You are on page 1of 22




The State of Jihadist Networks in Afghanistan

and Pakistan

The Taliban are ascendant in Afghanistan, where the number of terrorist

attacks and amount of terrain they control are at their highest levels since
September 11, 2001.

The Taliban have yet to demonstrate an ability to hold major population

centers in Afghanistan.

The Islamic State or ISIS is seeking a foothold in Afghanistan, and it has

conducted several high-profile attacks there, but its footprint is contained to a
single remote region of the country.

Terrorist attacks are on a sustained decline in neighboring Pakistan, where

government and military targets are increasingly unreachable. Attacks against SUMMARY
civilian targets continue.

The Pakistan Army has shown itself to be capable of clearing and holding
territory in counterinsurgency operations, and is taking steps toward political
reform in territory once held by insurgents.

INTRODUCTION Despite changes in policy that have

The Taliban are a resurgent force in sequentially reduced the threshold for
Afghanistan, where they have been lethal U.S. military engagement against
aided by a fragmented political, ethnic insurgent forces, the Taliban cannot be
and social landscape. Sources of defeated militarily. Although they have
conflict in the region long known as not yet demonstrated an ability to hold
the graveyard of empires abound, major urban centers in Afghanistan,
making it difficult for U.S. military patterns of attacks have emerged
forces to completely withdraw. that show the Taliban are more

than capable of finding shelter and attempts to argue policy positions for
sustenance in rural areas, from whence the United States to help stabilize the
they emerge repeatedly to overrun or deteriorating situation in Afghanistan,
temporarily claim key cities, continually where political consensus is notably
bedeviling Afghan security and lacking; and to continue strengthening
coalition forces. The war in Afghanistan the hand of the Pakistani government
remains mired in a costly stalemate, against anti-state jihadists. Ultimately,
and jihadist forces there pose an Islamabad must adopt an exit strategy
existential threat to the country. from its sponsorship of militant groups
as proxies to make Pakistan and the
This frustrating narrative stands in broader South Asia region more
sharp contrast to neighboring Pakistan, secure.
Arif Rafiq is a Fellow at the which, in relative terms, is a regional
Center for Global Policy. He success story. Although the country
is also president of Vizier remains home to a large number of AFGHANISTAN: TALIBAN
Consulting, LLC, which militant groups many of them long STRONGER AND UNITED,
provides strategic guidance ago co-opted by the state in pursuit of ISIS STUNTED
on Middle East and South its national security interests military Afghanistan faces a resilient, if not
Asian political and security and security forces have succeeded surging, Taliban insurgent movement
issues. He is a non-resident in clearing territory once claimed by that maintains a sizable presence in
fellow at the Middle East Pakistani Taliban and foreign militants virtually all corners of the country, in-
Institute in Washington, D.C., linked to al-Qaeda. Terrorist violence cluding along the critical Ring Road
where he studies political has declined sharply in Pakistan since the circular highway that connects
reform, sectarianism and 2014, and military and government Afghanistans major population cen-
terrorism in Pakistan, and targets especially are increasingly out ters to the capital, Kabul.
Pakistans foreign policy. of reach for jihadists.
A frequent contributor to Today, the Afghan Taliban controls
print and web publications, Moreover, local affiliates of ISIS pose more territory than it has since 2001.1
Rafiq writes regularly for The only a limited threat. As in neighboring Additionally, war casualties this year
Diplomat, Foreign Policy and Afghanistan, ISIS militants brand of are on pace to meet or exceed a re-
The National Interest, and he Salafist Islam and animosity toward cord high since the fall of the Taliban
has contributed to numerous the Deobandi subsect (with which both regime.2 In other words, the Taliban
other publications. Previ- the Taliban and al-Qaeda have formed insurgency increasingly poses a
ously, Rafiq worked for the strong regional ties) prevent the group challenge to the sovereignty of the
Center for Middle East Policy from mushrooming in South Asia. That Afghan government both in terms
at the Brookings Institution said, there is some ongoing risk that of its control over territory and its mo-
and leading public relations ISIS could draw disaffected militants nopoly over legitimate violence.
firms Burson-Marsteller and from groups like Pakistans Lashkar-e
Ruder Finn. From 2011 to Taiba (LeT) to its ranks. "Whac-A-Mole" in the Hindu Kush
2013, Rafiq was listed by For- In light of growing challenges to the
eign Policy as one of the top This brief assesses the state of terrorist Kabul government and a renewed
100 foreign affairs commen- groups and trends in both Afghanistan threat of global jihadism, the Obama
tators on Twitter. He received and Pakistan, where state-making and Administration over the course of
an MA in Arab Studies from the strength of political institutions 2016 modified its policy toward
the Georgetown University are important underlying factors. It Afghanistan, expanding its ability to
School of Foreign Service.


engage in lethal military activity within Additionally, in May 2016, the

the ambit of what it describes to be a U.S. military conducted its first
non-combat presence in Afghanistan. acknowledged drone strike in the
Twice this year, Washington has Pakistani province of Balochistan,
eased the rules of engagement in killing the leader of the Afghan
Afghanistan, allowing for a greater Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mansour.5 In
use of force against the Afghan July 2016, the Obama Administration
Taliban and the so-called Islamic State announced that it would maintain
(or ISIS).3,4 The changes allow for U.S. a higher number of residual troop
troops to directly target ISIS militants levels than planned. A total of 8,400
in Afghanistan. Before this year, U.S. U.S. troops, instead of the originally
military personnel were allowed to planned 5,500, would remain in
target ISIS only if they posed a direct Afghanistan into early 2017 as part
threat or were the targets of a specific of a non-combat train, advise and
counterterrorism operation. Also, U.S. assist effort.6
forces are now allowed to accompany
conventional Afghan military forces U.S. officials have claimed that the
into the field (previously, they were more assertive posture has improved
permitted to accompany only Afghan the outlook in Afghanistan. For
special forces). example, a senior U.S. military official


said that the new rules of to deploy several hundred of his

engagement had yielded gains on forces in the neighboring province.
the battlefront.7 Earlier, President Abdul Raziq has been able to thwart
Barack Obama described the killing the Afghan Taliban from making
of Mullah Mansour as an "important advances in Kandahar, but the Taliban
milestone in our longstanding effort subsequently launched coordinated
to bring peace and prosperity to attacks on the capitals of multiple
Afghanistan.8 provinces across the country: Baghdis,
Baghlan, Kunduz and Takhar in the
In reality, the new policies have failed north; Farah in the west; and Helmand
to produce strategic change; the and Uruzgan in the south. Irrespective
Afghan Taliban are stronger than of whether the Taliban would be able
they have been in recent years and, to consolidate their gains, the same
despite some internal fissures, they scenario is likely to repeat next year
comprise one of the most coherent when the fighting season resumes in
political forces in the country. At best, the spring.
the more permissive use of air power
and U.S. special forces have helped There is no indication that the Afghan
to temporarily reverse Afghan Taliban government will be able to resolve
advances and provide life support for the systemic causes for the Taliban
the Kabul government. The Afghan advances for example, ethnic
government is locked in a game of militias that target Pashtun civilians
Whac-A-Mol with Taliban insurgents, in Kunduz and Takhar, creating the
much like the Pakistan Army was from impression that the Taliban are a
2003 to 2009, before it began to lesser evil.10 The Afghan National
take counterinsurgency operations Security and Defense Forces (ANSDF)
seriously. are taking the lead in fighting, but
with their low levels of literacy and
paucity of skilled manpower, they
The disunity in Kabul aids the Taliban insurgency. are incapable of autonomously
managing complex logistics networks
and providing air support to ground
combat operations. Governance,
In early October, the Afghan Taliban overall, is also in decline, and a
made another attempt to capture political crisis stemming from
the province of Kunduz,overrunning tensions between the president and
parts of the capital city9 nearly a year chief executive officer over the fact
after having briefly seized it. It also that their power-sharing agreement
seized territory in neighboring Takhar has yet to be implemented remains
province. At the time of the writing unresolved, despite reported
of this paper, the Afghan Taliban also progress on a deal. Ethnic tensions
made territorial gains in Paktia, and are also resurfacing, with protests by
Helmand and Uruzgan in southern ethnic Hazaras and clashes between
Afghanistan, forcing Gen. Abdul Tajiks and Uzbeks over the reburial of
Raziq, the strongman of Kandahar, a former Afghan ruler.


The Afghan armys special forces a dissident Taliban faction, which once
contingents have shown prowess in tilted toward ISIS and later received
combatting the Afghan Taliban, but financial and logistical support from
the ANSDF faces growing casualty the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency,
counts and a high rate of defections. have now rejoined the mainline
The attrition rate for the Afghan Afghan Taliban.15,16
National Army (ANA) is estimated
to be between 15 to 20 percent The Talibans ascendancy comes as
per year.11 In fact, it is unclear how both Kabul and Washington have
many Afghan forces are in the fight. backed away from the Quadrilateral
According to a U.S. government Group a peace process led by
oversight authority, neither the Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the
United States nor its Afghan allies United States. Kabul sees little reason
know how many Afghan soldiers and to trust Islamabad, which appears
police actually exist.12 One source to have oversold its ability to bring
estimates real personnel at less than the Afghan Taliban to the table. U.S.
half of the 320,000 on paper.13 Air intelligence agencies conducting
power and special forces cannot surveillance on Pakistani leaders
compensate for the weakness of believe that Islamabad made a
the Afghan political and military good-faith effort to bring the Taliban
system on the ground. Efforts have to talks, but were rebuffed by an
been made to provide the Afghan obstinate Taliban leadership.17 Since
military with more aircraft, but it lacks then, Washington has sharpened its
sufficient personnel to operate and tilt toward New Delhi, exploring the
maintain its current inventory.14 possibility of an alternative framework
a trilateral group of Afghanistan,
Meanwhile, the Afghan Taliban India and the United States to
appear to be more united today buttress the Kabul government. But
than compared to a year ago. The this grouping, in which two of the
killing of Mansour, whose tenure three members do not neighbor
was marked by acrimony, may prove Afghanistan, cannot make up for the
to have been a favor to the Afghan Kabul governments deficiencies and
Taliban. Although he managed to its tendency to self-injure. The disunity
sideline alternative claimants to in Kabul aids the Taliban insurgency.
leadership, latent divisions within the
group continued and were capable Creating Space for a Political
of resurfacing. His replacement, Solution, or Death by a
Mullah Haibatullah, is far less Thousand Cuts?
controversial. He has been able to Since the end of U.S. combat
quickly consolidate control over the operations in December 2014,
insurgent group, which launched a pattern has emerged in the
a relentless terror and insurgent subsequent two fighting seasons.
campaign in the country in the The Afghan Taliban creep from
summer of 2016. Sizable elements of rural strongholds to population


centers in areas under the central evidence to suggest that it would be

governments control, aided by in the near term.
targeted assassinations of key officials
and the excesses of government- Transnational Networks:
allied local police and militias. The Success in Containing ISIS,
Taliban then briefly gain control of a Al-Qaeda's Presence Murky
provincial or district capital, only to be One success partially attributable
pushed back by coalition air power to Afghan and coalition forces has
and Afghan troops on the ground, been the suppression of the growth
who suffer high casualties and cause of the local affiliate of ISIS, which
significant amounts of collateral was officially recognized by the
damage. The Afghan Taliban return groups central leadership in January
once again later in the same fighting 2015. ISIS positioned itself in the
season or the next one. Afghanistan-Pakistan region as a
competitor to the Afghan Taliban and
An unnamed senior U.S. official aptly its partner, al-Qaeda.
described Afghanistans present
state as a very ugly, very costly The January 2015 issue of ISISs
stalemate.18 This pattern is likely to flagship publication, Dabiq,
repeat into the next few years, barring nearly apostatized al-Qaeda and
any major disruptive event impacting other jihadist groups operating in
the Afghan Taliban or the political Afghanistan and Pakistan. But the
government in Kabul. local ISIS network, known as IS-
Khurasan, which largely consists of
What, then, would be the longer- Afghan Salafi jihadists and Pakistani
term impact of the oscillation of Taliban defectors, bit off more than
control of key pockets of the country it could chew. It was in no position
from government to Taliban control? to overtake the ascendant Afghan
High civilian, military, and Taliban Taliban, which has stronger rooting in
deaths? The use of militias and illegal the religious panoply in Afghanistan,
sale of weapons? A plummeting due to its Sunni Deobandi
economy and growing ethnic-political background. (Deobandis are said to
strife? Which side will tire first the constitute the second-largest Sunni
Afghan government or the Taliban subsect in South Asia and dominate
insurgency? its jihadist landscape.) Al-Qaeda, a
Salafi jihadist group, has thrived over
The strategic challenge is to ensure several decades in South Asia as a
that the Kabul government and result of a pragmatic partnership with
broader Bonn framework that Deobandi jihadist networks, despite
underpins it endure long enough for doctrinal differences. In contrast,
the Afghan Taliban to tire of war and ISIS appears to require adoption of
come once again to the bargaining the Salafi creed and methodology
table. But when the Taliban would to be part of its network and has
tire is unclear: it could possibly be in condemned Pakistani Deobandis in
a few years or ten, but there is little al-Qaeda as Sufis.


U.S. drone attacks and ground attacks by ISIS could result in inter-
operations by Afghan special ethnic unrest. For example, in July
forces in Nangarhar province have 2016, ISIS claimed responsibility
helped stunt the growth of ISIS in for an attack on Hazara Shias. While
Afghanistan. But the most critical the attack was motivated by anti-
factor has been opposition by the
Afghan Taliban, which created a
special forces unit to target ISIS U.S. drone attacks and ground operations by Afghan special
networks.19 forces in Nangarhar province have helped stunt the growth
of ISIS in Afghanistan. But the most critical factor has been
It should be noted that the presence opposition by the Afghan Taliban, which created a special
of ISIS in Afghanistan is due to forces unit to target ISIS networks.
the safe haven provided by the
Afghan government.20 The Afghan
intelligence service sought to provide Shia sentiment, it took place as
refuge to disaffected Afghan and ethnic Hazaras most of whom are
Pakistani Taliban militants and use Shia protested against the central
them as proxies against Islamabad, in government, alleging that Kabul is
the latest round of a tit-for-tat game excluding their Hazarajat region from
between the two countries. But the a planned expansion of the national
venture backfired. Those groups electricity grid. At the same time,
joined ISIS, although they continued other ethnic groups have grown
cooperation with elements of the tired of the presidency of ethnic
Kabul government. Then ISIS began Pashtun, Ashraf Ghani. The timing
to attack Afghan forces. Subsequently, of the ISIS attack was indication to
they were targeted by a special unit some Hazaras that elements of the
of the Afghan Taliban, as well as U.S. Kabul government facilitated it, and
drones and Afghan forces on the it strengthened Hazara perceptions
ground. that the government wanted them
ISIS is highly unlikely to ever mount
a serious insurgent challenge to the Similarly, ISIS has shown potential
Afghan government. For a number to exacerbate tensions between
of reasons including sectarian and Afghanistan and its neighbors. In
tribal it will be unable to supplant January 2016, ISIS also attacked the
the primary insurgent network, the Pakistani consulate in Jalalabad, soon
Afghan Taliban. But it is capable after a jihadist attack on the Indian
of engaging in terror attacks that consulate in Mazar-e Sharif, believed
destabilize Afghanistan due to both to have been perpetrated by Pakistan-
the number of human lives lost backed militants.
and the externalities of inter-ethnic
relations and foreign policy. In contrast to ISIS, the size and
Compared to neighboring Pakistan, strength of the al-Qaeda presence
Afghanistan has not had a major in Afghanistan is murky. The
history of sectarian strife, but sectarian U.S. intelligence community in


recent years has estimated that new Afghan Taliban emir, as he had
approximately 50 to 100 al- done with Mullah Omar and his
Qaeda operatives are based in successor, Mullah Akhtar Mansour.
Afghanistan,22 but after the discovery For al-Qaeda, the importance of the
of a training camp for al-Qaedas Afghan Taliban is that it provides not
South Asia affiliate (AQIS) in southern just a narrative for re-establishing a
Afghanistan last year, some observers beachhead in South Asia, but also an
have argued that those estimates insurgency that has been successful
were low.23 in largely removing U.S. forces from
the region and has the potential
Moreover, it is critical to distinguish to gain control over the country.
between al-Qaeda (a core network Another factor contributing to the
consisting of Arab foreigners) and Talibans importance for al-Zawahiri:
AQIS (a network of South Asian He likely depends on the good will
jihadists who were previously part of of elements of the Afghan Taliban
various Deobandi jihadist groups). for survival. Unnamed U.S. officials
AQIS moved to southern Afghanistan believe al-Zawahiri is hiding along the
after the North Waziristan tribal area Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.26
was cleared in Pakistans Operation
Zarb-e Azb, which is discussed
in further detail below. Al-Qaeda PAKISTAN: JIHADISTS CONTAINED,
central operatives appear to be in BUT AN END GAME NEEDED
the countrys east. The commander Pakistan faces a more complex jihadist
of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Gen. challenge than Afghanistan but, due
John Nicholson, stated in September to the coherence of its state and re-
2016 that al-Qaeda operatives have solve of its security forces, it has been
been killed or apprehended in a moving in the opposite direction, with
total of seven Afghan provinces, but a sharp reduction in violence since
he declined to specify the number 2014.
of senior operatives in the country.24
Al-Qaeda now plays a secondary The central paradigm guiding post-
role in the Afghanistan and Pakistan 2007 U.S. strategy toward the region
regions, compared to local jihadist has been the notion of Af-Pak,
networks. One reason is financial a singular battlefront consisting
independence: The billion-dollar of Afghanistan and the adjacent
opium trade provides the Afghan border regions of Pakistan. That
Taliban with an estimated 40 percent binary has largely been severed,
of its funds.25 however, due to successful Pakistani
counterinsurgency operations. Since
Al-Qaeda continues to use the Afghan 2009, the Pakistan Army conducted
Taliban and its Islamic Emirate-in- military operations in all seven tribal
waiting as counterweights to ISIS areas bordering Afghanistan and
and its so-called caliphate. In June in the Malakand Division. It also
2016, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al- conducted smaller-scale operations
Zawahiri pledged allegiance to the targeting jihadists in parts of the


Balochistan and Punjab provinces, networks have largely been evicted

and urban counterinsurgency from Pakistani territory, although many
operations in the megacity of rank-and-file operatives, mid-level
Karachi.27 commanders and sleeper cells remain
throughout the country. Nonetheless,
The end result of these operations the principal insurgent networks the
is that Pakistan has largely (not Pakistani military has been combatting
completely) insulated itself from since 2007 the Pakistani Taliban
events in Afghanistan, although and its main transnational partner,
insurgents based in Pakistan continue al-Qaeda have been substantially
to flow into Afghanistan. U.S. officials degraded and are unlikely to
allege that Pakistan serves as a safe regenerate as insurgent forces
haven for the Afghan Taliban and capable of controlling significant
Haqqani Network a place where swaths of territory.
fighters base their families, go for rest
and receive medical treatment. Despite the marked progress,
containing and eliminating jihadist
Pakistan has flushed its tribal areas networks requires a generation-
of foreign militants, particularly long effort by the Pakistani state in
those belonging to al-Qaeda and countering the militant ideology and
the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan the complete abandonment of the
(IMU). Similarly, the Pakistani Taliban use of jihadists as proxies.


Terrorism Trends: Down, But Some The Pakistani Success:

High-Impact, High-Casualty Attacks Fragmentation of Anti-State
Since 2014, terrorism has dropped Networks, Denial of Space
precipitously in Pakistan. Civilian What Pakistan has been able to
deaths from terrorist attacks declined achieve is remarkable: a marked,
by 40 percent in 2014, compared to multi-year decline in terrorism despite
the previous year.28 In 2015, they fell a complex, multifaceted domestic
by 50 percent on a year-on-year basis. terrorism threat and severely
unfavorable exogenous, geopolitical
In 2016, the decline was less steep. If factors all without the presence
current trend lines continue, civilian of foreign combat and special
deaths from terrorism will drop by 25 operations forces.
percent. A closer look at the numbers
indicates a decline in the frequency of In 2013, Pakistan held largely free
overall attacks and a disproportionate and fair elections that resulted in
number of civilian deaths coming the countrys first transition of power
from a handful of brazen attacks. from one democratically elected
Nearly one-third of civilian casualties government to another. The new
from terrorism have come from two government, run by the center-right
attacks: one targeting Christians at a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz
park in Lahore, and another targeting (PML-N) party, opened up a number
lawyers in Quetta. of channels of negotiation with the
Pakistani Taliban insurgents based
Anti-state militants find government in North Waziristan. During the
targets to be inaccessible, yet course of this process, terror attacks
continue to target civilians as they including sectarian violence
have since the start of a full-fledged soared in Pakistan, and the Pakistani
Taliban insurgency in 2007. Taliban umbrella organization began


to fracture. A Taliban splinter group, TYPE GROUPS STATUS

Ahrar-ul-Hind, emerged with the aim Anti-state Ahrar-ul-Hind, Lashkar-e Mainly fragmented and forced to seek
of defying a ceasefire agreed to by Jihadists Islam, "Punjabi Taliban," refuge in Afghanistan. Some co-opted
TTP, TTP-JA, other TTP by the state.
the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), factions
led by Maulvi Fazlullah. At the same
time, violence in Karachi, mainly Afghanistan- Afghan Taliban, Hafiz Continue to operate. HIG has signed a
focused Jihadists Gul Bahadur group peace deal with the Kabul government.
perpetrated by non-jihadist militants, (HGB), Haqqani The HGB group was targeted by the
metastasized. By the end of the year, Network, Hizb-e Islami Pakistani state in Operation Zarb-e-
Gulbuddin (HIG) Azb and is now based in Afghanistan,
a new army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, where it is allegedly supported by
came into office and quickly initiated Afghan intelligence.29 Other elements
of the HGB have maintained a truce
an aggressive, lethal engagement with the Pakistani state.30
of the terrorists, launching airstrikes
against anti-state militant safe havens India-focused Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Largely contained by Indian and
Jihadists Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Pakistani forces. Conduct periodic and
in North Waziristan. By June 2014, Jaish-e Muhammad, low-intensity attacks and occasional
the army was able to compel a Lashkar-e Taiba high-profile assaults on Indian military
targets. Continue to fundraise and
reluctant civilian government to go organize with impunity in Pakistan.
forward with ground operations in
North Waziristan, an action known as Sectarian Jihadists Lashkar-e Jhangvi Contained, but survive due to
continued tolerance for sectarian
Operation Zarb-e Azb. agitators.

Within months, key parts of North Transnational AQ, AQIS, IMU, IS-K Contained, stunted or evicted from
Jihadists and Pakistani soil.
Waziristan were cleared by the Local Affiliates
Pakistan Army. Insurgents fled to
the forests of the Shawal Valley, in a process largely stewarded by
straddling the border of North the Pakistan Army have combined
and South Waziristan. They also kinetic operations with a tough
moved to northern Balochistan, the crackdown on anti-state (and to some
Khyber Agency, and various parts extent, sectarian) terrorist financing
of Afghanistan, where they were and propaganda.
welcomed by Afghan security officials.
The Pakistan Army also conducted As Pakistan experienced the gains
cleanup operations in the Khyber from Operation Zarb-e Azb and NAP,
Agency and northern Balochistan, sectarian violence surged across the
and intensified counterterrorism Middle East; ISIS emerged as a new
operations in Karachi and parts of leader of the global jihad, invigorating
Punjab. radicals worldwide; and violence in
neighboring Afghanistan continued
The end result has been that anti- to surge. Pakistan has been able to
state militants have been largely insulate itself from a region on fire.
denied space in Pakistani territory,
leading to a precipitous drop in Al-Qaeda in Pakistan:
domestic terrorism. Through a A Shadow of its Former Self
framework known as the National U.S. drone strikes have decimated al-
Action Plan (NAP), the Pakistani Qaedas foreign core and its South
federal government and provinces Asian partners in Pakistan. The terror


group is down, but not out: It has throughout central and southern
a notional basis through which to Punjab, as well as Karachi and parts of
endure in South Asia even after the Balochistan, resulted in the arrests or
death of al-Zawahiri. deaths of dozens of AQIS operatives.

In September 2014, al-Zawahiri AQIS has continued with small-

announced the formation of an scale terrorist activity, but it appears
affiliate in South Asia (AQIS).31 It is led unable to play an anchoring role in
by Sana ul Haq, a religious cleric from jihadist activity in Pakistan. While
northern India who goes by the nom al-Qaeda, at its peak in Pakistan,
de guerre Asim Umar.32 In the same opposed some attacks on civilians
month, the group conducted a series by the TTP, its condemnation was in
of high-profile attacks, including the private communication. In contrast,
attempted hijacking by a rogue officer AQIS has been forced to make its
of a naval vessel, the PNS Zulfiqar, in condemnation public, signaling its
the Arabian Sea port of Karachi and need to distance itself from deeply
the successful assassinations of an unpopular actions, its inability to
ISI officer in Sargodha, Punjab, and a control the various Taliban groups
university dean in Karachi.33 Although in Pakistan and, possibly, limited
the attempted hijacking was a failure, channels of communication between
it reflected the ability of AQIS to AQIS and TTP networks, which
penetrate the Pakistani military.34 are based in Afghanistan. AQIS
explicitly condemned major attacks
However, AQISs momentum quickly conducted and claimed by various
dissipated as Pakistani forces cleared Pakistani Taliban outfits, including
North Waziristan and launched the December 2014 Peshawar school
counterterrorism raids in all four attack, the January 2016 attack on a
provinces, and U.S. drone strikes government office in Mardan, and
eliminated much of the senior the March 2016 attack on a university
leadership of both AQ and AQIS. In in Charsadda. Usama Mehmood,
late 2014, Pakistani security forces the AQIS spokesman, declared
killed Adnan El-Shukrijumah, a senior these attacks to be Islamically
al-Qaeda central official who had impermissible and criminal.
evaded U.S. authorities for more
than a decade.35 A senior American In a video that was posthumously
al-Qaeda operative, Adam Gadahn, released in June 2015, Gadahn stated
was killed in a January 2015 drone that al-Qaedas decision to form a
strike. According to AQIS spokesman South Asia affiliate was finalized in
Usama Mehmood, approximately 50 mid-2013, well before the break
AQIS operatives were killed in drone with ISIS. But AQIS has an extensive
strikes from 2014 into the spring of sleeper cell network in Pakistan, so
2015.36 Among those killed were Qari Pakistani security forces continue a
Imran, the deputy emir, and Ahmed vigilant crackdown.37 Members of AQ
Farooq al-Qaedas most prominent and AQIS continue to be arrested or
Urdu-language propagandist. Raids killed in joint ISI-provincial police raids


across Pakistan.38,39 One notable arrest was led by Hafiz Saeed Khan until his
this year was that of Abdul Rehman death in 2016.45 As in Afghanistan, ISIS
Sindhi, a long-time AQ-affiliated, has yet to gain a significant foothold
U.N.-sanctioned operative based in in the jihadist space in Pakistan. While
Karachi.40 the groups Salafism limits its appeal
to a broad segment of Pakistanis,
Although AQIS has issued calls for there is continued risk that the group
attacks in India and remains active could make inroads into the Salafi
in Bangladesh, its leadership has jihadist space in Pakistan dominated
identified Pakistan as the main target by Lashkar-e Taiba.
in South Asia, excluding Afghanistan.
In a September 2016 audio statement, For the first time, in early September
AQIS spokesman Usamah Mehmood 2016, the Pakistan Army recognized
called on jihadists in the subcontinent that ISIS had been attempting to
to focus on Pakistan. A separate establish a formal network in Pakistan.
recording by Mehmood released at Lt. Gen. Asim Bajwa, the militarys
the same time consisted largely of chief spokesman, provided a detailed
a tirade against the Pakistani state, presentation on the ISIS network in
although its topic was ostensibly the Pakistan. Bajwa stated that ISIS had
crisis in Kashmir. made a concerted effort to intrude
into Pakistan and had organized
The ISIS Network in Pakistan: itself into two halves: kutaiba haris,
Slow Growth in a Crowded Market responsible for strategic planning,
In June 2014, ISIS announced its so- and kutaiba mubashir, responsible for
called caliphate a cataclysmic event executing attacks.
that reverberated across jihadist
networks worldwide, challenging Although ISIS has claimed many
the hegemony of al-Qaeda as the attacks in Pakistan, including ones
vanguard of the global Sunni jihad. claimed by other militant groups,
By the fall, Pakistani newspapers Bajwa attributed only a few major
reported sightings of graffiti in favor attacks to the terror network,
of ISIS.41,42,43,44 At the same time, many including those on four Pakistani news
observers speculated on the possible channels over a two-month period
defection of al-Qaeda-linked groups from late 2015 into early 2016.46
in Pakistan into the orbit of ISIS. ISIS was also responsible for the
targeted killings of almost 30 security
It was not until January 2015, however, personnel, as well as the murder
that ISIS formally recognized a local of Sabeen Mehmud, a prominent
affiliate, known as the Khorasan civil society activist.47 The group has
Province. The group consisted of planned other attacks in Pakistan,
Salafists based in the Afghanistan- including strikes targeting the Ministry
Pakistan border region, Pakistani of Foreign Affairs, foreign embassies
Taliban defectors from the Orakzai and consulates, the Islamabad airport,
region, and segments of the IMU, and important public figures and
pushed out from North Waziristan. It prominent journalists.


Bajwa claimed that Pakistani security women, with some linkage to LeT,
forces have arrested 309 ISIS who fled for ISIS-controlled Syria with
operatives including its Pakistan their children.50,51
leader, Hafiz Umar; 25 Afghans, Iraqis,
Syrians and other foreign operatives; These news reports proved to be
and 157 freelancers, i.e., local embarrassing for JuD. It quickly
criminals and terrorists. Some of those launched a propaganda campaign
arrested include non-ISIS members against ISIS branded as Al-
who were paid by the terrorist group Fitan or the Upheavals perhaps
(roughly $10) to graffiti pro-ISIS at the insistence of the Pakistani
slogans in various parts of Pakistan. government. JuD released a flashy
anti-ISIS documentary that resembles
Most militant networks in Pakistan the aesthetics of ISIS propaganda,
are from the Deobandi subsect of condemning the group as khawarij
Sunni Islam. The Deobandis are the (reviled rebels) and the dogs of hell
second-largest subsect in majority- for its killings of Muslims and other
Sunni Pakistan. They likely are the civilians. It also launched a social
best-funded and most-organized, media hashtag campaign against ISIS.
boasting the largest number of
religious seminaries among any Sunni While LeT has continued operations
or Shia subsect. Unlike al-Qaeda, ISIS against Indian security personnel in
has been unwilling to make pragmatic Kashmir, it is significant that there
alliances with Deobandi militant has not been a major LeT attack in
groups. It has excoriated leading India since 2008. LeT faces a new
members of AQIS as Sufis, and competitor in ISIS and, at the same
lambasted Mullah Omar for having time, is likely under significant
committed grave errors in religious pressure by the Pakistani government
interpretation.48 to restrain its terrorism inside India.

While ISIS is unlikely to supplant JuD, the LeT front group, is also
established Deobandi jihadist growing increasingly active inside
networks in Pakistan, it can find Pakistan, operating an ambulance
a deadly niche in the country. service and a relief and recovery non-
Worryingly, the group has attracted governmental organization. In fact,
some college- and graduate- JuD has become an international
educated Pakistanis, as well as organization, openly collecting
defectors from Lashkar-e Taiba donations for its relief operations
(LeT), the most potent Salafi- in 12 countries or foreign regions,
oriented jihadist group in Pakistan. In including Gaza, Kashmir and Syria.52
December 2015, Pakistani officials
announced the arrest of former While some criticize JuD as
members of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), radicalizing Pakistani civil society, it
the socio-political front group for LeT, could actually be pulling LeT recruits
who had joined ISIS.49 Around the away from the path of violence.
same time, news broke of Pakistani JuDs social media activists describe


themselves as involved in counter-

narrative and counter-radicalization Pakistan must devise and implement an exit strategy from
efforts. But the JuD/LeT balancing the use of jihadist networks as an instrument of state policy.
act of espousing Salafism and
supporting jihad against India and
the West, while abstaining from
targeting the Pakistani state, could be
too unwieldy. As long as ISIS remains The Pakistan Army has stated that
a powerful geopolitical force, some it will continue to maintain almost
within JuD/LeT could tire of the 200,000 personnel in insurgency-
groups passive approach and move hit areas until 2019, so there is a
toward ISIS instead. strong likelihood that the countrys
counterinsurgency gains will endure.
To consolidate its gains from While the Pakistani Taliban insurgent
Operation Zarb-e Azb and a series network has been divided, degraded
of preceding military operations, and denied control of territory,
Pakistan must devise and implement Pakistan must ensure that a new anti-
an exit strategy from the use of state jihadist threat does not emerge
jihadist networks as an instrument of from JuD/LeT members defecting
state policy. Jihadist networks have toward ISIS and producing a new
tarnished Pakistans advocacy for the urban terrorist challenge.
rights of Kashmiris, depleted its trust
with all of its neighbors and deterred For the Afghan state, the jihadist
foreign investment in Pakistans threat is existential. The Afghan
economy that would put it on a Taliban cannot be defeated militarily.
track toward rapid, sustainable and But the current government in Kabul
equitable economic growth. Pakistans must endure long enough for the
strategic planners must understand Afghan Taliban to view continued war
that economic strength provides as a prospect offering diminishing
geostrategic capital that far outstrips returns. The regime in place in
what jihadist networks can offer, and Afghanistan is one filled with ex-
with none of the associated risks. jihadists, including figures once tied
to al-Qaeda. Their presence in power,
and the recent peace deal with Hizb-e
CONCLUSION Islami Gulbuddin, give reason for
The jihadist insurgencies in hope that a negotiated settlement to
Afghanistan and Pakistan are moving the Taliban insurgency is possible.
in opposite directions. In Afghanistan,
the Afghan Taliban insurgency
endured the temporary U.S. military POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS
surge, and each year since has been 1. Political stability is a prerequisite
more violent than the previous one. In for a negotiated settlement to
Pakistan, anti-state jihadists have been the insurgency in Afghanistan.
evicted from their final safe haven, the Washington must ensure that
North Waziristan tribal area. the national unity government


in Kabul survives and moves 3. The incoming Trump

forward with finalizing and Administration must commit
implementing electoral reforms, energy at the highest levels to
as President Ghani and Chief ensure cooperation between the
Executive Officer Abdullah governments of Afghanistan and
agreed to do in their power- Pakistan in securing their shared
sharing deal. These reforms, which border. Washington should
include revamping the election support Islamabads efforts to
commission and developing a mandate that those who cross the
new voter identification system shared border are identified and
are key to keeping Afghanistans screened by security personnel,
major constituent elements in being persistent in efforts to
the political system. A structured support the formalization of
peace process also requires that border security, including
both Ghani and Abdullah speak screening on both sides and
with one voice on negotiations coordination between Afghan and
with the Taliban and prevent Pakistani border personnel.
actors in their camp from playing
the role of spoiler. The United 4. The Trump Administration should
States must continue to reiterate concentrate efforts on bolstering
its support for talks with the special forces units and other
Afghan Taliban, while also making higher-impact units in the ANSDF
clear that it will combat both al- that can protect provincial capitals.
Qaeda and ISIS networks in the It should resist the urge to reach
country so long as they exist. unattainable force levels through
the employment of militias. Lower-
2. Washington should continue quality forces do more harm than
providing financial and military good by selling their weapons and
hardware assistance for Pakistans abusing civilians.
operations combating al-Qaeda
and other jihadist networks. The 5. Donor countries, including the
Coalition Support Funds, which United States, must provide
have reimbursed the Pakistan financial and logistical assistance
Army for counterinsurgency and to the government of Afghanistan
counterterrorism operations in dealing with the impending
conducted since the 9/11 attacks, crisis of internally displaced
should be continued, even if much persons (IDPs) from within
of the aid remains conditioned Afghanistan and returnees from
upon Pakistan taking action refugee communities in Iran
against the Haqqani Network. and Pakistan. Recent winters in
Afghanistan have been particularly
tough, resulting in the preventable
deaths of dozens of newborns
and infants in IDP enclaves in the
Kabul area.


Michaels, Jim. "U.S. commander:
ODonnell, Lynne. "The Taliban now Progress in fighting the Taliban in
hold more ground in Afghanistan Afghanistan," USA Today, July 18,
than at any point since 2001," The 2016:
Associated Press, June 16, 2016: story/news/world/2016/07/18/ us-commander-progress-
military/pentagon/2016/06/16/ fighting-taliban-afghanistan/
afghanistan-nicholson-commander- 87257034/
Robertson, Nic and Jamie Crawford.
Donati, Jessica. "U.N. Says Afghan "Obama: Taliban leader's death
Civilian Casualties Near Record marks 'milestone,'" CNN, May 23,
High," The Wall Street Journal, July 2016:
25, 2016: politics/u-s-conducted-airstrike-
articles/u-n-says-afghan-civilian- against-taliban-leader-mullah-
casualties-near-record-high- mansour/
Mashal, Mujib. Emboldened
Savage, Charlie. "Obama Taliban Overrun Parts of Kunduz
Relaxes Rules for Striking ISIS in and Taunt Afghan Forces, New York
Afghanistan," The New York Times, Times, Oct. 3, 2016: http://www.
Jan. 20, 2016: http://www. asia/afghanistan-kunduz-taliban.
asia/obama-relaxes-rules-for- html?_r=1
Stancati, Margherita and Ehsanullah
Stewart, Phil. "Exclusive: Obama ap- Amiri. "In Kunduz, Local Discontent
proves broader role for U.S. forces Eased Talibans Advance," The Wall
in Afghanistan," Reuters, June 10, Street Journal, Oct. 9, 2015: http://
article/us-usa-afghanistan-obama- city-local-discontent-eased-
exclusive-idUSKCN0YW055 talibans-advance-1444414790

"Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar 11
Constable, Pamela. "U.S., European
Mansour killed, Afghans con- military advisers work to boost lag-
firm," BBC News, May 22, 2016: ging Afghan combat readiness," Washington Post, Aug. 29, 2016:
Landler, Mark. "Obama Says He Will military-advisers-work-to-boost-
Keep More Troops in Afghanistan lagging-afghan-combat-
Than Planned," The New York Times, readiness/2016/08/29/f498d122-
July 6, 2016: http://www.nytimes. 693c-11e6-91cb-ecb5418830e9_
com/2016/07/07/world/asia/ story.html


"Quarterly Report to the United 18
"The Afghan War Quagmire,"
States Congress," Special The New York Times, Sept. 17,
Inspector General for Afghanistan 2016: http://www.nytimes.
Reconstruction, April 30, 2016: com/2016/09/18/opinion/sunday/ the-afghan-war-quagmire.html
"Why Taliban special forces are
Wellman, Phillip Water. "DOD says fighting Islamic State," BBC News,
it's cracking down on payments to Dec. 18, 2015:
Afghan 'ghost' soldiers," Stars and news/world-asia-35123748
Stripes, Oct. 7, 2016: http://www. 20
Osman, Borhan. "The Islamic State
cracking-down-on-payments-to- in Khorasan: How it began and
afghan-ghost-soldiers-1.433000 where it stands now in Nangarhar,"
Afghanistan Analysts Network, July
Smith, Josh and Mirwais Harooni. 27, 2016: https://www.afghani-
"Afghan air force needs more pilots,
as well as more planes," Reuters, in-khorasan-how-it-began-and-
Aug. 16, 2016: http://www.reuters. where-it-stands-now-in-nangarhar/
airforce-idUSKCN10R0QD 21
Rafiq, Arif. "The Persecution of
Afghanistan's Hazaras Has Less to
Donati, Jessica and Habib Khan Do with Religion Than You Think,"
Totakhil. "Taliban Splinter Faction The National Interest, July 28, 2016:
Pledges Allegiance to Main Group,"
The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 14, the-persecution-afghanistans-
2016: hazaras-has-less-do-religion-17174
allegiance-to-main-group- 22
"CIA: At most, 50-100 Al Qaeda in
1471188596 Afghanistan," ABC News, June 27,
Donati, Jessica and Habib Khan politicalpunch/2010/06/cia-at-most-
Totakhil. "Afghan Government 50100-al-qaeda-in-afghanistan.html
Secretly Fosters Taliban Splinter
Groups," The Wall Street Journal, 23
Walsh, Nick Paton. "Al Qaeda
May 22, 2016: 'very active' in Afghanistan: U.S.
articles/in-afghanistan-a-secret- Commander," CNN, April 13, 2016:
1463964545 middleeast/afghanistan-al-qaeda/

Adam Entous and Jessica Donati, 24
"Department of Defense Press
"U.S. Tracked Leader for Drone Hit," Briefing by General Nicholson via
The Wall Street Journal Asia, May Teleconference from Afghanistan,"
25, 2016: https://www.pressreader. U.S. Department of Defense, Sept.
com/china/the-wall-street-journal- 23, 2016:
asia/20160525/281487865589537 News/Transcripts/Transcript-View/


Article/954839/department-of- Free Europe/Radio Liberty, March

defense-press-briefing-by- 16, 2015: http://gandhara.rferl.
general-nicholson-via- org/a/pakistan-waziiristan-taliban-
teleconference-fr commander-/26903950.html

"Taliban set to double opium prof- 31
Rafiq, Arif. "The New Al Qaeda
its this year?" The Associated Press, Group in South Asia Has Nothing to
May 5, 2015: http://www.cbsnews. Do With ISIS," The New Republic,
com/news/afghanistan-taliban- Sept. 5, 2014: https://newrepublic.
double-opium-income-new-strain- com/article/119333/al-qaeda-
high-yield-poppy-seed/ indian-subcontinent-not-response-
Windrem, Robert and William M.
Arkin. "Why Hasn't the U.S. Killed 32
Swami, Praveen. Head of al-Qaeda
Bin Laden's Wingman Ayman al- in Indian Subcontinent is from Uttar
Zawahiri?" NBC News, May 17, Pradesh, The Indian Express, Dec.
2016: 17, 2015:
news/us-news/why-hasn-t-u-s-kill- article/india/india-news-india/head-
bin-laden-s-wingman-n574986 of-al-qaeda-in-indian-subcontinent-
Rafiq, Arif. "Operation Karachi:
Pakistan's Military Retakes the City," 33
Hasan, Syed Shoaib; Saeed Shah
The National Interest, Aug. 25, 2015: and Siobhan Gorman, "Al Qaeda Militants Tried to Seize Pakistan
operation-karachi-pakistans- Navy Frigate," Wall Street Journal,
military-retakes-the-city-13660 Sept. 16, 2014:
"Fatalities in Terrorist Violence in seize-pakistan-navy-frigate-
Pakistan 2003-2016," South Asia 1410884514
Terrorism Portal: http://www.satp.
org/satporgtp/countries/pakistan/ 34
Asad, Malik. "Five IS-linked navy
database/casualties.htm officers get death sentence in dock-
yard attack case," DAWN, May
Awan, Jawad R. "NDS-baked mil- 24, 2016:
itants planning new war against news/1260340/five-is-linked-
Pakistan," The Nation, Aug. 18, navy-officers-get-death-sentence-in-
2016: dockyard-attack-case
militants-planning-new-war- 35
Saifi, Sophia; Ben Brumfield and
against-pakistan Susan Candiotti. "Pakistan's army
kills al Qaeda commander who
Wazir, Umar Daraz and Abubakar grew up in U.S.," Dec. 8, 2014:
Sidique. "Taliban Commander In
Waziristan Claims To Have Struck A world/asia/pakistan-al-qaeda-death/
Deal With The Government," Radio


"Al-Qaeda confirms killing of Qari 42
"ISIS trying to expand influence in
Imran, Ahmad Farooq," The News, Pakistan," Press Trust of India, Sept.
April 13, 2015: https://www.the- 3, 2014: http://articles.economic-
qaeda-confirms-killing-of-qari- news/53522679_1_isis-islamic-
imran-ahmad-farooq# state-peshawar

Craig, Tim. An offshoot of al-Qae- 43
"ISIS performs wall chalking in
da is regrouping in Pakistan, Karachi," The Nation, Oct. 16, 2014:
Washington Post, June 3, 2016: al/16-Oct-2014/isis-performs-wall-
world/asia_pacific/an-offshoot-of-al- chalking-in-karachi
2016/06/03/4d0995bc-2752-11e6- 44
Ghumman, Faisal Ali. "Case reg-
8329-6104954928d2_story.html istered against IS wall-chalking,"
DAWN, Nov. 11, 2014: http://www.
"Al-Qaeda commander injured,
wife, two children killed in Punjab
raid," GEO News, Aug. 27, 2015: 45
"Afghan-Pakistan ISIL's Hafiz Saeed Khan killed," Al Jazeera English,
est/7610-al-qaeda-commander- Aug. 13, 2016: http://www.aljazeera.
injured-wife-two-children-killed-in- com/news/2016/08/report-isil-
punjab-raid leader-hafiz-saeed-killed-strike-
Ali, Imtiaz. "Dentist with links to Al
Qaeda, Safoora attackers arrest- 46
The four attacks by IS on Pakistani
ed in Karachi: police," DAWN, Feb. television channels were: Dunya
14, 2016: News in Faisalabad on Nov. 19,
news/1239464 2015; Din News in Lahore on Dec.
1, 2015; Express News in Sargodha
Hassan, Syed Raza. "Pakistan ar- on Dec. 7, 2015; and ARY News in
rests al Qaeda operative named Islamabad on Jan. 13, 2016.
in U.N. sanctions list - police,"
Reuters, April 22, 2016: http:// 47
Anis, Muhammad. "COASs ex- tension issue already cleared,
idAFKCN0XJ1OC will inform in case of any change:
ISPR," The News, Sept. 2, 2016:
Shahid, Shamim. "Spillover effect:
ISIS making inroads into Pakistan, print/147192-COASs-extension-
Afghanistan," Sept. 3, 2014: http:// issue-already-cleared-will-inform-in- case-of-any-change-ISPR


Rafiq, Arif. "Islamic State Goes 51
Hussain, Abid; Umer Farooq,
Official in South Asia," The Ghulam Dastageer and Sher Ali
Diplomat, Feb. 4, 2015: http://the- Khan. "Islamic Republic versus Islamic State," Herald, Aug. 18,
state-goes-official-in-south-asia/ 2016:
Chaudhry, Asif. "IS cell busted in
Sialkot, claim officials," DAWN, Dec. 52
Tweet by @JUDFaisalabad, Aug. 25,
29, 2015: 2016:
news/1229341 judfaisalabad/status/
Cheema, Umar. "20 men, women,
children from Lahore join Daesh,
go to Syria," The News, Dec. 31,

Center for Global Policy
1629 K Street, N.W., Suite 300
Washington, D.C. 20006
(202) 508-3681

About CGP
The Center for Global
Policy (CGP) is an indepen-
dent, nonpartisan, U.S.-
based think tank that pro-
vides expert analysis and
context-specific insight into
the most crditical foreign
policy issues facing our
nation. We have a particu-
lar interest and expertise in
issues pertaining to politics
in the Muslim world. Amid
a dramatic increase in
Islamophobia throughout
the United States -- and a
simultaneous increase in
anti-American sentiment in
many Muslim countries --
CGP is working to address
the underlying issues that
perpetuate the tension
between the United States
and many Muslim-majority
countries. We aim to be
part of the conversation
to assist in mitigating and
resolving many of the con-
flicts that currently exist. As
an institution, we continu-
ally strive to provide objec-
tive and empirical research
about the social, political
and cultural issues facing
Muslim-majority countries
so that policymakerss will
be thoroughly supported
in making well-informed
policy decisions.

You might also like