A suicide bombing targeting a political rally in Pakistan’s restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on July 30 claimed more than 50 lives, including many minors. This province, bordering Afghanistan, has seen a spate of such suicide attacks, the latest of them on July 18 and July 20.
It demonstrates the fact that terrorists belonging to the Islamic State (IS), who have claimed responsibility for the attack, have developed the ability to strike with impunity and at will across Pakistan.
The implications of these attacks are huge for India as the IS has named India as one of its prime targets because of the Kashmir issue.
Consequently, the Af-Pak axis, of late, is again unstable, a development that has inevitable spillover effects on India.
Making matters worse is the fact that the IS already has notable presence in India, including in Kashmir. Scores of Indians—mostly from Kerala—have been found to be working for the IS with many of them having joined the IS ranks in conflict zones in Afghanistan and Iraq to wage the ‘holy war’.
It also proves that the US strategy of trying to manage the IS threat through indirect support to the Taliban in Afghanistan has collapsed as the Taliban has proved seemingly ineffective in dealing with the IS menace.
With the IS rearing its head in Pakistan which is already in deep economic and political turmoil, it may be possible that the US may again look at developing closer ties with Pakistan to curb the IS menace. The US has a history of moving in its assets wherever the IS strikes a presence.
With the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) chief Imran Khan already in prison and facing an uncertain political future, the main impediment to closer US-Pakistan relations has been removed as the Pakistan military establishment has historically been supportive of closer US-Pak ties.
One of the main reasons for the feud between Khan and the Pakistani generals was the gap that Khan had put between Pakistan and the US and the increasing associations with China.
A closer US-Pak relationship would also be detrimental for India as one of the cornerstones of Indian diplomatic strategy—to isolate Pakistan—would be considerably weakened.
According to a July 3 report by the independent think-tank Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS), the first six months of 2023 had seen a total of 271 militant attacks across Pakistan that killed 389 people and injured about 700. Adding the numbers of those killed in the recent attacks would bring up the toll to more than 450. This is a huge escalation when compared to the first half of 2022.
The two main terror groups that have owned up to these attacks are the Islamic State (Khorasan) (IS-K) and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Ironically, both these outfits, besides fighting the Pakistani state, are also fighting one another.
The TTP was set up in 2007 when Pakistanis in the Afghan Taliban broke off with the parent body to focus more on Pakistan. It is believed to retain its filial connection to the Afghan Taliban which is in power in Kabul, where the outfit manages its safe sanctuaries besides logistical support, including weapons supply.
The Afghanistan-headquartered Islamic State of Khorasan (ISK) began as a self-declared ‘wilayat’ (province) under the overall control of the ‘caliphate’ of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). But perhaps realizing the distinct importance of India and Pakistan, ISK branched out to set up ‘Wilayat al-Hind’ branch for India and the ‘Wilayat Pakistan’ for Pakistan on May 10, 2019, and May 15, 2019, respectively.