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The Islamic State Is Spreading Into Pakistan

Agents have crossed the border with propaganda to recruit new fighters

Ali Al-Saadi/Getty Images News

In early September, about a dozen militants crossed the border from Afghanistan to Pakistan with pamphlets and flags, urging locals to join the Islamic State. They distributed hundreds of pamphlets in Afghan refugee camps and madrassas in Pakistan’s Peshawar and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) regions, according to local militants. These pamphlets, published in Pushto, Dari, and Farsi, were titled “Fateh,” meaning “victory.” “Every Muslim must follow the orders of Caliph and should contribute in whichever capacity he or she can to assist the Islamic State against Taghoot (the enemies),” they said. The pamphlets also said the revival of Islam is only possible through jihad, and the final crusade between Muslims and infidels is imminent.  

“The United States invaded the Muslim land, and we will use our force to invade them,” said former Al-Qaeda fighter Javed Iqbal, 32, who helped distribute the pamphlets and just returned from fighting in Syria. In many ways, Pakistan is an ideal spot for a group like IS to recruit and grow. For decades, the country has been a breeding ground for terrorism and militancy: It is home to at least 48 jihadist groups, many of which Pakistan’s military secretly backs as proxies. According to local sources in Kashmir, IS flags and slogans have been visible sporadically since June, although the Indian Army has helped prevent any terrorist attacks. In Balochistan, which borders Afghanistan and Iran and is the largest province in the country, locals have found walls chalked with messages that glorify the Islamic State and calling for fighters to join.

Local sources in Peshawar and KPK say IS started recruitment in Pakistan two years ago—“even before they emerged as ISIS themselves,” a member of the jihadist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvisaid, on condition of anonymity. “More than 200 fighters have left from Pakistan to join what is now called the Islamic State.” Most of these fighters were from the Pakistani Taliban, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and other militant groups. Although state authorities deny any such activity, another militant commander from Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, also on condition of anonymity, said dozens of fighters left as early as November 2012  “to fight Bashar al Assad, and eventually joined [IS].”

IS’s military successes in Iraq and Syria, meanwhile, have impressed many Pakistani jihadist groups. “IS is openly distributing pamphlets in big cities like Peshawar,” said Khan, a journalist in Peshawar, who did not want to reveal his full name. “This is evidence that they have done their homework and are willing to gain influence in the region.”

One Afghan militant, who crossed over to Pakistan to distribute pamphlets in Peshawar, said IS training “is much more advanced than ours and it’s good for us to learn those techniques.” On Sep 2, he and a dozen others each distributed about 50 pamphlets “to inspire young fighters to the call of God.” 

He refused to answer a question on whether IS has a physical presence in Pakistan or Afghanistan. But he did mention the willingness smaller militant groups in both countries have shown to join the cause. “We support the cause of the Caliphate and will be ready to help them,” he said, should IS want to expand into Pakistan.

Ehsanullah Ehsan, spokesperson for the jihadist group Jamat-ul-Ahrar said Ahrar’s own local fighters will help IS if required: “We believe in those who are fighting for Islam and the rights of Muslims and this will only be possible by establishing the Caliphate.”

Although Jamat-ul-Ahrar has not declared affiliation with IS—“we are still in the organizing phase,” Ehsan said—he added that his group will support IS in any way it can. “Those who are busy in implementing system of Allah on Allah's earth, if they come to us or our home we will warmly welcome them. We'll be their protectors.”

Reporting contributed by Safdar Dawar and Aamir Iqbal from Pakistan, Aurangzeb Khan from India, Sherif Tarek from Egypt, and Rajah Sulaimani from Syria.