Pakistan has been a hotbed of Islamic militants for years. Over 45 known terrorist and extremist organisations have sprung up or split off since the 1980s. The government, however, has continued to deny that the IS is present in the country. Speaking in London last year, then-Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif said “even a shadow of IS would not be allowed.” Senior officials in both Karachi and Punjab province have admitted, however, that their forces had carried out raids against IS militants.
Now it seems that the government is admitting to the presence of IS after the military says it thwarted planned IS attacks on foreign embassies and the Islamabad airport, according to military spokesman Lieutenant General Asim Bajwa.
The targeted killing of the president of the Balochistan Bar Association, Advocate Bilal Anwer Kasi, on August 8, 2016, marked the beginning of the self-proclaimed presence of the IS in the province. When his body was brought to Civil Hospital Quetta, hundreds of lawyers gathered there to pay homage. That was when a suicide bomber struck, killing 63 of them. The total death toll that day was reported to be 93, with scores of others injured. This time responsibility was claimed by IS.
It was the first, but not the last, devastating attack in Balochistan province claimed by this terrorist group, whose stronghold is in the Middle East. It was followed by two other major attacks – one on the Police Training Academy in Quetta, and the second on a Sufi shrine near Lasbela known as Shah Noorani. In these three attacks over four months, approximately 250 people were killed and more than 300 were injured.
One might question why Balochistan has been selected for the expansionist policy of IS into Pakistan. The answer is that Balochistan shares borders with Afghanistan and Iran on the west, and also borders the other provinces on the east. Suffering defeat and losing territory in the Middle East, IS sees Balochistan, with its rugged mountains, as a safe haven. Because of the porous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the newly established IS could carry out attacks in both countries. The Afghan war sent approximately 3m refugees to Balochistan. It would not be out of the question for IS to try to recruit these refugees to carry out terrorist activities. Also, while having a strong foothold in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, IS might easily expand to Iran’s Sistan Balochistan province. Iran is a Shia-majority state, which treats the Sunni with an iron hand. There is already an ongoing Sunni-backed movement that keeps attacking Iranian forces. Pakistani Balochistan and Iranian Balochistan share a boarder, so Pakistani Balochistan would be the logical point for IS to expand into Iran.
Strategically and geopolitically, Balochistan is very crucial as it shares borders with Afghanistan and Iran. Being the largest province of Pakistan by area, it is linked to all Pakistani provinces. For decades Balochistan has been witness to the Baloch national insurgency movement, calling for freedom from Pakistan. However, compared to the other provinces, Balochistan has been far removed from religious extremism. Sunni, Hindu, Shia, and Zikri have all been living in peace and harmony without clashes, discrimination, and hatred. It is a known fact that the Sunni-Baloch and the Zikri-Baloch, despite different religious beliefs, often intermarry and respect one another’s religious practices.
But today Balochistan is not what it once was in terms of peace, tolerance, and harmony. Extremist religious doctrine implanted in the province to impede the Baloch nationalist movement is now out of the control.