By Naimat Khan
24 July, 2015
Ten kilograms of explosives were seized from outside a Shia mosque in the Tank district of Dera Ismail Khan on July 17 – the second day of Eid in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the adjacent tribal areas. In a ‘warning note’ left with the bomb, Zulfiqar Khanjri – who calls himself a commander of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – threatened to kill the women who would go shopping unaccompanied by male relatives.
On June 3, a shopping centre in Tank catering mainly to women was blown up with explosives. Ten shops were damaged in the blast.
Tank – locally pronounced Tonk – is the capital city of the Tank district, which also serves as the winter headquarters of the South Waziristan Agency, one of the seven federally administered tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
“This is the last warning from the Mujahedeen of ISIS,” said the ‘public notice’. “If we see a woman in a street, a neighbourhood, a bazaar, or a shop without a male companion from her family, we will shoot her.” The handbill is written on a Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) letterhead.
“The Mujahedeen request the people to stop their women from going out of their houses without Purdah. And if it is essential (for them to go out), the presence of a male companion is mandatory.”
The undated letter also threatens local shopkeepers. “We also request cloth traders not to let women enter their shops without a male companion, or their shops will be blown up.” A local told me he had not seen any flag marches by militants in Tank Bazaar, but they are local and live among the people of the city.
The letter signals the emergence of a new face of Jihadi militants who have been taking a battering at the hands of the army in the recent military operations in the tribal areas, security analysts say.
“The Taliban leadership has either been killed or has fled,” said Munawar Burki, a security analyst from the Kaniguram town in South Waziristan. “In their absence, the glamour of the Islamic State is fast attracting local militants, and even their commanders. They have announced allegiance to the global terrorist outfit without any formal offers or requests from them.”
But Zia Ur Rehman, a journalist who covers militancy in the region, disagrees. He says there are two factions of Mehsud militants operating in the Tank area, and neither of them have announced their allegiance to ISIS. “Zulfiqar Khanjri is a new name, and no one in the area has heard about him,” he says.
Aqeel Yousafzai, a Peshawar based security analyst who has written several books on Taliban, says more than 300 hardcore commanders, militants and suicide bombers of Taliban from FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have joined ISIS because the Taliban are in a disarray, and because of the international charm and attraction of the Iraq and Syria based terrorist organization. “We have credible information that many militants belonging to Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan are considering announcing allegiance to ISIS,” says Yousafzai.
The first of the Taliban factions to switch loyalty from Afghan Taliban emir Mullah Omar to ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi was led by Umar Khalid Khorasani, a former chief of the Mohmand chapter of TTP who opposed negotiations between the Pakistani Taliban and the government in 2014. He named his faction TTP-Jamaat ul Ahrar.
In March this year, when the Operation Zarb-e-Azb was in full swing, at least four factions of Taliban militants were strengthening their influence in areas of Dera Ismail Khan, killing Mehsud elders and threatening traders for extortion. There were increasing attacks on police amid reports of abductions for ransom and other criminal activities by various Taliban groups in Luni town and Tank district.
According to analysts, the local militants were able to survive and are now switching loyalties after the military operation by Pakistan Army dismantled the organization of the Taliban. The Taliban leadership, which had moved to Afghanistan after the operation Zarb-e-Azb began, has lost its grip on its foot soldiers.
“The ideology and targets of the guerrillas remain the same,” says Yousafzai. “When the armed forces eliminate one organization, they re-emerge with a new face.”
Naimat Khan is a freelance journalist