Is the ISIS really in our backyard?

Published: September 5, 2014

More than the physical dimensions of ISIS (or any other group), it is the ideological infiltration that we should be worried about. PHOTO: AFP

One day, you see shalwar-kameez clad Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters in Iraq and Syria, and the next day you hear news of their fighters infiltrating Pakistan. Is there any connection? According to the Foreign Office (FO) of Pakistan there isn’t. Obviously.

The FO, on Wednesday, denied reports regarding the presence and infiltration of ISIS, also known as ‘Daesh’, in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and FATA region. But did this denial ring any surprising bells? After all, the same FO, along with the authorities, was oblivious to Osama bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad for many years, leave aside the ISIS.

Yet, one has to go with the FO’s inclination as the methods used by alleged ISIS members, such as the distribution of radical literature and wall-chalking, have been previously used in K-P by local criminal elements. These were used to spread terror and run fake ‘militant franchises’ to execute their activities, primarily kidnapping for ransom.

The ISIS – with their brutal methods and excommunication by al Qaeda – has already topped the list of the most feared terror outfits. A couple of their recent videos, showing the brutal beheading of two US journalists, circulating in the global media have given them their much desired hype and attention.

For that sole reason, if someone in K-P has been influenced by the ISIS’s ideology and its modus operandi, it should somehow worry the locals and the law enforcement agencies.

Literature distributed by this group in Peshawar, parts of FATA, and refugee camps on the outskirts of Peshawar asked for support of the ISIS; which aims to claim the greater Khorasan region, that is Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia.

Photo: Twitter

(Translation from Pashto:

Victory: The Islamic Caliphate is established

Neither have we accepted conspiracy nor insult,

We will either succeed or die as martyrs,

We either wish for a dignified life or an honourable martyr’s death.)

Distribution of this literature was also backed by wall-chalking in some parts of K-P, especially Bannu.

Wall Chalking in Bannu in support of ISIS. Photo: Laltain

But for someone like me, having lived most of my life in Peshawar, I would know that such wall-chalking and literature distribution has become a norm. Yet, overlooking such instances may also pose potential threat if the perpetrators are willing to use the same methods as the ISIS.

Even if the ISIS has time to spare and make the effort to come all the way down to Pakistan, they may not get an expected welcome as the local militants consider Mullah Omar or Maulvi Fazlullah as their emir. For these local Taliban, the fantasy of Abu Bakr alBaghdadi as a caliph may be a bit farfetched. Moreover, Fazlullah, who virtually enjoys a monopoly over the terror sector of Pakistan, may not be willing to allow a rival in the market.

On the other hand, this may also be rebranding strategy by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – who seem to have fizzled out of their terror campaign in wake of Operation Zarb-e-Azab and are now in hiding in Afghanistan striving to resurface with a new and more brutal brand. But more than the physical dimensions of the ISIS (or any other group), it is the ideological infiltration that we should be worried about.

A couple of weeks ago during a dinner, here in London, a leader belonging to a famous Pakistani religious party said,

“It (beheading of people by the ISIS) is all a US propaganda, they are just oppressed Sunnis fighting against Assad and Maliki for their lost rights.”

Another acquaintance, with a pretty solid educational background, while commenting an anti-ISIS post of mine on Facebook wrote,

Mujahidin-e-Islam se Qurban. These people are fighting against Batil and a Kafir Tyrant (Assad).”

This is how the ISIS and its activities are perceived by many in Pakistan. But then again, the TTP were, and are, also considered Mujahids fighting for Islam by the same people.

Photo: Twitter

That is where my real fear creeps in. Even without coming to Pakistan, the ISIS has already infiltrated a large section of our society’s mind-set. For their Sunni followers, beheadings are now revenge on satanic-America or the price the infidel Shi’ites and Alawites have to pay for inflicting miseries on the Sunnis of the region. If this defence, only on the basis of difference of ideology, comes from literate sections of the society we know something is seriously wrong deep down. After all, many among us have also supported the Haqqanis, TTP and the Afghan Taliban in the past.

With the growing wave of radicalisation and a section of youth being disenfranchised; groups like ISIS would remain in some parts of our society, either physically or ideologically.

Farooq Yousaf

Farooq Yousaf

The author is a PhD (Politics) Candidate currently pursuing his studies in Australia. He has previously completed his Masters in Public Policy and Conflict Studies from Germany. He also consults Islamabad-based Security think tank, Centre for Research and Security Studies, and occasionally writes for various news and media sources. He is specialising in Indigenous conflict resolution and counter insurgency. He tweets at @faruqyusaf (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • mullah lyari

    If you’re not aware, according the most recent pew poll, the Taliban are extremely unpopular among Pakistanis, in fact india is more popular than the Taliban here(in relative terms).

    Most Pakistanis have had enough’ we’re not Iraq or Syria, they won’t succeed here, the pak army will exterminate them in zarb e azb.Recommend

  • Parvez

    The ISIS mindset has been around for most of this country’s life.We have had regimes that have pandered to this and now a movement to contain it. How successful this new phase will be…..only time will tell.Recommend

  • pakistani

    Army has done khidmat of nation in checking the infiltrators and cross border terrorists and electronic databases is a way that no foreigners militants arrive and welfare activities job fairs need to be held on regular basis.Recommend

  • WorldView

    The article makes sense, but still you haven’t stated the reason for such thoughts of educated Pakistanis. The education system makes them believe that their religion and Pakistan is always under threat by america, India and Israel. Some blame it on Zia’s era and military rules. So if isis or alQaeda works against India and in Kashmir, they will hail them as heroes and rescuer, but when the gun towards Pakistan they would brand them as agents of america, Israel and India. No one can deny this Pakistani logic.Recommend

  • Faizan Daud

    I support Imran Khan but I believe this to be a bigger dilemma than rigged elections. All political parties should seriously have a look over this issue and plan some strategy alreadyRecommend

  • kulwant singh

    It is good sign if it is true because a peaceful Pakistan is in the interest of both India and Pakistan.Recommend

  • unbelievable

    Your kidding yourselves if you think there is a significant difference between ISIS and the Taliban. You have scene how the rule in Afghanistan (public executions, no TV, no Internet, no free speech, no dissent, and brutal treatment of women) and your own burn down schools, try and execute children and film the beheading of soldiersRecommend

  • Matra
  • Ajnabi

    All of these are good, the articles and the comments, which brings about dialogue. However, the fact remains which no one wants to touch…the root cause of all this is religion itself, how it is practiced, preached, interpreted, and applied in 21st century. No one wants to touch it because it so blasphemous to Muslims. If not the root cause why do people have to always proclaim by word that it is the religion of peace and let not the actions of those who do things in the name of Islam speak for itself?Recommend