The Islamic State is creating a presence in South Asia after recent defeats in Iraq and Syria, where it ruled thousands of square miles of territory.
Considered a terrorist group by the Western world, ISIS announced the formation of bases in nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, two arch-rivals that fought three wars since their independence from Britain in 1947.
According to the ISIS-affiliated Amaq News Agency, the terror organization on May 11 officially proclaimed the existence of “Waliyah of Hind,” or India Province. Shortly afterward, on May 15, ISIS said it had established an additional stronghold called “Wilayah Pakistan.”
Amaq claimed that Wilayah Pakistan had already inflicted casualties on Indian army soldiers in the village of Amshipora in the Shopian district of India-administered Kashmir. Indian police confirmed the presence of ISIS fighters in the contested area and noted that security forces recently killed Ishfaq Ahmad Sofi, an alleged ISIS operative in the region.
According to local media reports, Sofi had been associated for more than a decade with several armed groups in Kashmir before joining Islamic State.
The establishment of Wilayah Pakistan sent shock waves through local law enforcement agencies, and on May 16, Islamabad’s security forces raided suspected terrorist locales in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan Province.
The forces killed nine ISIS members during a three-hour long operation, a spokesperson for the chief of the Baluchistan police told the Media Line. Four Pakistanis wounded during the assault were rushed to a hospital.
Though this was the first direct face-off between Pakistani forces and ISIS, the latter has been carrying out attacks in Pakistan for years. As far back as February 2016, Pakistan’s Intelligence Bureau had warned the government that ISIS was emerging as a threat.
Concern over the extent of ISIS’s power resurfaced a year later following a suicide bombing at the Shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar – located in Pakistan’s historic city of Sehwan – which killed scores of people and injured some 300 others.
A recent UN Security Council counter-terrorism report revealed that ISIS has been using Pakistan-based organizations such as Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar to carry out terror attacks on its behalf.
Analysts believe that ISIS is desperate to establish new strongholds, including in Afghanistan, where it has repeatedly clashed with the Taliban.
“ISIS has been looking for new ventures after it was defeated in Iraq and Syria. Even in Afghanistan, things are not in ISIS’s favor,” says Rashid Hussain, a Rawalpindi-based security expert.
“It is now trying its luck in Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka, where it already has been outsourcing attacks.”
Alarmed by ISIS’s growing influence in the region, Pakistan and Russia are working together to curb the group’s activities.
“Since ISIS has challenged both nations… Islamabad and Moscow are working together to counter the group,” a senior official in Pakistan’s Counter-Terrorism Department told The Media Line on condition of anonymity.
The official said the two countries have been cooperating since 2016, adding that a “major shift in Russia’s policy… (came) after it expressed concerns about the possibility of Afghanistan turning into a refuge for Islamic State militants fleeing from Iraq and Syria. This is why it has extended (assistance) to Pakistan and the Taliban.”
A source from Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Moscow was committed to denying ISIS a sanctuary in Afghanistan, especially if and when international forces are sent home.
In Sri Lanka, ISIS claimed responsibility for last month’s series of Easter Sunday bombings in the capital Colombo that killed 290 people and wounded 500 others.
Article written by Kaswar Klasra. Reprinted with permission from The Media Line