A terrorist attack in Quetta, claimed by militants thought to be seeking inclusion in the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as Isis or Daesh, has fueled fears the group and its proxies are making inroads in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Baluchistan, where foreign passport holders are rarely permitted to travel, the FT’s Farhan Bokhari reports:
Since establishing a “caliphate” in large parts of Northern Syria and Iraq, Isis already has several formal and informal franchise agreements with the likes of Boko Haram and al-Shabaab in Africa. In Asia, home to 1bn Muslims — about two-thirds of the global total — analysts say that while Isis is not actively trying to expand its influence, many homegrown extremist groups want to associate themselves with the world’s strongest terror brand…..
For Isis, Baluchistan’s proximity to Iran could make it a useful place to cultivate a local proxy. Iran is the main backer of the regimes in Iraq and Syria that are Isis’s primary enemies and attacking Tehran’s flank is a likely objective for the group.
“As [Isis] militants fight to gain control in Iraq and Syria, it is only logical that they seek to open fronts elsewhere” says one senior western official in Islamabad. “I am not surprised to see them seeking entry to Baluchistan which has a long border with Iran and also Afghanistan”.
There is no easy answer to defeating groups like ISIS, experts suggest:
“We’re not facing leaders and groups, we’re facing an ideology,” said General Michael Flynn (Ret.), former director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency. “We will not win by capture and kill and these mysterious drone strikes. An ideology cannot be beaten by military force.”
“It is about religion,” Flynn said to loud applause. “This is a problem with a religion.”
But journalist Graeme Wood, who wrote a much lauded article for The Atlantic last year entitled “What ISIS really wants,” said there are far more Muslims worldwide who loathe the Islamic State than embrace it and the United States needs to forge relationships with them.
“We need to be thinking about it as an intellectual movement,” he said.
Governments lack the credibility and versatility of non-state actors, including civil society groups, in combating radical Islamist ideology, argues Jonathan Russell, head of policy for the anti-radicalization think tank Quilliam.
On February 16, the Foreign Policy program at Brookings hosted The Honorable Antony J. Blinken, deputy secretary of state, for a discussion of the United States’ civilian-led initiatives to counter the spread of the Islamic State and other violent extremist groups. Blinken charted the path forward, to include partnerships with industry and civil society.
Tamara Cofman Wittes, senior fellow and director of the Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings, joined Deputy Secretary Blinken in conversation following his remarks [above].