Recently Pakistan authorities have claimed to have dismantled what it described as the budding network of the Islamic State in Pakistan. This while on the one hand is welcome but on the other hand is disturbing. According to media reports the IS (Daesh) headquarters in Pakistan was destroyed in a military operation spanning a whole week. The base of the IS was located in the remote area of Balochistan province, Mastung district. Special commandos participated in the operation to destroy the base of the IS spanning several kilometers of a long cave complex. The cave complex was being used by the IS and its local affiliate Lashkar-e-Jhanghvi. In the operation, at least 12 IS commanders were killed and some were captured. Unfortunately, top commander, Ejaz Bangulzai, who was controlling the operation of Daesh in Sindh, Balochistan and the Punjab reportedly escaped. Although the national and international media reported the dismantling of the IS network in Mastung, neither the military spokesman or government spokesman described the network of IS. This according to certain media reports was deliberate to downplay the presence of IS in Pakistan.
The dismantling of the Daesh network in Pakistan is, indeed, a very important achievement in the country’s war against terror, but there have been claims from top political and security leaders of Pakistan, including former Army Chief General Raheel Sharif that there was no presence of IS in Pakistan. Suddenly the news of the presence of a redoubt of IS in Pakistan and its dismantling has come as an eye-opener, although independent quarters and even low level officials have been admitting to the presence of IS in Pakistan. Another very important element in the recent dismantling of the IS network is that the operation was launched only after attacks on the senate Deputy Chairman Ghafoor Haideri and the abduction, and possible killing, of two Chinese teachers based in the Balochistan capital, Quetta. Reportedly during the Mastung operation the vehicle of the Chinese nationals was recovered, but their whereabouts could not be traced. Officials also claimed killing the attackers of Haideri. Thus, the operation was reactive rather than proactive, which is very unfortunate. Keeping in view the threat level of IS and its gravity, our authorities must be more than vigilant,.and unremittingly pursue the terrorist. Most importantly, a policy of pre-emption must he assiduously implemented.
Here it is important to explain that the Pakistani sectarian terrorist, outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), after the killing of its ferocious commander, Malik Ishaq, had also forged an undeclared alliance with IS. The common ground for LeJ and IS is their anti-Shiite agenda. After space for the LeJ was squeezed inside Pakistan due to effective state action against the group, it naturally moved closer to IS. IS considers its Khurasan chapter extremely important mainly in order to raise recruits for its Middle Eastern war theatre. After experiencing reverses in both Iraq and Syria, where it occupied vast tracts of territories, the IS is also considering its Khurasan chapter not only important for recruits but also for future sanctuaries as Al Qaeda got in 1990s. Here it must be mentioned that as a group the TTP has so far resisted from joining ranks with IS and, in fact, on one occasion its leadership distanced itself from IS raising questions on the strategy of IS of killing Muslims.
The kidnapping of Chinese who were teaching Chinese in Quetta apparently by IS, is extremely unfortunate. Because at a time when work is producing on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) such an incident is profoundly meaningful. To date, terrorist and militant organizations whether the TTP, Al Qaeda or any of their foreign and local affiliate(s), have not claimed or vowed to attack CPEC projects and personnel engaged in work on these projects. Although according to the Pakistani Interior Ministry, the two Chinese were in Quetta not to teach their national language as part of the CPEC, under which Beijing has sent many Chinese language teachers to Pakistan. Rather, according to the Interior Ministry, the two Chinese nationals were Christian missionaries, who were engaged in the preaching of Christianity. This has again made the situation very complex and raises many questions. How, from a Communist state and Buddhist-dominated society, could Christian missionaries come to Pakistan and preach their religion? Then, why did these Christians choose to preach their religion in one of the most dangerous areas of Pakistan, Quetta. More importantly, who gave them permission to preach Christianity in Pakistan, where the state religion in Islam and there is a conventional restriction on non-Muslim missionaries. Even if the Chinese were preaching Christianity secretly, then why could our security agencies not track them and deport them? Our security agencies could only come to know about the Chinese once they were abducted? This is really surreal!
Irrespective of official claims, there is a connection between the abduction of a Chinese couple and CPEC. Mainly, it has been the Pashtun and Baloch nationalists in Pakistan and their groups who have been raising issues regarding the CPEC. Traditionally, they have had strong linkages with Islamabad’s arch-rival India, and the latter has been using these militant groups to create problems in Pakistan. The revelation that IS in Pakistan, whose headquarters was destroyed in Mastung, was led by a Baloch , Ejaz Bangulzai, is very surprising. Because there has been virtually no presence of ethnic Baloch within the religious-oriented militant and terrorist groups operating in Pakistan which have been dominated by Pashtuns and Punjabis. Most of the Baloch have been part of non-religious separatist militant terrorist groups like the Baloch Republican Army,and the Baloch Liberation Front; these groups never espoused an Islamist agenda.
Against this backdrop, it is not difficult to conclude that Bangulzai must have received support and funding from India and Afghanistan, both of which are vehemently against the CPEC, as they do not want to give Pakistan any leverage to attain economic stability. Bangulzai and other Baloch nationalists like him may be using the IS name to obtain the funding and support to create unrest in Pakistan and take forward the separatist agenda of the nationalists and creating obstacles to CPEC. Here it is important to note that already an Iranian Baloch nationalist and Sunni sectarian group, Jundullah, founded by Abdul Malik Regi, struggling to separate Baloch and Sunni-dominated Sistan-Balochistan province of Iran to create and independent Baloch state, used religion as its foundational and operational agenda. Pakistani Baloch separatist militant and sectarian groups failing to get a separate state after decades of struggle with support from India and Afghanistan, may now want to join hands with Jundullah or follow it seeing the latter’s strategy more viable and workable. But Baloch separatists group and individuals would like to use a religious façade only to create problems for CPEC.
It is also important to note that groups like the TTP, Al Qaeda or sectarian groups like LeJ have never been strong in Baloch-dominant parts of Balochistan or, for that matter, Balochistan overall. This context facilitates one’s comprehension as to why the IS or the LeJ want to create their network in Balochistan and not in the remote and relatively more mountainous and inaccessible FATA. They must have been provided sanctuaries by Baloch nationalists in the province to create optimum problems for the Pakistani state and its security forces, aiming to make CPEC a failure. Noticeably, Mastung has been a stronghold of the Baloch separatist BRA and the unearthing of the IS network there proves the viability of our contention of the Baloch nationalists inviting IS to create maximum trouble for Pakistan.