The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), known as Daesh is facing defeat in its host grounds, the success is unlikely in Pakistan as ongoing military operations, the NAP and deradicalization programmes reduce the chances of ISIS in procuring a strong operational space. In Pakistan, there are many conflict mediation ways such as the Parliament, All Parties Conferences, an independent judiciary, media, a strong political party system and civil society platforms to vent public grievances.
The rise of ISIS, as an extremist group, is not a new phenomenon for the Middle East’s security architecture; rather it has deep roots in countries of the region marked by weak military structures, authoritarian political systems and deteriorated security environment. On the contrary, Pakistan is a democratic and moderate state with a vibrant society. The resilient response of the country’s civil-military leadership to brutalities of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Tehreek-e-Khilafat Wa Jihad (Movement for the Caliphate and Jihad-TKJ), Jundallah and Jamaat-ul-Ahraar (Assembly of the Free-JA), etc. have shrunk the possibility of any transnational militant organisation such as the ISIS establishing its organised stronghold.
The chances of the ISIS making inroads into Pakistan as an organised terrorist outfit are likely to be difficult due to a variety of reasons. The ISIS is fighting for its survival in the Middle East with Syrian, Iraqi, Russian and US-led coalition forces. Its founding leader al-Baghdadi was reportedly also injured in 2016. Its business model is collapsing financially since the group’s annual revenue has more than halved from USD 1.9 billion in 2014 to USD 870 million in 2016, and by early 2017, it had lost significantly of its mid-2014 peak territory in Iraq and Syria, with six billion people freed from its control. While in September 2017, a 45-minute long audio message by al-Baghdadi is an attempt to show that they are still a viral powerful organisation, it is unlikely to lead to the establishment of a well-organised network or “franchises‟ in distant regions.
One of the factors behind ISIS’ success in Iraq and Syria has been the sharp sectarian divide between Sunni and Shia Muslims. The majority of Iraqi Muslims are Shia and Sunnis are in minority, whereas in Syria, the Shias are in minority and Sunni Muslims are in majority. The ISIS is a Sunni militant force originating from the Sunni minority of Iraq and Sunni majority of Syria. It is an organisation that has directed its malevolence at fellow Muslims, especially the Shia population. While Al-Qaeda also regards Shias as heretics, they rarely target them for slaughter like ISIS. During the Iraq war, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi sowed the seeds of this group by building alliances with Sunni leadership after the fall of Saddam Hussain. He sent dozens of suicide bombers into Shia mosques and markets, forced veils on women and even prominent figures in the community were executed on his order.
However, his reign of terror was cut short in 2006 followed by a surge of American troops in Iraq. Unfortunately though, while Zarqawi’s death and US victory in Baghdad weakened his group’s cadres, it did not repair the Shia-Sunni rift that he had opened. The then-Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki was unable to make lasting peace because the Shia-led governing coalition was more keen on retaliation and revenge than reconciliation. Sunni hatred reared its head again, and with US troop withdrawal in 2011 complete, al-Baghdadi and his group rebranded themselves as Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), once again targeting Shias and even civilians with the help of former commanders and soldiers of Saddam’s military. With his ranks swelling, Baghdadi went on to target Shias in Syria where there was a secular uprising against President Bashar Assad.
In the case of Pakistan, although sectarian fault lines do exist, they are not so deep which can be exploited through subversive plots by any transnational militant organisation. Rather, it would not be enough for ISIS to gain physical control in the country. Syria and Iraq are besieged by civil war whereas under Pakistan’s law the rights of all Muslims are constitutionally protected including those of the non-Muslim Pakistanis such as Christian, Bahais, Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, Kalasha, Parsis and Sikhs. The Constitution of 1973 recognises the rights of every citizen irrespective of religion, colour, race or creed and that the constitution expressly advocates safety of other religions, beliefs, and faiths in Pakistan. Pakistan’s Shia Muslims are well integrated and there is no systemic discrimination against them at the state level. Hence, the socio-cultural and political make-up in Pakistan is different from the Gulf region, thereby reducing the chances of a definitive ISIS penetration.
The civil society has played a fundamental role in the campaigns for democratic culture and tradition in Pakistan. It compelled the ruling class to enact the Objectives Resolution (1949) and the first constitution of Pakistan (1956). The civil society compelled General Ayub Khan to resign from power. When the sugar prices increased, the civil society could not tolerate it and came forward in open protest and agitations. While Pakistan’s civil society may still be under-developed. The civil society’s organisations and groups criticise government policies openly without any fear and favour, take the lawyer’s movement against Musharaf government. Today’s human rights groups often reprimand government actions and are considered the vibrant voice of civil society. Therefore, they mobilise huge gatherings in such times, whenever required. The role of civil society is enhancing day-by-day in Pakistan.
The civil societies organizations in this country have been traditionally focused on the rights of minorities and women, and on social development in rural areas, their new focus is rule of law, representative government, and democracy as a universal social value. It believes in “Moderate Islam and Sufi Traditions” founded intolerance. In the subcontinent, Islam was spread through Sufism. Shrines still play an important spiritual and economic role in the lives of a majority of Pakistanis. It is due to these reasons as well that outfits like TTP could not (and ISIS cannot) become a nationwide movement and force in Pakistan.
There is an established “Political Tradition‟ in Pakistan which means that socio-political issues are solved through political means and legal orders. This strengthens institutions under the constitutional framework that believes in federalism and decentralization of power. Moreover, despite military interventions, Pakistan has not become a centralised dictatorial state. The movement for democracy in Pakistan may have its weaknesses but it cannot be easily derailed or destroyed. It has succeeded in making democracy a political issue and it does represent popular ethos.
In contrast to Pakistan’s democratic system, there is political suffocation in Middle Eastern governance which has not addressed the grievances of the local population. In Pakistan, there are many conflict mediation ways such as the Parliament, All Parties Conferences, an independent judiciary, media, a strong political party system and civil society platforms to vent public grievances. But such mediums are not available in the Middle East political system that is why prolonged suppression of socio-economic, civil and political freedoms have made the Middle Eastern societies prone to political revolt leading to instability and insecurity. Constitutional democracy is a major factor which protects the Pakistani state from any revolt.
The ethos of Pakistan’s Army and bureaucracy are also based on Quaid-i-Azam’s vision, principles, and belief in a democratic Pakistani state. These institutions are considered subservient to the people and state, whereas in the Middle East, regimes are built by cultivating a solid legal basis for suppression of opposition, and by using an extensive system of patronage to maintain elite support for continued state control under democratic façades to protect authoritarian rulers, and for maintaining the stability of authoritarian dynastic regimes, which turned the Arab Spring into civil wars, especially in countries like Syria. Failing to address grievances of the local masses provides space to transnational revolutionary ideologues.
Since 9/11, Pakistan has been sincerely making efforts to eliminate terrorism from its soil. In this regard, the Government of Pakistan has taken several measures not only against militants like the TTP who had established their sanctuaries in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), but it has also taken measures against likely transnational extremism before the latter can further militancy in the country. The measures include deradicalisation programmes like the Swat Programme 2009 and Punjab Programme 2011 and initiating counter-radicalization policies like the National Internal Security Policy 2014, National Action Plan (NAP) 2014, and Pakistan Protection Act 2014. The Swat Programme had rehabilitated 2500 militants till 2015 and after the re-launch of Punjab Programme in 2015, 1132 extremists were selected for the programme. The Sindh Counter Terrorism Department is planning to initiate a deradicalisation programme for an estimated 300 militants when it successfully deradicalised two youngsters who were on their way to Syria to fight for the ISIS.
The Pakistan Army has successfully launched major operations against the miscreants such as Operations Rah-e-Nijat in South Waziristan and Rah-e-Rast in Swat during 2009 and Operation Zarb-e-Azb followed by Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad that indiscriminately started in mid-2014 and 2017 in North Waziristan and across the country respectively against all the Taliban. Recent past, the security forces started combing operations in May 2016 aimed at locating terrorists, their facilitators, and sleeper cells.The NAP is also designed to eradicate extremism and militancy from Pakistan, which includes Madrassah reforms, banning of sectarian organisations under new names, countering hate speech and dissemination of extremist material, ban on the glorification of terrorism and terrorist organisations through print and electronic media and punishment on the wrong usage of loudspeakers, etc.
Consequently, a significant decline in terrorist incidents and improvement in law and order has been seen in Pakistan. According to recent the National Counter Terrorism Authority’s (NACTA) recent report 2017 titled “Terrorism Decline in Pakistan,” the country has witnessed a sharp decline in terrorism-related episodes. In 2010, the country had faced frequent terrorist-related incidents as many as 2061, while contrary to 2010, 785 terrorist incidents took place in 2016 and only 426 in 2017 so far. The ISIS ideology considers democracy to be insufficient for political transformation and upholds that the democratic process opposes the Islamic philosophy of governance. The quasi-state struggles to replace the existing political processes with its own form of Shari’ah (Islamic law) through forceful means.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.