The security operation in the rugged mountainous area of Mastung that ended late Sunday night proved to be as rewarding as it was challenging. The security forces had gone in after intelligence reports indicated two Chinese nationals – language teachers – abducted from Quetta last month were held in a cave used by the IS to organise terrorist attacks all over the country. It took three days of intense fighting for the soldiers to announce they killed 12 to 13 IS commanders holed up in the cave, and rescue the abductees. Also recovered from the place were six suicide jackets, a cache of ammunition, explosives, detonators, solar panels and food rations, which of course were to be used for carrying out terror and sabotage activities. Seven security personnel, including three officers, were injured in the operation.
For a while Mastung, near Quetta, has been a stronghold of various militant groups, particularly the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar. They have frequently been targeting Shia pilgrims returning from Iran. Just last month, Ahrar militants claimed credit for a suicide bombing in the area on a convoy led by JUI-F leader and Deputy Chairman of the Senate, Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri. The Maulana luckily survived with minor injuries but 25 people were killed and at least 40 others injured. More to the point, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has consistently been denying the existence of IS in this country; it is worth noting therefore that according to the soldiers those they killed in the Mastung mountains were no less than a dozen IS commanders. The fact is that some of the TTP groups, such as the Ahrar, have shifted allegiance to the IS. They have support among other militant groups, and pose a clear and potent threat. The question though is, why would they be interested in abducting Chinese citizens? The East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a militant Uighur group from China’s restive Xinjiang province, has been active in this region alongside the Taliban, but these people have no known links with the IS.
Various terrorist groups in this country, including the ones who now pay allegiance to the IS, have local roots. It is unfair, indeed, to blame every terrorist atrocity on the ‘foreign hand’ as is the tendency here. Nonetheless, it is also true that certain outsiders are anxiously watching the progress of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and want to disrupt it. India for one makes no secret of its opposition to the project. Considering that there is enough evidence of India using some TTP elements to carry out acts of terrorism in this country, it can surely use TTP breakaway factions now aligned with IS to cause harm to the CPEC. Be that as it may, the outsiders can exploit such elements for the furtherance of their interests only if the conditions so permit. Pakistan needs to focus on the home front, and eliminate terrorism root and branch to establish lasting peace and security.