select factions of the ISKP, permitting it to establish training camps on its soil. Simultaneously, Pakistan hopes that if the ISKP gains control of some regions along the Pakistan-Afghan border it would alleviate threat from the TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) which has pushed the Pakistan army onto the defensive, as also deny space to the Taliban to target Pakistan border forces from across the Durand Line.
Pakistan has repeatedly been demanding that the Taliban act against the TTP, which it refuses to do. Kabul claims that the TTP is Pakistan’s problem and not theirs, mainly because the ideology of both is similar and they were allies during the battle against NATO forces. Hence, Pakistan supporting the ISKP is payback. It also displays how low the relationship between Kabul and Islamabad has dropped.
It is another example of states exploiting proxies to target adversarial neighbours, Pakistan employing the ISKP and the Taliban the TTP. It could well end with the ISKP targeting the TTP alongside the Pakistan army. It could also result in the Taliban and the TTP coming together to hit back at Pakistan adding to their security concerns. While the Taliban would challenge Pakistan forces along the de-facto unrecognized Durand Line, the TTP would strike at the core of Pakistan. With factions of the Baloch swearing allegiance to the TTP its reach is expanding deep into Pakistan’s heartland.
Pakistan has historically exploited terrorism as a tool for domestic and foreign policies. The world is aware of Pakistan’s continued support to terrorist groups. It provided sanctuary to the Taliban and treated Osama bin Laden as a state guest. It also nurtured a collection of anti-India terrorist groups, aimed at causing mayhem in Kashmir and projecting it as an internal uprising. India has for long borne the brunt of this policy of Pakistan.
India, in return, has exposed Pakistan’s terrorism backed foreign policies. It was supporting terrorism which pushed Pakistan into the FATF’s (Financial Action Task Force) Grey List. Most designated global terrorists are based on Pakistan soil. Twelve global terrorist groups have their presence in Pakistan.
Pakistan has been dubbed as the epicentre of terrorism. Internally, Pakistan’s “good versus bad terrorist” policies have resulted in certain regions being infested with terrorism. This is dependent on which political party rules the province. Increased terrorism in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is because it has been dominated by Imran Khan’s PTI.
Both the centre and the province accuse each other of not acting against terrorist groups. Suppressing the rights of Baloch while exploiting its natural resources has only festered their demand for independence. Groups which targeted India as also the Taliban, challenging NATO troops, were acceptable and officially supported, while others were bad.
The world believed Pakistan on its claims that it was being targeted by the TTP and ISKP. The US even announced funding Pakistan in developing its capabilities to counter them. The accusations by the Kabul regime have changed the scenario. For Pakistan, playing a double game is nothing new. It backed the Taliban against the US during its deployment in Afghanistan and is currently backing the ISKP against the same Taliban it once sheltered.
Pakistan has failed to learn from its past mistakes and continues to breed snakes in its backyard pointing them in the direction of its neighbours. In every case these snakes have come back to bite. The ISKP is the latest snake being nurtured by Pakistan’s deep state. It is a matter of time when it would either bite Pakistan on its own or join hands with the TTP and Taliban. The world too must take note of the inputs from Kabul. Pakistan must be censured for breeding terrorist groups on its soil.
*** The writer is a security and strategic affairs commentator; views expressed are his own