Earlier this year, law-enforcement agencies arrested a man called Hafiz Abdul Jabbar Shakir in Sialkot. He was affiliated with the Ahle Hadith group. No reasons for the raid surfaced initially, but now we know that he was taken into custody because of links with militants in Syria and Iraq.
“He wanted to move to Syria to join the Jihadists there,” along with hundreds of followers, a law-enforcement source said. He said the move was preempted, and Pakistan was saved from a likely embarrassment.
“Hundreds of Pakistani religious students and leaders sympathize with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and see their rule as a new beginning,” says Qari Yousaf Muhammad, from a madarssa in New Karachi.
By March this year, Hafiz Abdul Jabbar Shakir had managed to gather hundreds of followers who wanted to join the ISIS. Law-enforcement agencies asked the Interior Ministry to put their names on the Exit Control List to stop them from making it to ISIS territory.
There have been reports of large-scale movement of Chechen, Uzbek and Arab fighters from Pakistan’s tribal areas and Afghanistan to Syria, but the accounts of Pakistanis joining the ISIS are conflicting.
Asad al Khorasani, spokesman of the Islamic State in Pakistan who tweets as @ISIS_Urdu and is linked with a network of sophisticated social media experts of ISIS, says people are joining his group in Pakistan because they need a new, proper platform. “A lot of people who had been active with the Taliban are attracted towards us because they do not approve of how the Taliban conduct themselves,” he said. “The best part about our recruitment in Pakistan is that 60% of the people joining us are educated. We have differences with the TTP and they keep a distance from us and we do the same.”
That is one reason why Al Qaeda does not approve of ISIS. In two messages on 13th July and 19th July, they said: “Mullah Muhammad Umar is the rightful emir of Islamic Emirates and all branches of Al Qaeda are united under him.” The network refuses to accept Abu Bakar Baghdadi as a rightful leader of Muslims.
[quote]”For now, we are asking everyone who believes in ISIS to migrate to the Islamic State”[/quote]
The turning point in the relationship between ISIS and Al Qaeda came when the latter took an oath of allegiance from Jabhat al-Nusra – an organization that had defected from ISIS.
Asad Khorsani denies any links with Hizbul Tahrir. “Hizbut Tahrir believes in agitation, while we believe in jihad. We are poles apart.” He also distances himself from sectarian groups in Pakistan. About Sipah-e-Sahaba and Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, he says: “They believe in parliamentary democracy. We don’t.”
ISIS does not recognize the authority of the Pakistani government, and believes in Jihad against it, but Asad Khorasani talks about strategy. “For now, our strategy is that we are trying to get everyone who believes in ISIS to migrate to the Islamic State, and only then start jihad.”
Meanwhile, somewhere in FATA close to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, the TTP Shura met under Mullah Fazlullah, and expelled Khalid Khurasani, the emir of their Mohmand Agency chapter, for indiscipline and for patronizing ‘suspicious’ militants groups such as Ahrarul Hind and Junood Khurasan.
“Khursani was expelled because of pressure from Dr Aymen al-Zawahiri and Al Queda, since he had been advocating for ISIS,” an insider said. “In a meeting, Khursani had asked members of the TTP to ally with Abu Bakar Baghdadi.”
In the madrassas of Lahore and Karachi, a debate is going on about the legitimacy of ISIS and Abu Bakar Baghdadi. “I would want to migrate to the Islamic State given an opportunity,” says 27-year-old Ibad Khan, who is a student at a seminary in Lahore. Muhammad Izhar Khan, a 38-year-old teacher from a madrassa in Karachi, says the influence of ISIS is growing. “Most of the madarssas in Karachi have been instructed not to discuss ISIS and Abu Bakar Baghdadi, but let me confess that it is the talk of the town. The children have started to romanticize the Islamic State.”
Will Pakistan clamp down on ISIS and its activities? “Not until we see a physical threat,” says Muhammad Tanvir, a top intelligence official. “For now, we are carefully monitoring the crisis in Syria and Iraq and its reaction in Pakistan.”