QUETTA -- In a graphic murder video circulated online, the Khorasan branch of the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS-K) accuses members of Pakistan's Shia minority of committing blasphemy and inciting unrest for Iranian interests.
Before the video cuts to footage of the January 3 killing of 11 Hazara coal workers in the Mach area of Balochistan province, various ISIS figures are heard spouting invective in an attempt at creating sectarian strife.
The video, posted on Telegram on March 19, blames the Pakistani government for blocking the implementation of Sharia in the country, claiming that the "enemies of Islam" have been given free rein over Islamic ideology in Pakistan.
At various points in the video, ISIS also points to the activities of two Iran-backed groups -- the Fatemiyoun Division and the Zainabiyoun Brigade -- as exacerbating sectarian strife in Pakistan and the region.
At least 22 major attacks have targeted the Hazara minority between 2003 and 2021, taking 489 lives, with anti-Shia groups including ISIS-K to blame, according to the private satellite news channel SAMAA.
Officials say they are keeping an eye on the situation in restive Balochistan, which borders Afghanistan and Iran.
At the March 30 Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process conference in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, aimed at expediting the Afghan peace process, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi warned of the role of "spoilers".
He expressed concern over ongoing violence. Any space gained by ISIS and al-Qaeda could accentuate the threat of terrorism, he warned.
"We are concerned that the destruction of infrastructure and the lack of economic opportunities could jeopardise the benefits of the Afghan peace process so far," Qureshi said.
In Pakistan, the "enemy" has sought to create animosity between the Shia and Sunni communities, said a senior intelligence official based in Rawalpindi, who asked that his name be withheld.
The main goal of ISIS in Pakistan "is to foster religious hatred to create divisions among the members of different sects in the country", he said.
"There has been a significant reduction in sectarian terrorism compared to the past in Balochistan and other restive parts of Pakistan" as a result of intelligence-based operations, the official noted.
"We are not just conducting operations in FATA [the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas], North Waziristan or border areas," he said. "This targeted operation is being carried out across the country because the sleeper cells of extremists are present all over the country."
ISIS is cashing in on fault lines in Balochistan, which is already an insurgency-hit region of the country, according to counter-terrorism analyst and former deputy inspector general Abdul Razzaq Cheema of Quetta.
"The need of the hour is to ensure a comprehensive policing system so that law enforcement agencies can streamline their efforts to maintain law and order," Cheema said.
"In Balochistan, several areas are still under the control of the Levies [paramilitary forces formerly active in the tribal belt], who cannot meet the fast-moving deadlines of counter-terrorism," he said.
"Therefore, the merger of the Levies' areas into police jurisdiction is imperative," Cheema added, noting that the country is facing internal and external threats that could lead it to instability.
"Pakistan is currently at a critical juncture in its history, and thwarting the conspiracies being hatched to destabilise the country should be the top priority of the government," he said.
The extremists are eyeing border zones and trying to create an atmosphere of fear among the public so that it becomes frustrated and loses confidence in the security forces, Cheema said.
Instability in Pakistan
ISIS has the support of several banned groups in Pakistan, including Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) splinter group Jundullah and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, said Ahad Khan, a senior Ministry of Defence official based in Islamabad.
Evidence also suggests the Haqqani Network and ISIS are co-ordinating terror attacks in Afghanistan.
In the past, Taliban commanders from the former FATA agencies of Orakzai, Kurram and Khyber and from Hangu district, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, including a TTP spokesman, pledged allegiance to then-ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, he said.
"Pakistan is playing a key role in the war on terror," Khan said. "At present, under a well-organised plan, the enemy is trying to impose a hybrid war on us from different angles."
"The main purpose of spreading instability in Pakistan is to stop foreign investment in the country," he said. "The enemy is plotting against development projects and does not want Pakistan's economic situation to improve."
The banned extremist groups seek to achieve their goals by spreading terror, he said, adding, "ISIS and other militant groups are being re-activated on our soil because hostile elements are now plotting to spread sectarian riots under a new strategy."