Ever since the Islamic State (IS) emerged there have been denials at every level of government that it has a presence in Pakistan. The denials have continued despite IS claims of carrying out a number of operations, and there is a body of anecdotal evidence that there are established networks and, possibly, sleeper cells across Pakistan. The IS flag has flown from a bakery in Bahawalpur where IS symbols were for a while obvious in a number of retail outlets (now gone), and there are reports of IS leaflets and literature in both Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. It is equally evident that there have been operations claimed by the IS that are impossible to verify as to their authorship. This is 21st century terrorism, shape-shifting and hard to grasp and requiring an agile response to match the agility with which it brings terror wherever it goes.
Denials aside, the Pakistan army is sufficiently convinced of the reality of IS to announce the launching of Operation Khyber-4 under the generic flag of Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad tasked to ‘wipe out terrorists’ in the Rajgal Valley of the Khyber Agency. The area was described as ‘the most critical area in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas’. The army does not make such statements for the sake of giving itself something to do. If the army has decided to launch an operation, then it will be an intelligence driven activity rather than something hung around with smoke and mirrors. Afghan military counterparts have been informed and the operation is open-ended.
It is possible that there is a joint operation to be conducted with Afghan forces and if so then so much the better, as positive news regarding Afghan-Pakistan relations is hard to come by these days. Nothing is confirmed presumably for reasons of operational security, but it is long past the time when political voices should own an IS presence in Pakistan. It may not have a presence in terms of conventional infrastructures but like all terrorist groups it is opportunist — and leaving the door open is an opportunity hard to pass.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 18th, 2017.
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