By Ayaz Gul
ISLAMABAD — A new report has documented an “alarming” increase in the Islamic State footprint in Pakistan, saying it adds to the challenges facing the country’s decade-long campaign against terrorism and religious extremism.
The annual report, published by the independent Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, or PIPS, registered 370 terrorist attacks across Pakistan in 2017, including “suicide and gun-and-suicide coordinated” raids that killed 815 people and injured more than 1,700. The report, however, noted a 10 percent reduction in fatalities and a 16 percent decline in overall terrorist attacks.
The report said that Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is commonly known as the Pakistani Taliban, and its splinter factions were “still the most potent threat” and were behind 58 percent of the attacks. Nationalist insurgents active in southwestern Baluchistan province and sectarian groups are blamed for the rest of the attacks.
“What has been quite alarming is the increasing footprint of Daesh, especially in Baluchistan and Sindh [provinces],” according to the report, which used the Arabic acronym for IS. The terrorist group claimed six major attacks that last year killed 153 people, mostly civilians, it said. Two Chinese were also among the victims.
A “convergence” of IS fighters in Afghanistan near the Pakistani border, the emergence of “self-radicalized individuals” and small terrorist cells and growing incidents of religious extremism, including on educational campuses, require Islamabad to revisit its counterterrorism strategy to effectively deal with the new challenges, according to the document.
Islamabad says IS plots attacks on Pakistani soil from bases across the Afghan border and have been calling on the neighboring country and U.S. forces operating there to take steps to stop the extremist violence.
IS launched its regional operations in early 2015 after establishing bases in the eastern Afghan provinces of Nangarhar and Kunar, bordering Pakistan.
Afghan forces, backed by U.S. airpower, have since been conducting operations against the IS bases, killing hundreds of militants, but the terrorist group has lately expanded its influence to the northern provinces of Afghanistan, worrying neighboring central Asian states.