ISLAMABAD: The TTP Ameer, Mullah Fazlullah’s, announcement to send fighters to help the Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq and Syria is a disturbing development for Pakistan as the move shows that after extending its area of influence in the Middle East, the radical militant group is expanding its ideological boundaries to South Asia, mainly Pakistan.
The pledge by the Pakistani Taliban follow the Islamic State’s taking control of large parts of Iraq and Syria. The rapid advance of the Islamic State — which was formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or Daish — has already prompted the United States and its allies to carry out air strikes in Iraq to stop it from moving ahead. But the most worrying development from Islamabad’s point of view is that the fanatic ideology of the Islamic State has found resonance in Pakistan where a number of Jihadi groups have already announced their support for the group.
In the most recent development, the Pakistani Taliban have vowed to send fighters to help the IS militants in Iraq and Syria, adding that the group should set aside its differences with other militant organisations in that (South Asian) region.
Shahidullah Shahid, the spokesman for al-Qaeda-linked Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, has urged [on behalf of his Ameer Mullah Fazlullah] all militant organisations fighting in the Middle East to unite for the greater good. “From the very beginning, when the IS did not exist, we are helping and supporting the Mujahideen of Iraq and Syria. Our group (TTP) had sent between 1,000 and 1,500 fighters to the (Middle Eastern) region so far. We are with you in this hard times and will help you as much as possible. We advise you to be patient and determined at such a hard time and stay united, as your enemies stand united against you.”
The subject of sending Pakistani fighters to Syria and Iraq is touchy for Islamabad as the Pakistani authorities have repeatedly denied that any such movements have ever taken place. In reality, however, in a clear bid to broaden its influence in Pakistan, the IS had even distributed pamphlets in Peshawar last month, declaring that the caliphate led by Abu Bakar Al Baghdadi, was planning to expand its boundaries from Iraq and Syria, to Khorasan [which includes Pakistan, Afghanistan and parts of India]. Distributed in the first week of September in Peshawar and in the Afghan refugee camps on the outskirts of Peshawar, the booklet titled Fatah (victory) was published by the IS in Pashto and Dari languages. The logo of the pamphlet carried the Kalma, the historical stamp of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and a Kalashnikov assault rifle. Introducing itself as Daulat-e-Islamia (Islamic State) in the pamphlet, the IS made an appeal to the local people to support its struggle to establish an Islamic caliphate.
Besides distributing its literature and pamphlets, some of the ISIS supporters also made wall chalking in Peshawar, asking the local population to join and support the group. The distribution of the IS pamphlets in Pakistan as well as on the Afghan border shows that the ultra-radical Islamist group is trying to inspire militants even in the strongholds of Taliban and al-Qaeda. Following the rise of the IS in the Middle East and its proclamation of a caliphate, the al-Qaeda leadership has clearly distanced itself from the group, chiding it for its violent and brutal expansion. As things stand, it appears both al-Qaeda and the IS are competing for support from Islamist militants. While al-Qaeda is being led by Dr Ayman Al Zawahiri, a firebrand Sunni cleric Abu Bakar Al Baghdadi leads the IS and wants to topple the Shia-run Iraqi government.
In fact, the TTP is not the first Pakistani militant group to have extended support to the Islamic State. A previously little known Jihadi outfit — Tehrik-e-Khilafat — considered to be a part of the Pakistani Taliban and having claimed responsibility for several terrorist attacks in Karachi, was the first one to pledge allegiance to Abu Bakar Baghdadi on July 12, 2014 while vowing to raise the Islamic State’s flag in South Asia. The group became the first Jihadi outfit in South Asia to break ranks from al-Qaeda and declare allegiance to the Islamic State. “Sheikh Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi shall consider Tehrik-e-Khilafat as one of the arrows among his arrows which he has kept for his bow. We are praying to Almighty Allah to give us chance to see in our lives the expansion of the Islamic State’s boundaries toward the Subcontinent and Khorasan region in order to hoist the flag of Islamic State here,” a group spokesman said.
Khorasan is the historic name used by Islamic militants for an area covering, Pakistan, Afghanistan and some parts of India. Another interesting thing is that the IS map shows Afghanistan and Pakistan as part of the Islamic State’s Khorasan province. Al-Qaeda and Taliban linked militants believe that the movement for the establishment of the Islamic state of Khorasan will emerge from the region comprising the Kunar and Nuristan provinces of Afghanistan and the Malakand region of Pakistan. They consider Khorasan as the base camp of international Jihad from where they will be expanding the Islamic state boundaries into other non-Muslim lands.
After the Tehrik-e-Khilafat, it was the turn of the Jamaatul Ahraar, a splinter group of the TTP, to declare its support to the Islamic State on September 4. “IS is an Islamic Jihadi group working for the implementation of Islamic system and creation of the caliphate,” Jamaatul Ahraar leader and a former Taliban spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, had stated. “We respect them. They are our Mujahideen brothers. If they ask us for help, we will look into it and decide.”
Under these circumstances, it seems that the Islamic State, headed by a fairly young leader, is already drawing a measure of support among younger Jihadi fighters, mostly Sunnis, in South Asia including Pakistan because al-Qaeda’s ageing leaders, most of whom are holed up in Pak-Afghan tribal belt to save themselves from drones, are more and more seen as tired, ineffective and uninspiring.
It was probably the diminishing influence and appeal of al-Qaeda in this region that prompted the fugitive al-Qaeda Ameer Ayman Zawahiri to announce on September 4 the establishment of an Indian franchise headed by a Pakistani commander Asim Umar to raise the flag of Jihad across South Asia.
More than two years since the beginning of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, thousands of holy warriors from various Muslim countries, including Pakistan, have reportedly traveled to Syria to fight with the al-Qaeda-linked ISIS. And going by some latest media reports, hundreds more holy warriors belonging to the TTP and LeJ have reached Iraq to join hands with the forces of the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq. An Iraq-based Jihadi group — the Ansarul Islam — has already released a video showing training activity at a Jihadi camp dedicated to the memory of Maulana Abdul Rasheed Ghazi, one of the two cleric brothers who took centre-stage during the Lal Masjid standoff in July 2007.
Therefore, terrorism experts believe that the rise and success of the IS could play an inspirational role in Pakistan where 100-plus al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked Jihadi groups are currently operating.