Islamic State suicide attack in Baluchistan points to increased threat of jihadist violence in urban centres during Ramadan
An Islamic State (IS) suicide bomber attacked a convoy carrying Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri - the Deputy Chairman of Pakistan’s Senate - near the town of Mastung in Baluchistan, 50 km from the provincial capital of Quetta, on 12 May. Haideri was hospitalised with only minor injuries, but the blast killed around 28 others.
This was IS’s first major attack since its suicide bombing at a Sufi shrine in Sehwan, 186 km northeast of Karachi, on 16 February, which partly triggered a nationwide crackdown against militant groups (see our 24 February Report). The lack of any significant IS activity since that time, as well as the fact that this incident took place in its Baluchistan stronghold, indicates that this crackdown has successfully slowed the tempo of IS violence. However, the fact that the Mastung incident was a mass-casualty suicide attack like that in Sehwan illustrates that the crackdown has not significantly impacted IS’s capabilities.
IS likely targeted Haideri because he is a national political figure, and attacks against such individuals are popular among jihadists because of the Government’s counter-militancy campaign. Targeting such a prominent figure will therefore provide a propaganda boost to IS, which the group will hope increases its support and encourages defections from its Taliban rival. This competition between the two groups likely further motivated IS to target Haideri, who is a senior member of the Jamaat-Ulem-e-Islam-Fazl party, which has a long history of supporting the Taliban.
IS will look to conduct another major attack in the coming weeks to re-establish momentum lost since the Army crackdown began in February. The threat from the group will be particularly elevated during Ramadan, which begins on 27 May, and is typically a period of heightened jihadist activity. The beginning of Ramadan also marks the anniversary of IS’s declaration of its Caliphate and the group will be keen to demonstrate ongoing strength as it loses key territory in Iraq and Syria. The group will continue to target Government interests and the security forces, but could also strike religious minorities. Foreigners will face a predominantly collateral threat due to IS’s lack of concern over causing civilian casualties. Attacks are most likely to occur in Baluchistan, including Quetta, where IS has an established presence. However, the group will be motivated to strike outside of this area, including in Karachi, where there are sectarian tensions that the group could exploit to boost its support.
The Taliban, for its part, will also look to strike during Ramadan, both because of its local competition with IS, but also in accordance with al-Qaeda’s global strategy to try to exploit the current pressure on IS in its Caliphate and reassert itself as the pre-eminent global jihadist movement (see our 28 April Report). Any Taliban attacks are likely to prioritise Government and security force interests, in response to ongoing counter-militancy operations, although they could also target minorities. The Taliban frequently operates in Quetta, and the Tribal Areas, but there will also be a raised threat from the group in Lahore and Karachi, where it has a strong presence.