Pakistan’s military on Thursday said it has crushed Islamic State’s attempt to expand there, dismissing as propaganda claims by the Middle East-based Islamist militants that they had carried out a major bombing last month.
The comments were, however, a rare acknowledgment by a senior Pakistani official that Islamic State, mainly based in Syria and Iraq, has had any active presence in a country that is home to myriad militant groups including the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban, al-Qaeda and the Haqqani network.
Lieutenant General Asim Bajwa, the military’s top spokesman, also rejected US complaints that it was not acting against the Haqqani network, suspected of carrying out suicide bomb attacks in Kabul, saying Pakistan was pursuing an “indiscriminate operation” against all militants.
Pakistani authorities have so far arrested 309 people associated with Islamic State (IS) on its territory, he said. They were involved in attacks on media and security personnel, and were planning attacks on government, diplomatic and civilian targets, he added.
Most of those captured by Pakistan were established Pakistani jihadists who had switched loyalties to Islamic State’s self-proclaimed worldwide caliphate, but about 25 were foreigners including Afghans and some Syrians, he said.
Bajwa said that of a core group of 20 organisers, “we have captured all of them, except for one who I am sure is not in Pakistan”.
He said IS fighters were still present in the Afghan provinces of Nangarhar, Khost and Kunar, which lie along the border with Pakistan.
The movement’s leader for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Hafiz Saeed Khan, was killed last month by a US drone strike in eastern Afghanistan.
International concern that Islamic State was establishing an operational presence in Pakistan increased after the group said it carried out a suicide bombing at a hospital in the city of Quetta that killed more than 70 people.
However, a breakaway faction of the Pakistani Taliban also claimed the hospital bombing and Bajwa said he believed the Islamic State statement was false.
No good or bad Taliban
The military spokesman also dismissed US concerns that Pakistan has been selectively targeting militant groups on its soil.
“There is no concept of good or bad Taliban,” he said.
“Terrorists of all organisations, including Haqqanis, including Afghan Taliban, have been killed and some apprehended ... so if you say that you know actions have not been taken or (are) not being taken, that is wrong.”
He spoke a day after US Secretary of State John Kerry urged Islamabad to push harder against militants hiding within its borders.
The United States has criticised Pakistan in the past for not acting against those groups, and last month it refused to release $300m in military disbursements for that reason.
Critics say Pakistan has targeted only militants who attack its own state, not those active in neighbouring Afghanistan and India.
Pakistan has been fighting the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an umbrella group of militants fighting to impose strict Islamic law in Pakistan, since 2007.
It is also home to other armed groups, such as the Haqqani network and Afghan Taliban, who fight international forces in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Bajwa criticised international and local security forces in Afghanistan for not sealing the border when the Pakistan army began the latest phase of its military offensive against Pakistan-based militants in July 2014.