The incessantly overlooked yet increasingly visible horrific footprint of the self-styled Islamic State cannot be underplayed any longer. Last week’s attack on a crowd of Sufi dancers at the shrine of Sehwan Sharif clearly validated an alarming emergence of another threat that can perpetuate horrific spectacles of sectarian carnage to further its regional prevalence. Given the ease with which the IS was found to previously operate through a network of local facilitators, a recent report by the Counter-Terrorism Department has apprehended the provision of a “fertile growth area” for the group in not just Sindh but also other parts of the country. In the light of the alleged ideological affinity that the perpetrators of a gun attack on Ismailis in Karachi in 2015 shared with the IS, the study has strongly warned the authorities against an additional number of coalitions between other militant groups; asking them to tighten their group to prevent an even graver challenge befalling upon law enforcers.
Despite an obvious presence of both the IS literature in the suburbs of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as well as its recruiters in Lahore amongst other cities two years ago, a categorical refusal of their existence marked the official stance until recently. This spectacular oblivion, perhaps to satiate their appetite for decreased militancy, if not normalcy, is largely responsible for our inability to even initiate an efficient line of action against its fast-expanding influence, which, in turn, has paved the way for a ratcheted frequency of attacks. It is not just the state’s credibility that is at stake here. Our long and increasingly dark fight against militancy has not yet fared the promised results. Law-enforcement authorities and the armed forces are still struggling to vanquish the innumerable terrorist strongholds spread across the country notwithstanding their unrelenting determination and fearless valour. Amidst such circumstances, any possible alliance between militant outfits or the entrance of another body hell-bent on spreading its ultra-radical teachings at the expense of peace and tolerance can only spell a drastic doom.
Fundamentalist interpretations of Islam have already facilitated an onset of instability, chaos and bloodshed in not just the Muslim countries but the world over. At least 143 attacks have already been conspired in over 29 countries by the IS in the last three years; its deadly tentacles killing around 2000 people, injuring thousands more. A terrorist group of such grave existential threat cannot and should not be allowed to perpetuate its ideology in Pakistan. As is already being done, sweeping security crackdowns on all suspected hideouts as well as military collaborations with the Afghan government against militant sanctuaries should, definitely, be pursued as a directed offensive. However, this military action can only be a part of a broader strategy that the state pursues. Killing people might restore public faith in the governmental ability to regain control over the disorder prevailing the country but might not achieve anything more significant.
Former president Asif Zardari has already struck the right tone in his remarks on Monday; railing against the madrassahs “promoting terrorism in the country”. After all, extremism would have long died a natural death had it not been for its ever-increasing followers and sympathisers. This trajectory can only be understood in the context of the ideological drift that some of these madressahs have long facilitated the terrorist networks with. Corrupting young students with highly radicalised versions of so-called Islamic injunctions, compelling them to partake in massacres only to further their own evil agendas, is what the IS and many others have been doing for years. It is the state’s responsibility, however, to weed out all sinister institutions in order to cleanse the national narrative of violent ideologies. Moderate traditions, which have long been synonymous with this land of tolerance, diversity and Sufism, should once again be integrated into the society. Only these interpretations hold the power to undermine the rapidly gaining influence of fundamentalism and sectarian bloodlust.