ISKP’s increasing Foothold in Pakistan

In the past three years, Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) has expanded its footprint across Pakistan. Over seventy-two individuals were killed in ISKP’s first strike in August of 2016, when they targeted a hospital in Quetta. In the years that followed, Baluchistan and Sindh were also attacked. The group’s influence in additional regions grew after 2018.

Kalaya is a Shia-majority neighborhood in the Orakzai district of KP, and in November 2018, ISKP raided a local market there. However, towards the end of 2019, when ISKP started countering the Afghan Taliban’s advance, the number of strikes in Pakistan had declined. During this time, ISKP also established local chapters throughout Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the surrounding regions.

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In May of 2019, ISKP in Pakistan officially broke off to become what is currently known as the Islamic State’s Pakistan Province (ISPP). ISPP claimed 68 assaults between 2019 and 2022. The assaults of ISPP paled in comparison to the mass casualty techniques of ISKP.

The number of assaults in KP rose from seven in 2019 (while ISPP was still active there) to forty-seven in 2022 (when ISKP had already established a foothold in the province). ISKP has claimed 17 attacks so far in 2023.

Given the rise in terrorist attacks in Pakistan, ISKP poses a serious danger that cannot be ignored. The current uptick in ISKP activity may be an attempt to recruit members from other terrorist groups and solidify the group’s position in Pakistan.

TTP hardliners who are against peace talks with Pakistan will be the major targets. When TTP agreed a ceasefire in December 2021, ISKP accused TTP of betraying the Jihadist Agenda. Members of the TTP who were opposed to the talks with Pakistan defected to the ISKP. Similarly, following the U.S.-Taliban peace negotiations in 2020, several Afghan Taliban joined ISKP.

The development of ISKP has further exacerbated the problems that Pakistan already faces. To begin, the government has been able to conduct significant rounds of discussions in the context of TTP, although this does not seem to be the case with ISKP.

Due to its radical ideology and decentralized leadership, the organization is not interested in serious dialogue. Second, it was hoped that Pakistan would gain from the conflict between the TTP and the ISKP, but the facts show otherwise.

In the past, ISKP’s presence in Pakistan was limited but things are different now.

Its’ Harmful effects from this intersection may extend beyond South Asia. The escalation of the danger presented by ISKP is a direct result of the deterioration of relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Concerns about a possible revival of terrorism and extremism dominated the worldwide political agenda after the Afghan Taliban assumed control in Kabul after the U.S. abrupt exit from Afghanistan in August 2021.

During the evacuation, the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP) attacked the Kabul airport, drawing widespread attention to their developing capabilities. Since then, the organization has expanded its capabilities, making it a major security threat to Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other nearby governments.

At least 54 persons were killed when ISKP attacked a workers’ convention for the Jamiat Ullema Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) in the Bajaur area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) on July 30, 2023. Amaq and Nashir, the official news agencies of ISKP, said that the group was responsible for the assault. The establishment of ISKP is a serious danger to regional security and to the continuing efforts in Pakistan to combat terrorism and extremism.

Regional security is worsening as a result of a virulent cycle of terrorist violence fueled by ideological and sectarian tensions, as well as personal interests and the dynamics of retribution. In the coming years, Islamabad can face a number of problems, including the danger posed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TSKP) and the ISKP’s rising influence.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISKP) reemerged in late 2019 and 2020 under the leadership of new Emir Shahab al-Muhajir, who prioritized “urban warfare” as an operational objective.

The legitimacy of the Afghan Taliban was weakened by this tactic, which included the direct killing of not just Taliban members but also members of other groups in Afghanistan, such as Shia Muslims and Hazaras.

The ISKP is distinct from the Afghan Taliban and other regional extremist organizations in its philosophy, ethnic make-up, and self-imposed territorial boundaries.

Salafi Takfeeri philosophy (influenced by the late Abu Bakar Al Baghdadi) is at the heart of ISKP’s actions, and it is at odds with that of the Taliban, JUI-F, and the whole Deobandi branch of Islam.

As a result of ISKP’s promotion of various rival ideas as unclean, superstitious, and idolatrous, their reach, ethnic make-up, and methods of assault vary widely across different regions and time periods.

Comparatively, the goals of the TTP and the Afghan Taliban are more regional in scope, while those of the ISKP, which seeks to build a “Islamic Caliphate,” are more global in scope.

Although the TTP claims to be an offshoot of the Afghan Taliban, it operates only in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where it seeks to construct a governmental system based on its interpretation of Sharia.

However, the globalist objectives of ISK-P may pose a direct danger to world peace and security, which is not the case for many other organizations.

In addition, the ISKP has a wider range of nationalities and ethnicities than the TTP or the Taliban. To provide just one example, the leadership of the ISKP is made up of ex-TTP members, angry Afghan Taliban members, and foreign militants, in contrast to the essentially ethnically homogeneous Afghan Taliban.  ISKP’s attacks are unique among terrorist organizations.

TTP militants, for instance, are redirected away from civilian and religious locations and directed instead towards the government and security forces of Pakistan. In contrast, ISKP uses religious minorities as a primary target in its urban warfare.

Whenever there had been talks between the Pakistan government and TTP, ISKP and ISPP got greater freedom to operate. ISKP and other organizations can exploit tribal regions more easily if TTP has its way and the military presence is reduced in certain areas.

Sectarian religious sites would be an attractive target if the organization chooses to intensify suicide attacks in Pakistan including urban population concentrations.

Pakistan’s upcoming elections can also provide a perfect chance to carry out high-profile assaults. When deciding on preventative steps to address the security danger posed by ISKP, Pakistani policymakers should give careful consideration to this possibility.

 

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