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Thursday, February 15, 2024

The looming threat of Islamic State in Balochistan

In recent years, the Islamic State (IS) has intensified its activities in Pakistan, especially in Balochistan. The province is expected to become one of the major trade hubs in the wake of Chinese investments under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), but the emerging presence of IS poses a potential threat to the multi-billion project.

Islamic State is a transnational terrorist organization aiming to establish a caliphate system in the Muslim world. Balochistan, now prey to the Daesh, has previously endured dire calamities in the shape of Baloch separatist movements and religious fanatics, but the government must not allow the IS militants to hold the foot in the province and destroy peace.

IS also known as Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and Daesh was established in 2014. The group declared the establishment of the Caliphate under the leadership of Abu Bakar al Baghdadi, whose authority supposedly stretched across the Muslim world. Daesh considers Balochistan as a hotbed due to its geography and security situation, where the group has conducted 77% of all its terrorist activities happening in the country. The porous border with Afghanistan and Iran and fertile land for militancy have allowed IS to gain ground in the province. In 2014, Hafiz Saeed Khan, a Pakistani residence was chosen as the head of the Pakistan and Afghanistan chapter. Since then, the group has executed a series of attacks in Pakistan, mostly in Balochistan.

Read more: U.N. envoy says Islamic State now appears present in all Afghan provinces

IS re-emergence and its consequences 

Over the course of the last few years, the group has executed several terrorist activities in the province. In order to understand the severity of the threat posed by IS to Balochistan and Pakistan – it is imperative to take into account certain acts of extremism committed by them in chronological order. In 2014, the government of Balochistan in a confidential report warned the central government about the increasing influence of IS in the province. The report then claimed that the group had recruited 10,000-12,000 fighters mainly from the tribal region. In the last few years, following the growing presence of the group, the IS executed several terrorist activities in Balochistan.

In 2016, the group claimed responsibility for the twin suicide attacks in the Police Training Center that led to the death of 61 police personnel. The militant group was also involved in the abduction and killing of two Chinese nationals residing in Quetta. In 2017, the IS suicide bombers stormed the Church in Quetta causing the death of Nine Civilians while in 2018, more than 140 people were killed during a blast in the election rally in Mastung. In two different terrorist activities against the Hazara community, the Daesh fighters have killed 31 civilians.

The increasing presence of IS fighters over the years compelled the Security institutions to curb their activities in the province. The security institutions have already conducted several major military operations against the Daesh commanders and sympathizers in the country. For instance, in 2017, the Security forces killed nine members of Daesh in a military operation near Mastung. In another operation, the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) killed nine members of IS fighters. The Security Forces have also killed major IS commanders including, Shukrullah, Mufti Hidayatullah (mastermind of Mastung suicide blast), and Molvi Abdullah Brohi (Ameer of Daesh Balochistan chapter).

In recent times, CPEC has become one of the major targets of IS fighters as a retaliation against the alleged persecution of Uyghur Muslims by the Chinese government. Daesh has vowed to punish Chinese workers in Pakistan due to the alleged persecution of Muslim minorities in China. The IS militants have staged multiple attacks to jeopardize the CPEC project including the abduction and killing of a Chinese couple from Quetta city.

Read more: Islamic State violence erodes Taliban claims of safer Afghanistan

How the situation in Afghanistan affects Balochistan?

It may be argued that the evolving situation in Afghanistan is also likely to have a spill-over effect on Balochistan. The chaos in Afghanistan may allow IS militants to move freely across the Pak-Afghan border under the pretext of immigrants. Although the Afghan Taliban has committed to stop cross-border terrorism, it is feared that the Taliban government may not be capable to do so. Such fears are evident in the recent deadliest attacks by IS militants in Afghanistan including the explosion in the Kabul military hospital and blast in the Shia mosque.

The government has taken several steps to overcome the growing threat of IS but so far, their presence has not been eliminated completely. Firstly, the government launched military operations like Zarb-e-Azab and Radd-ul-Fassad to eliminate the safe heavens of the terrorist outfits in Balochistan and the tribal region. Secondly, Following the growing threat of Daesh in the province, the government established a Special Security Division (SSD) in 2017, which consists of nine army battalions and six civilian wings. Last but not the least, the armed forces have almost completed the fencing along the Pak-Afghan border to stop cross-border terrorism.

In addition to already taken steps, the government needs to adopt the following policies to eliminate the presence of IS in the province. The government should consistently monitor the Pak-Afghan border to halt the movement of terrorists along the border. Pakistan should also cooperate with the Taliban government in Afghanistan to eliminate the presence of Daesh militants.

Read more: Islamic State threat resurfaces in Afghanistan

Since CPEC is one of the main targets of IS militants, the government must provide full proof of security to the Chinese workers and ensure the smooth and timely implementation of the project for the benefit of provinces Balochistan and Pakistan. In addition to the aforementioned suggestions, the central government should take steps to enhance security cooperation between the provinces to fight the looming threat of IS not only in Balochistan but in the whole country.

 

The writer is a research officer at Balochistan Think Tank Network (BTTN). The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.