Pakistan has seen accelerated efforts in recent months by the Islamic State (ISIL), also known as Da’ish, to gain a foothold in the country. Authorities have even arrested some local militants believed to be linked with the Middle Eastern extremist group.
But the biggest and perhaps more potent threat from ISIL was yet to come until security agencies in July this year discovered that Malik Ishaq, the co-founder of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) sectarian extremist group, was all set to formally join Da’ish just days before he was killed in a police encounter in southern Punjab.
Ishaq, accused of being behind sectarian killings and attacks, was killed along with 13 others including his two sons on July 29 in a firefight when his loyalists attacked a police convoy in Muzaffargarh.
There were reports that the LeJ chief was in contact with Da’ish but the extent of his involvement with the ultra-extremist group has never been told before. A security official with the knowledge of the development said that Ishaq was to become the chief of ISIL in Pakistan.
“Some material such as flags and pamphlets showing allegiance to Da’ish was confiscated from them [LeJ supporters],” said the official, who requested not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The potential threat posed by ISIL through local extremist outfits such as the LeJ then prompted the federal government to ban the group in Pakistan. The move was aimed at giving a legal arm to the police and security agencies to act swiftly against any individual or group that may attempt to join hands with Da’ish.
“The killing of Ishaq was no less than a coup against the possible emergence of Da’ish in the country,” remarked another official.
Ishaq was known to have developed close links with al Qaeda and was accused of some of the deadliest attacks in Pakistan, such as the 2009 assault on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore.
But the official said with the significant downgrading of al Qaeda in Pakistan coupled with stringent new anti-terror measures, the LeJ was struggling to find financial resources. “That was the main reason the LeJ was trying to join Da’ish,” he said.
Officially, Pakistan is still adamant that ISIL does not pose an immediate threat to Pakistan.
At his recent weekly briefing, Foreign Office spokesperson Qazi Khalilullah said Pakistan was cognisant of the threat posed by Da’ish and had alerted security agencies accordingly, but made it clear that the group had no footprint in Pakistan.