In Pakistan, support for the Islamic State is growing more visible. Elements of the Taliban, which all but controls small areas of the country, are openly giving a nod to their ideological kinship with the terrorist organization that has cut a path of destruction across large areas of Iraq and Syria. A spokesman for the Pakistan Taliban, Shahidullah Shahid, recently stated “I pledge allegiance to the Caliph of Muslims, [ISIS leader] Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.” The statement highlights a measure of internal strife, however; Shahid, it has been reported, was not speaking for the Taliban as a whole and the organization had apparently disowned him, following the remarks. An unnamed Taliban commander told Reuters “He used our name and tried to make it big news in the media.” As military operations against the Taliban in Pakistan continue to weaken the organization, there are growing fears that it could be vulnerable to a takeover by ISIS.
The swift gains made by the Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq – and the rapid swelling of its ranks – caught western nations off guard. Afghanistan, a barely functioning state, and Pakistan, are both vulnerable to the spreading influence of ISIS. Speaking to the AFP news agency, security analyst Amir Rana said “ISIS is becoming the major inspiration force for both violent and non-violent religious groups in the region.”
Pro-ISIS propaganda leaflets have surfaced in the northwest of Pakistan and slogans supporting the Islamic State have been spray-painted on walls even in Karachi. Taliban leaders both in Pakistan and in neighboring Afghanistan have signaled their support for the Islamic State, although they appear to have broken ranks in order to do so. A loose federation of radical Islamist organizations in Pakistan, known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has sent large numbers of fighters to Syria and it is feared that those who return may spread the Islamic State’s message and provide inspiration for further radicalization. According to Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi, a political analyst writing in The Express Tribune, some radical factions in Pakistan have even taken to using the name ‘Islamic State Movement.’
In Afghanistan, the black flag adopted by the Islamic State was raised recently in the Ghazni province as fighters identified with ISIS joined a Taliban offensive against several villages.
Although authorities in Pakistan have struck an optimistic note on operations against the Taliban and other radical groups, the country’s United Nations Ambassador sounded the alarm in an address to the UN Security Council on October 21. “We must all, collectively, oppose and defeat its evil ideology of ‘hate, murder and destroy’,” said Masood Khan. “We must remain united in our fight against this new face of terrorism and violent extremism.” Other Pakistani officials, however, believe that the Taliban’s attempt to create a ‘merger’ with ISIS is little more than an attempt to remain relevant, as Pakistan’s security forces continue to weaken Taliban control in the tribal northwest.
Pakistan has an arsenal of nuclear weapons, making it a potentially tempting target for the Islamic State. Whether the Taliban would welcome the presence of ISIS or resist it continues to be a subject for speculation.
Graham J Noble