There has been much speculation, frequently alarmist or simply ill-informed, as to the extent or otherwise that the Islamic State (IS) has a presence in Pakistan. Government ministers have gone on-the-record to say that there is no IS presence, but there are reports of supportive wall-chalking and the circulation of literature that supports the IS from several parts of the country. There has been no report of the IS carrying out an operation in Pakistan, but at least two extremist groups allied to the Taliban in their various guises have expressed support for it. Certainly, there are parts of the country where the extremist mindset has been fostered and grown over many years, and the ideology of the IS may find fertile ground to root itself in. To what extent that support would generalise to the wider population is unknown, but the IS has shown itself to be competent at the use of new technologies and the social media — both of which have been effectively employed by purely local extremist individuals and groups.
There now emerges a very clear indication of support for the IS, and it comes from the heart of the national capital in Islamabad. The chief cleric of Lal Masjid, Maulana Abdul Aziz, has made it plain that he respects the IS which has a similarity of mission to that of himself, and that he is happy to declare that he holds the group in high regard. Indeed, female students of Jamia Hafsa have prepared and circulated a video extolling the IS, which has raised the possibility that ‘the authorities’ may want to search the premises of Jamia Hafsa. Those inside Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa are not in isolation. They have supporters nationwide and in the Pakistan diaspora. The level of threat presented by the IS is as yet incalculable; there is not enough empirical evidence of its activity beyond potentiating latent receptors of its message. Yet, it would be extremely unwise to pursue a policy of denial in the face of mounting evidence of IS penetration, and head-in-sand is not the best position to take.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 16th, 2014.