by Zia Ur Rehman

March 16, 2015


Exploiting the sectarian fissures and ethno-political polarisation in Karachi, the Middle East-based jihadist group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) may organise its network in the city and worsen its security woes, say analysts and police officials.

In January this year, the ISIS, also known as Daish or Daulat-e-Islamia, had appointed a former Pakistani Taliban commander as its leader for Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Hafiz Saeed Khan, a former chief of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Orakzai Agency, was appointed the head of the IS Khurasan region – a historic name used by militant groups to illustrate a region including Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and some parts of India.

Several former Pakistani Taliban commanders have formally joined the ISIS and swore allegiance to its supremo Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The Pakistan Foreign Office had recently said the ISIS’ presence in Pakistan posed a threat to the country. “The government has directed all the authorities concerned to ensure that no organisation or individual in the country remains in the contact with the IS,” foreign secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudary had told the Senate Standing Committee’s for Foreign Affairs in a briefing on February 23.

ISIS in Karachi

Security analysts and police officials, however, differ over the nature of threat.

Abdul Basit, a security analyst associated with the Singapore-based International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism, believes that the ideology of the ISIS can spread among the radical Sunni fringes in the near future.

“At the moment, it doesn’t look like the ISIS can physically penetrate into Karachi in terms of operational capabilities; but their ideology can spread among the radical Sunni fringes, especially among the anti-Shia militant groups including the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), the Jundullah and the Punjabi Taliban,” Basit told The News.

Strategically, Karachi has been an important place for all kinds of militant organisations – al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, the local Taliban and sectarian militants among them.

“These groups use the city to generate funds and find a resting place,” said SP Mazhar Mashwani, a police officer who runs anti-militancy operations in the city. “Besides, they also use the city to enter and exit the country.”

Pro-ISIS groups

Although only some lesser-known militant groups, including the Tehreek-e-Khilafat, have announced joining the IS so far, security analysts and police officials believe that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Jammatul Ahrar (TTP-JA) and the LeJ might start operating in Karachi under the Middle Eastern jihadist group’s umbrella.

In September last year, Mohmand militants led by Abdul Wali, who is known as Omar Khalid Khurasani, had left the TTP and formed the TTP-JA and then announced joining the ISIS.

Interviews with sources familiar with the network of Taliban groups in Karachi suggest that the TTP-JA militants have been weakened in the city after the killing of their key commanders at the hands of the law enforcement agencies, especially Rangers.

“After the TTP-JA’s split from the TTP coupled with the ongoing crackdown, there has been a decrease in their activities in the city. But it seems that they have been silently organising the ISIS network by forging a nexus with anti-Shia militants,” a tribal elder in Manghopir told The News requesting anonymity.

“It is clear that they are not working with the militants of the TTP Swat or the Mehsud group,” he added.

Security analysts believe that the penetration of the ISIS into the city is likely to increase sectarian attacks.

“It can result in more attacks on the members of the Shia community as well as dragging the followers of Barelvi Islam into a sectarian conflict,” Basit said.

However, Mashwani does not see the ISIS making any significant presence in Karachi. “It [ISIS] is a Middle-Eastern phenomenon and the TTP and LeJ, because of their ideological links with the Afghan Tailban, cannot join them there.”

But the official added that the criminals in the city, posing as the Taliban, could join its network.

Graffiti can be seen on walls in many areas of Karachi both in favour of and against the ISIS. Police say that “mischievous elements” of the sectarian groups in the city are responsible for them.