Terrorism in Pakistan: Remembering Taliban in the Times of ISIS

The TTP or ISIS? The evolution of Pakistan’s terror networks.

4 min read
Terrorism in Pakistan: Remembering Taliban in the Times of ISIS

Another day, another bomb blast.

Over 60 people were killed and 100 injured in a suicide bomb attack at a state-run hospital in Quetta in Pakistan. While the death toll kept rising, newsrooms waited for a terror group to take responsibility.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s Khorasan division got to it first and claimed it had carried out the attack. But soon after, an off-shoot of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, took responsibility for the attack as well. While this sounds like two opposing groups jostling for space, it’s also a sign of how terror networks in and around Pakistan have evolved.

File photo from a video released by ISIS. (Photo: AP)

ISIS Isn’t Always the Right Answer

First, it’s not odd that two different groups took responsibility for the same attack. By definition, a terror group is out to spread fear and since the source of a suicide attack is difficult to verify, multiple terror groups often claim credit.

Second, the world has become used to hearing the name ISIS (or the Islamic State, ISIL or Daesh, based on one’s preference). Europe has seen so many terror attacks in the last year that now, the onus on the media is no longer to announce the perpetrators but to dispel rumours of ISIS involvement in incidents that are not actually linked to them.

But jumping to the ISIS conclusion may not work in South Asia. Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad are all terror organisations that have been carrying out operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India well before ISIS became the terror group of the times.

Hafiz Saeed, chief of Jamaat ud Dawah. (Photo: Reuters)

Pakistan’s Homegrown Snake Pit

Pakistan is one of the world’s biggest victims of terror. It’s also one of the world’s biggest state sponsors of terror. The Pakistani establishment has long followed the policy of segregating terrorist groups into “good” and “bad”.

The “good terrorists” are the ones who work in favour of Pakistan’s foreign policy goals, which usually means undertaking operations to undermine India’s security or increasing Pakistani influence in conflict-ridden Afghanistan. Think Hafiz Saeed’s Lashkar-e-Taiba which carried out the deadly 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. It has a public political and ‘charitable’ arm called Jamaat ud Dawah which continues to work openly in Pakistan.

The “bad terrorists” are the TTP which target the Pakistani state and military establishment and want to turn the country into a Sharia-ruled state. The TTP believes the Afghan Taliban’s deceased head Mullah Omar is its ideological leader. This is where the irony is painfully apparent since Pakistan’s own Hamid Gul, the former head of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), is known as the father of the Taliban for his role in helping to establish and support the group in Afghanistan.

Looks like there’s no getting away from Hillary Clinton’s already overused declaration from 2011: “You can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them to only bite your neighbour.”

(Graphic: Hardeep Singh/The Quint)

Keeping it in the Family

But while all these groups have differing modus operandi, ideologies and areas of operation, there’s always been a significant amount of overlap.

The TTP, otherwise known as the Pakistani Taliban, officially announced their existence in 2007 under the leadership of the now-deceased Baitullah Mehsud. The group united several other smaller militant factions under its banner with the aim of fighting against NATO forces in Afghanistan and to wage a “defensive jihad” against Pakistani forces in an attempt to enforce Sharia law in the country.

LeT, or Lashkar to those familiar with the group, was formed in 1990 in Pakistan. It’s one of the “good” terrorists because its agenda is to wage jihad to restore Islamic rule over India. Hafiz Saeed wants the ‘flag of Islam’ to fly in Washington, Tel Aviv and New Delhi.

Afghanistan recently accused Hafiz Saeed of being in charge of ISIS-Khorasan which began operations in the country in 2015. There was a significant amount of confusion around this, however, because many journalists and government officials in Pakistan were uncertain about whether the Afghan officials meant Hafiz Muhammad Saeed (JeM) or Hafiz Saeed Khan, who is currently the head of ISIS-Khorasan.

And this is where things get crazier (as if it wasn’t all convoluted enough), Hafiz Saeed Khan happens to be a former TTP leader who pledged allegiance to ISIS’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2014. He took with him many senior TTP members, including former spokesperson, Shahidullah Shahid.

There are already fears of ISIS presence in the subcontinent, which are made worse by regular updates of the National Investigation Agency busting ISIS networks in India. A Pakistani former-TTP man at the helm of ISIS-Khorasan will only add to these fears.

But the strength of the older groups is still uncontested and before ISIS poaches more of Pakistan’s homegrown terrorists, it would be wise for the country to behead its snakes, before the snakes learn ISIS’ beheading ways.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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