Monday, 17 October 2016
ISIS leaders look to Pakistan for refuge, By MADHAV NALAPAT
ISIS leaders look to Pakistan for refuge
By MADHAV NALAPAT 15 October, 2016
Several serving and retired Pakistan army officers are in West Asia, training the fighters of ISIS and other like-minded organisations.
More than 300 serving officers of the Pakistan army and over 2,000 retired officers have in the past been, or are in, West Asia, “training fighters of ISIS and other like-minded organisations” in their war against the governments of Iraq and Syria, claim analysts working exclusively on tracking that particular complex of terror organisations. They say that “elements (of the Pakistan army) are taking leave and going under assumed identities to Iraq and Syria to conduct such training”.
In the past, such activities also took place in Jordan, Turkey and Qatar, but over the past year, Amman, Doha and Ankara have become wary of groups of fighters, who, for long, were using their territories for training and recuperation. Training is given “in the handling of communications equipment, interception of signals and the handling of explosives”.
The analysts spoken to claim that “more than money, it is ideological fervour that is motivating such Pakistani volunteers” and that assistance to ISIS is taking place “despite opposition from a few senior officers in the military”, who, however, have so far declined to punish the volunteers (training ISIS, Al Nusra and other such groups) “for fear of sparking a revolt in their ranks, where hundreds of officers and tens of thousands of other ranks are sympathetic to ISIS”. Hence, it has not been a surprise that almost all recent attacks by ISIS-affiliated “lone wolves” have had a Pakistan connection. An example is the recent terror attack in New York and New Jersey during the week after the anniversary of 9/11.
Oddly, the United Nations Security Council has yet to take up and get implemented India’s two decades-old proposal for a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism, although it is hoped that Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi will be able to get the UN leadership to agree to ratify this essential legal move in the battle against terror.
Despite efforts by the Barack Obama administration and its regional allies to slow down the Syria-Iran-Russia advance against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the takeover of Aleppo by the troika is calculated to take place by mid-November. Alarmed at the advance of the Iraqi army and the irregulars backing its thrust into Mosul, President Recip Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey is “seeking a Jarabalus” in Mosul. In that Syrian town, ISIS fighters switched their label to become “moderate opposition fighters” and are now protected by the Turkish army. In that garb, they expect to recuperate from recent losses and get back into the battlefield against the US and its European allies, the way the Taliban did in Afghanistan just two years after getting rescued by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) wing of the Pakistan army in Kunduz and other locations in 2001. Over the past five months, and now in his final days in office, President Obama has once again handed over the keys of foreign policy to Hillary Clinton, who through Secretary of State John Kerry is following a policy of seeing the Damascus-Moscow-Tehran combination as a bigger immediate threat to US than ISIS and other jihadi groups operating in the region. This is despite the spread of these organisations into Europe and North America. Preparatory to a US military challenge to Moscow and Tehran in Syria, following an expected victory by the Democratic Party nominee in the 8 November 2016 Presidential elections, a demonisation of Russia and of Vladimir Putin has begun through the media. The expectation is that as President, Hillary Clinton will be able to get even a Republican-controlled House of Representatives as well as the US Senate on her side, should there be actual combat on a limited scale between the US and Russian militaries in a regional theatre that has witnessed bloodshed on a scale not seen since the Vietnam War. Such a conflict between Russia and the US could escalate in such a manner as to provide an escape hatch for elements of the ISIS leadership, which is facing the loss of territorial outposts in Iraq and Syria because of Iran, Syria, Iraq and Russia together with a strong and largely separate showing by the Kurds, despite the relative lack of assistance given to these fighters by the Obama administration, which is very respectful of the views of Doha, Riyadh and Ankara in such matters.
However, those tracking the activities of ISIS in Iraq and Syria say that the organisation is still nervous of a “November Upset” in the US elections that would bring Donald J. Trump into the White House. The Republican Party nominee has publicly endorsed a strategy of going along with Iran and Syria to battle ISIS. Taking a view from history, those such as John Kerry who see the troika fighting ISIS as the primary foe, may be compared to British and French leaders in the 1930s who saw Adolf Hitler as a lesser evil than Joseph Stalin, while Trump may be compared to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who from the start of his tenure in office saw Hitler as the main foe and was willing to ally with (and assist) Moscow in its battle against Nazified Berlin. Contrary to the views expressed in US media, it is Trump and not Clinton that ISIS and Al Nusra fear, given the Republican nominee’s persistence in placing ISIS at the core of US security threats, rather than Moscow and Tehran, the way the Clinton team does. Trump has also distanced himself from the soft line of both the Bush and Obama administrations on Pakistan, with “action” thus far against that country’s terror factories being largely limited to words designed to soothe policymakers in Delhi and excite the media in India into reporting that Washington has finally “gone against” Islamabad.
Washington’s longstanding softness towards Pakistan is despite the fact that numerous terror groups are based in Pakistan and have the protection of the Pakistan army. These include Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Tehreek-e-Jafferia, Al Qaeda, Siphah-e-Sahaba, Al Badr, Harkat-ul-Ansar, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi and the Jamaat Al Fuqra. National Security Advisor of Pakistan, Sartaz Aziz has himself admitted that terrorists (mainly from Afghanistan) “by 2007-08 had covered most of the tribal areas. They killed the tribal leaders, then they started establishing their communications networks, IED factories, suicide training centres.” According to Aziz, during the past 15 years, Pakistan has lost more than $100 billion as well as the lives of over 10,000 security personnel. However, the fact is that not just the civilian leadership of Pakistan but the military as well, which is unable to act against such activities in an all out manner, because of the fact that since 1979, “mujahids” were openly trained in Pakistan for the Afghanistan and later the India theatre. From 1989 onwards, the cadre which later became known as the Taliban, began to get trained by the ISI in camps in Pakistan, mainly in the North West Frontier Province as well as in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.
Given the toxicity associated with ISIS, in a (for that organisation) worst case scenario for it, such as the wresting from it of Mosul, Aleppo and afterwards Raqa, it is likely that a “Turkish solution” will be found for its dilemma, in that much of its cadre would, for the record, switch their allegiance to the so-called “moderate fighting forces” that in reality are (besides the Kurds) little other than ISIS and Al Nusra elements in disguise. Analysts warn than elements in the Pakistan army, who subscribe to the ideology of ISIS, are “busy locating places in Pakistan that can be used to shelter leadership elements of ISIS”, the way Osama bin Laden was protected by the military in Pakistan since his escape from Afghanistan after 9/11 and his execution by US SEALS in 2011. “Already about 26 leadership elements of ISIS have been identified and steps are under way to get them to Pakistan through the Afghan border”, an analyst revealed, warning that India needs to “prepare for this new threat, as it is certain that the Pakistan military will make operations against India the condition for sheltering elements of the ISIS leadership” in Pakistan.