After rejoicing at the advent of the Arab Spring, when government after government was being toppled by the people’s power, the Western world turned its attention towards Libya. Muammar Gaddafi was a hard nut to crack; yet, by misusing a UNSC resolution, his air power was made ineffective. When Gaddafi kept resisting, Nato stepped in through the use of air power. The Libyan leader was killed by a mob in a brutal manner. Today, Libya is a mess. The same recipe was tried in Syria. The Syrian government resisted and did so brutally. However, Russia stood by Syria and vetoed a UNSC resolution for a no-fly zone. That gave Bashar al-Assad the edge of having an air force that could dominate the resistance movement against him. The Syrian Army did not split and fought all the resistance groups.
Nato used all means to arm the resistance movement. Training camps were established in Syria’s neighbouring countries. Turkey became a passage for jihadis from all over the world, including Central Asia, the UK, the US and Australia. Jihad against Assad was internationalised. Al Qaeda found Syria to be an ideal place for recruitment. It carried out activities in Syria, independent of the Syrian resistance. Thousands of Iraqis also joined the fight against Assad, including elements of the Iraqi al Qaeda. When fighting between al Qaeda and the Iraqi IS started, the latter proved too strong for the former. Al Qaeda chief Ayman Al Zawahiri sent an emissary to stop the fighting, but the IS refused to take orders from him. Yet, it was the announcement of the establishment of the IS by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the speed with which the group captured Iraqi towns when the world finally woke up to the threat posed by it. The Iraqi Army trained by the US melted down and handed over city after city without offering any resistance. The IS is the most potent threat that most countries in the world face right now.
Many in Pakistan are now worried about the IS threat in our own country. Wall chalkings related to the IS have appeared in different cities. However, should Pakistan be worried about the emergence of the IS and does this group have any chance of success here? I believe Pakistan should not be worried about the IS emerging here. Reports of the Pakistani Taliban leaders joining the IS made headlines, but a look at the country’s decade-long history of militancy and the way it was fought will reveal that Pakistan has already passed through the IS period. What the IS is doing in Iraq right now happened in Pakistan a decade ago. The Taliban captured areas, established their writ and ruled a vast area of Pakistan. The area, population-wise, was much larger than what the IS controls in Iraq right now. Four settled districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, seven tribal agencies and four frontier regions were under the complete control of the Taliban. Just like the IS, the Taliban wanted to establish a religious state in Pakistan and through this foothold, spread their movement to other parts of the world. That was in 2007.
The Pakistan Army started operations against these elements. One by one, the territories were retaken from the Taliban. Stiff resistance in the form of ambushes and pitched battles were fought. Today, an operation is being conducted to root out the last hideout of the Taliban in North Waziristan. The Taliban did not fight and preferred to avoid pitched battles with the Pakistan Army. Their command and control system has been destroyed. There is no safe place for them to regroup without fear and they do not have the freedom they once enjoyed in North Waziristan. They are now divided into various factions and are no more a formidable united, fighting force. They do have the ability to carry out subversive activities, however, they will never have the strength they once enjoyed.
This does not mean that the IS will not appear in Pakistan. There are groups, which are armed and ready to kill opponents on religious or sectarian grounds. However, even if we believe half of what the ISPR is claiming regarding Operation Zarb-e-Azb, this still amounts to the loss of a large number of fighters, with the resultant splinter groups being leaderless now. Their foot soldiers may now be posing as IDPs, but are unlikely to rejoin these groups if the writ of the state is established in Fata. What can happen though is that groups that have been rendered leaderless may form the basis of the IS in Pakistan. In material terms, this will amount to just a change of name as they are already involved in activities similar to those of the IS. With the IS leadership in Iraq already under pressure due to US air strikes, which have restricted their mobility and communication, it will be difficult for Pakistani terrorists to get guidance from it. The IS, so far, has not nominated anyone from Pakistan as its head. A headless organisation cannot be effective. If it does appoint a head for Pakistan, that person will be in direct confrontation with the Taliban of Mullah Omar and al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and this may result in further infighting between these groups, thus weakening them all.
However, while Operation Zarb-e-Azb has been successful so far, it is restricted to North Waziristan only. Though secondary operations are being carried out, these are only limited to Fata. Punjab is a base for sectarian militants and their agenda is closest to that of the IS. Yet, there is no action being taken against them. Tackling militancy in Fata in a piecemeal fashion was feasible, but now a country wide operation is required against all militant groups. The federal and provincial governments should act in a coordinated effort to clear Pakistan from this menace once and for all.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 14th, 2014.