Balochistan cracks down on pro-ISIL militants

By Javed Mahmood

Frontier Corps (FC) and intelligence agency personnel November 1 search a shop near Sirki Kala, Quetta. [Abdul Ghani Kakar]

Frontier Corps (FC) and intelligence agency personnel November 1 search a shop near Sirki Kala, Quetta. [Abdul Ghani Kakar]

ISLAMABAD -- The Balochistan government has developed a strategy to eliminate all militant groups in the province, including those that support the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL), officials say.

"We have adopted a two-pronged strategy -- strategic and practical approaches to crush terrorism and militant groups supporting ISIL," said Anwarul Haq Kakar, spokesman for the Balochistan government.

Over a year ago, security agencies in Quetta eliminated the terrorists who used to target the Hazara community frequently, he told Pakistan Forward from Quetta.

As a result, out of desperation, the splinter groups are showing allegiance to ISIL and are attempting to target security forces, he said.

"Splinter groups of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and some other like-minded banned militant outfits are promoting terrorism at the behest of ISIL," Kakar said, adding that these groups receive funds and support from ISIL.

While ISIL is not physically present in the province, he said, the Balochistan government and security organisations have developed a strategy to eradicate the pro-ISIL militant groups that are shedding blood in the province.

"ISIL just exists on social media, not physically, in Balochistan, and the organisation is claiming responsibility for terrorist attacks in Quetta to build its image and show its penetration in the country," Kakar said.

"Our security officials have vowed to eliminate the militants who either have a soft spot for ISIL or are working for this notorious terrorist entity," he said.

ISIL's 1st attack in Pakistan?

ISIL claimed responsibility for the October 24 attack on the Police Training College in Quetta that killed 65 cadets and injured more than 120 others.

However, Frontier Corps (FC) Inspector General Sher Afgun asserted that Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) al-Alami, a splinter group of LeJ with ties to al-Qaeda, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other anti-state groups, carried out the attack.

A spokesman for LeJ al-Alami confirmed the FC inspector general's accusation but also corroborated ISIL's claim, saying the attack was a joint venture, according to the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS), a think tank based in Islamabad.

"If verified, this would be the first major attack by [ISIL] on Pakistani soil," PICSS said in a report released October 29.

Most concerning is that the global terrorist group has found a local partner that is well entrenched in society, the report said. "LeJ has a support base in the society and can influence more local recruitment for the Middle-Eastern group," it said.

In the report, PICSS discussed ISIL's alleged role in the latest Quetta attack and its claims of involvement in previous attacks.

Although ISIL claimed responsibility for an August 8 suicide bombing targeting lawyers at Quetta Civil Hospital, "that claim was more of a media stunt than reality", PICSS said.

"This time however, [ISIL] issued photographs of the three attackers with their names," the report said. All three militants died -- one was shot by the Pakistani army, while the other two detonated suicide vests.

"From the style of the attack, it is evident that Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Alami played a major role in execution of the attack as [ISIL] operates differently," the report said. ISIL's "modus operandi is that it captures territories and establishes its writ by enforcing strict Sharia laws as per its own hardline interpretation of Islam".

"The PICSS already underscored the possibility of the connection between Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and ISIL when the Middle Eastern group started to emerge in this part of the world," Abdullah Khan, managing director of the PICSS and author of the report, told Pakistan Forward.

Both ISIL and LeJ operate on sectarian lines; they are like-minded and natural allies in fanning extremism, he said.

A map of militancy groups in Balochistan puts LeJ at the centre, showing it has support and a nexus with al-Qaeda, TTP, various factions of LeJ and other militant groups, including groups operating from Iran, the report said.

"Thus, rooting out the group is not an easy task, especially when Iran is playing a negative role in promoting Shia sectarian and militant groups," it said.

Improving Balochistan's security mechanism

The government and security agencies must have a fool-proof strategy to prevent terrorist attacks in Balochistan, Khan said.

Karachi-based security analyst Col. (ret.) Mukhtar Ahmed Butt shared similar sentiments.

"The intelligence and security mechanism should be further improved in Balochistan to curb frequent terror attacks in the province," he told Pakistan Forward.

The Police Training College in Quetta suffered attacks in 2006 and 2008 as well.

As part of the Balochistan government's counter-terrorism strategy, the government is pacing up the capacity of police officials who fight side by side with other security organisations to curb militancy, Kakar the government spokesman said.

"Training will be given to the policemen, more officers will be hired and more resources will be available at the disposal of the police to crush terrorism," Kakar told Pakistan Forward.

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