Fayaz Aziz / Reuters An armed paramilitary soldier stands guard after a suicide bomber blew himself up close to a police checkpoint in Peshawar, Pakistan January 19, 2016.

The Marketplace of Terrorist Ideas

Is ISIS Beating the Competition in Pakistan?

On the morning of August 8, the Islamic State (ISIS) carried out what was undoubtedly its most devastating and sophisticated attack to date in Pakistan. The operation began when Jamaat-ul-Ahrar—a faction of the Pakistani Taliban—and ISIS targeted the emergency services ward at Quetta’s Civil Hospital, where dozens of people, including many lawyers, were gathered to mourn the assassination of the president of the Balochistan Bar Association, Bilal Anwar Kasi. A suicide bomber detonated a lethal bomb, killing at least 97 people. In the space of a few hours, many practicing senior lawyers in one of Pakistan’s most important provincial capitals had been killed.

At first glance, Pakistan might seem like a natural point of expansion for ISIS. Not only is the country an avowedly Islamic republic, it has often been plagued by the kind of political instability (ranging from religious militancy to military coups) that has allowed ISIS to seize territory in other countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen. However, expanding into a country already overcrowded by jihadist organizations has proved to be challenging. Ideologically, ISIS’ Salafi orientation, combined with its anti-Western and anti-Shia sentiment, not to mention its narrative of liberating Muslim lands, echoes the playbooks of longstanding actors on the Pakistani militant scene, including groups that have actively opposed ISIS itself. Moreover, the natural friction between ISIS and its rivals is evident in the recurrent fights between ISIS and the Afghan and Pakistani branches of the Taliban.

Lawyers say prayers for colleagues who were killed in the suicide bomb attack at a hospital in Quetta on Monday, after protesting against the attack, outside the Supreme Court in Islamabad, Pakistan August 9, 2016.

Lawyers say prayers for colleagues who were killed in the suicide bomb attack at a hospital in Quetta on Monday, after protesting against the attack, outside the Supreme Court in Islamabad, Pakistan August 9, 2016.

Faced with a market oversaturated with competitors, and being without a distinctive ideological message, ISIS has spread in a manner similar to corporate franchise: drawing weaker local players under its “brand” and into a loosely constituted network of radical actors. ISIS first became a part of the security debate in Pakistan in late 2014, when pamphlets exhorting support for the organization first circulated in the frontier city of Peshawar. Not long after that, graffiti and ISIS-supporting literature began popping up in different cities across Pakistan. In January 2015, ISIS

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