The recent terrorist attacks on Sri Lankan churches, killing more than 350 people and scores of casualties in recent Kabul attacks and claiming the attacks in the South Asian states by the global terrorist organization, the so-called Islamic State or Daesh, has raised many questions. The terrorist attack in Quetta, Pakistan, in which dozens of Hazara community members were killed, although claimed by the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), yet it had marks of Daesh.
Before dilating upon the questions that have arisen after the recent terrorist attacks by Daesh in South Asia, it is important to note that the recent attacks by it in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan came after the defeat of the group in its Middle Eastern heartland, Iraq and Syria. It may also be mentioned that it has lost all of its strongholds in Iraq, including the strategic cities of Falluja and Mosul and Racca in Syria. United States President Donald Trump claimed some four months back that Daesh was decisively defeated. Moreover, it made the recent terrorist attacks, particularly in Sri Lanka, which is the deadliest in the history of the group since its emergence in the Middle East in 2014, after the New Zealand mosques attacks by a Christian fundamentalist, Brenton Tarrant, in which several innocent Muslims were killed. Soon after the New Zealand mosque attacks, it had vowed to avenge them and the Sri Lankan attacks seemed to be the revenge.
While terrorist attacks on innocent people and non-combatants, which ever religion they may belong, cannot be justified, Daesh seems to have made attacks in Sri Lanka to revive its dwindling fortunes. In this respect it is trying to further the claim or argument of “clash of civilization,” which is, indeed, a very dangerous phenomenon. However, when Christian fundamentalist Tarrant had killed Muslims in New Zealand mosques and justified his actions from the clash of religion perspective, groups like Daesh, would exploit the situation for their motives. In case there are more similar attacks by Christian fundamentalists on Muslims in the western countries, it would get the pretext to launch attacks on Christians in Muslim countries. It would do so by presenting itself to Muslims as a champion of their identity and ideology and potentially many gullible Muslims would consider it as their benefactor. Resultantly, more and more Muslims would support it in cash and kind and thousands may join its ranks. It could resuscitate the group’s fortunes.
The recent attacks in South Asia should be seen in the light of the group’s revival strategy. Here it is important to note that South Asia is home to the largest Muslim population anywhere in the world and, therefore, from its standpoint it is of extreme importance. However, on their part the South Asian countries, apart from Pakistan, which has very consistently been taking very elaborate measures to prevent it from having a toehold on its soil, have not taken the threat from Daesh very seriously. For instance, Afghanistan has been demonstrating lack of capacity to negotiate the growing attacks from the terrorist group. India, home to one of the largest Muslim population in any country, has been in a state of self-denial regarding its presence, potential and activities on its soil. Investigators have revealed that the perpetrators of the Sri Lankan terrorist attacks had links with Daesh members in India. Whereas, the Sri Lankan authorities reportedly have also been denying its presence and activities on its territory and were caught napping when the attacks were carried out by the group. Importantly, Iran, sometime back, also warned Islamabad of militants regrouping along its border with Afghanistan. Now, the group has become a real threat to the entire South Asian region.
According to National Internal Security Policy (NISP) approved by the last federal cabinet of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in last week of its five-year tenure, “The emergence of Daesh (IS) in close proximity to Pakistan has raised new internal security challenges. The potential for spillover in Pakistan with the support and collaboration of TTP and its offshoots is not a possibility to be ignored. This situation has been compounded by the return of battle-hardened militants from Syria and Iraq.” Over 120 experts were involved in the formulation of the policy which established a multi-pronged strategy to meet the goals. The recent Quetta attack, claimed by the TTP but carrying signs of Daesh, could potentially be the result of rare collaboration between the TTP and Daesh. If it is discovered that an alliance has been forged between the two groups, it would be disastrous.
The recognition of Daesh as a key threat to Pakistan and the region by the Pakistani authorities is significant as there seems growing realization among the country’s strategists that the danger is present and genuine and it needs comprehensive strategies to deal with. Previously, the Pakistani authorities have been hesitant to acknowledge it as a major threat. There were some political and diplomatic reasons for the denial. However, a reality cannot be denied for long and there have been a number of reports describing the growing threat. There are some important reasons for Pakistan’s recognition of Daesh as a huge security threat. This is described in the reports of the policy which reads, “The threat of transnational terrorism is rearing its head again. TTP militants have relocated to Afghanistan. Daesh is establishing a footprint in Afghanistan near the Pakistani border with a very real potential of spillover into parts of Pakistan. This situation has been compounded by the return of battle-hardened militants from Syria and Iraq.”
The relocation of Daesh to Afghanistan from its initially established basis in eastern parts of the country, particularly Nangrahar, Kunar and Nooristan provinces to the borders with Central Asian Republics, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan as well as Iran is apparently a well thoughtout strategy on its part. The strategy must have been formulated by keeping in mind that the writ of the Afghan state, which is already quite weak in the mainland, is almost non-existent in the border regions. Therefore, the environment is quite conducive for the terrorist group for hideouts, training camps and launching pads. Then, it has an anti-Shiite agenda and this it has been ruthlessly implementing it in its birth place and heartland, Iraq and Syria. It has been eyeing the Shiite-dominated Iran for its terrorist attacks for long and by having a firm hold in war-devastated Afghanistan, it could very easily launch terrorist attacks in Iran. Tehran is also quite perturbed by the situation.
There have been reports that Iran has established close relations with once its bitter enemy the Afghan Taliban, in order to counter Daesh in Afghanistan. Daesh and the Afghan Taliban have been at daggers drawn in Afghanistan and there have been a number of bloody clashes between the two sides in a turf war.
The threat of Daesh in South Asia is real and urgent. From the defeat of the group in its Middle Eastern heartland, the authorities in South Asian countries must not relax as the outfit is eyeing to revive itself by launching huge attacks in South Asia.