In Pakistan’s troubled border region, pro-ISIS graffiti creates fear

QUETTA: The growing graffiti in support of the Islamic State for Iraq and Syria(ISIS) in the Pakistani provinces along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border has set off alarm bells not only for the government but also citizens with a moderate outlook.

Though the ultra-militant ISIS has yet to make a physical appearance in Balochistan, unseen hands have written graffiti in different parts of Balochistan in support of ISIS and its policies. Balochistan province, which borders Iran and Afghanistan, has been wracked by a slow-burning Baloch insurgency and sectarian militancy.

The wall-chalking has appeared not only in the remote parts of the largest province of Pakistan but also in downtown Quetta, provincial capital of the resource rich Balochistan. The slogans say “long live ISIS and Daish [acronym for Daulat al Islamiafil Iraq wal Sham) ” and “long live Abu Bakar Al-Baghdadi,” the leader of ISIS.

In the Makran division along the coast of Arabian Sea, the slogans sought to create intolerance. “Death to non-Muslims or Zikri”, said one. Zikri are people of a Muslim sectthat believe in Allah but differ from other Muslims in their practices.

ISIS is a militant group in Iraq and Syria. Its initial aim was to establish a caliphate in Sunni majority regions of Iraq and Syria but later they launched global agenda. Abu Bakar Al-Baghdadi is the leader caliph of ISIS. The group has seized several parts of Iraq and Syria.

Chief Minister Balochistan Abdul Malik Baloch has said that people who subscribe to the same world view and mindset as ISIS do live in Balochistan and they do want the caliphate or Islamic state that ISIS promises. He said he could not rule out the presence of Daish in the province.

Some of the local militant groups including Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan (Al Ahrar) and Jundullah have already sworn allegiance to Al-Baghdadi and are carrying out ISIS agenda in Pakistan.

Talking to News Lens, Home Secretary Akbar Hussain Durrani ruled out the presence of ISIS. “There is no proper presence of ISIS or Daish, neither do the law enforcing agencies smell any such activity in Balochistan,” he said.

He said, “The ISIS fights against Shia Muslims while in Pakistan less than one percent of the population think the same way against Shia Muslims. There is no room for ISIS here as mindset of the people is different than in Syria.”

The Home Secretary Balochistan said the supporters of militants routed by Zarb-e-Azb, the military operation carried out against militants in North Waziristan, are trying to create fear through graffiti.

“It is nothing more than slogans,” said Durrani.

Quetta police has launched an inquiry into the graffiti in downtown Quetta. However, there is no progress in the investigation to identify who is behind the graffiti, a source in Quetta police told News Lens. The official didn’t want to be identified because he is not authorized to speak to media.

Chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Balochistan chapter, Tahir Hussain said the HRCP had serious concern over the growing presence of religious groups. “Several organizations like the banned Lashkar e Jhangvi (LeJ) and Jamatu Dawa (JuD) are consolidating their positions in Balochistan,” he said citing the report of HRCP’s fact-finding mission of Balochistan.

Asma Jahangir, former head of HRCP, said it was the responsibility of the government and law-enforcing agencies to keep a close eye on such groups. However, they had failed to do so, she said.

“This clearly seems like a strategy by the stakeholders to replace the progressive Baloch nationalists in Balochistan in order to weaken their movement,” she said.

The Baloch nationalist parties accuse the Pakistani establishment and its powerful security forces of supporting religious groups in Balochistan, which they say could result in creating a situation like Syria.

The banned sectarian group LEJ has killed hundreds Shia Muslims and dozens of police officers in Balochistan. The law enforcing agencies, according to the police source, has been struggling to put a complete halt to its deadly attacks in and around Quetta.

The source said there could be contacts between the ISIS and the banned LeJ, but there was no concrete evidence to substantiate this connection. “The most solid connection between ISIS and LeJ might be their anti-Shia agenda,” said Wajahat Masood, an analyst and human rights activist while talking to News Lens Pakistan.

ISIS Graffiti in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Punjab

Like Balochistan, ISIS graffiti has also appeared in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the province along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border troubled by militancy and terrorism, Sindh and Punjab where people could see slogans “Long Live ISIS” and “Long Live Caliph Abu Bakar Al-Baghdadi”, written on walls and milestones. In September, a booklet titled Fatah (victory) published in Pashto and Dari languages was distributed in Afghan refugee camps in the outskirts of Peshawar. The pamphlet appealed to people to support the ISIS struggle to establish a caliphate.

In Karachi (Sindh), pro-ISIS slogans were seen in Sohrab Goth, Orangzi Town and other parts of the city. In Lahore and other parts of Punjab, the same slogans were also seen. Lahore police also found huge cache of ISIS literature outside a post office.

Security analysts are of the view that fighting on multiple fronts in and around Iraq and Syria, an organized reach to this part of the world seems unlikely for ISIS. However, splinter groups of militant outfits in Pakistan may try to align themselves with the group.

“So far, there is no evidence showing direct involvement of ISIS in wall-chalking in Peshawar”, said Syed Akhtar Ali Shah, secretary for Home and Tribal Affairs, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “We have no such information that they [ISIS and Pakistani Taliban] have contacted each other to form a nexus.”

However, Dr. Khadim Hussain, a political analyst based in Peshawar, sees it a potential threat. He says that the Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), after defeat due to the military operation in their stronghold in North Waziristan, would be desperate for support from an organization like ISIS.

“In Pakistan, some of the religious-political parties having sympathy for militants would like the fear to be sustained”, said Khadim Hussain. “Wall-chalking is a kind of indicator that they have the potential to get organized.”

However, Akhtar Ali Shah saysthe government had a very clear national security policy and he did not see any space for ISIS in Pakistan.

“The government is monitoring activities like the wall-chalking and distribution of pamphlets and is determined to counter violent extremism in any form,” he said.

Khadim Hussain differs. He says international terror organizations are out to have new alliances in central and south Asia. “The more international linkages an organization has, the more powerful it will be considered. Presently, ISIS and al-Qaeda are competing with each other in the race to widen their networks.”

Brigadier Saad Muhammad, a defense analyst based in Peshawar, told News Lens that ISIS was not an immediate threat. “It may try and hold ground in Pakistan in the coming few years as it has its sympathizers here, including some jihadi groups, disgruntled elements of TTP and a new generation of Afghan Taliban that now have global aspirations.”

About possible allies of the Daish, the retired military officer said that splinter groups of TTP, Jundullah, Lashkar e Jhangvi and Harkatul Jihad e lslami may become its allies in the coming days. He said foreign fighters including Chechens and Chinese Uighur fighters, presently weak and scattered, may also join Daish to seek a strong center.

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