Pakistan’s current government and the military have proudly proclaimed many times in recent memory that their operations against the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), the Haqqani Network, and Al Qaeda hubs in the tribal areas of North Waziristan have been a great success. Yet on Monday night a police academy in Quetta suffered a devastating attack in what looks like a new alliance of previously splintered jihadist factions in possible coordination with the so-called Islamic State, The Daily Beast reports.
The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) claimed responsibility for the attack. The group, which has been outlawed by the government, has been involved in past attacks on security forces, al Jazeera reports.
“Over the past few years LeJ has been targeted by the military, especially in Punjab province where its leadership was eliminated. And this attack surprised many that it still survives in some form,” said analyst Raza Rumi (right), a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy.
“The group has been trying to create a sectarian divide on a regional level that could lead to a global war,” Pakistan-based political analyst Khadim Hussain told VOA. “By targeting minority Shi’ite groups in Pakistan and in Afghanistan, the group tries to widen the divide between the Sunni Saudi Arabia and its allies, and Shi’ite Iran, a divide that has already hit the Middle East.”
Analysts say Islamic State clearly has a presence in Pakistan and there is growing evidence that some local groups are working with it, Reuters adds.
“The problem with this government is that it seems to be in a complete state of denial,” said Zahid Hussain, an Islamabad-based security analyst.
“The Quetta attack once again showed that the military’s much-touted Zarb-e Azb operation and the National Action Plan to eradicate terrorism from Pakistani soil have been failures despite Pakistani army chief Raheel Sharif’s claims of victory,” Arif Jamal, a US-based expert on security and Islamism, told DW. “The terror infrastructure is intact in the country and the militants intensify their attacks on the Pakistani state whenever they want to,” he added.
ISIS has yet to find the formula to crack the jihadi landscape in South Asia, but its increasingly bold claims of major attacks, such as that in Quetta, could indicate a strategic refocus on the region that policymakers would be unwise to ignore, notes Milo Comerford, an analyst at the Centre on Religion and Geopolitics.
ISIS ideology “universalizes” local grievances and presents an Islamic state as the only solution, he writes for Newsweek:
Jihadi militants have a track record of exploiting weak governance, instability and geopolitical vacuums to sow discord. Meanwhile, the increasingly polarized regional relationship between Pakistan and its neighbors India and Afghanistan will continue to hinder any coherent, regional response to the threat that groups such as ISIS pose.
“The IS ideology finds resonance in Pakistan. There are many religious groups that openly endorse it; however, they are quite small in size. But I fear that IS could still count on their backing,” Peshawar-based expert Iqbal Khattak told DW.