US takes Pakistan into confidence over anti-IS alliance

ISLAMABAD – The United States has taken Pakistan into confidence over a new US military alliance to fight the growing global presence of the self-styled Islamic State (IS).

The new alliance, called “Sahel to South Asia” is expected to be announced soon by the White House. “Pakistan has been consulted by US at the highest level,” according to a top government official. Pakistan will take a formal decision after conducting consultations with all domestic stakeholders over joining the alliance, added the official. “IS has presence in Afghanistan, and they maintain close collaboration with militant organisations, and if not tackled they can pose a threat to Pakistan’s security,” the government official further said.

More details are expected to be worked out through a high-level meeting between the military leadership of both countries, once the alliance is officially announced and made public by the US. The development comes after US National Security Adviser (NSA) Susan Rice called on Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif at the General Headquarters (GHQ) last week, where she “appreciated and acknowledged Pakistan Army’s sincere efforts and sacrifices in the war against terrorism.” During the meeting, matters of mutual interest – including the security situation in the region – were discussed.

Rice’s visit was preceded by the visit of US Central Command (CENTCOM) Commander General Lloyd J Austin in which he called on General Raheel Sharif at the GHQ in Rawalpindi. General Lloyd Austin acknowledged the role played by the armed forces of Pakistan in fighting the menace of terrorism. In February this year, Foreign Office had broken its silence regarding the IS activities inside Pakistan, admitting that the radical group posed a “serious threat” to the country. Earlier this year, leaflets calling for support for IS were seen in parts of northwest Pakistan, while pro-IS slogans had also appeared on walls in several cities.

Security forces had also arrested a man in January, whom they believed was the commander of IS in the country involved in recruiting and sending fighters to Syria. Intelligence sources, said the man, Yousaf al-Salafi, was arrested in Lahore and confessed during interrogation that he represented IS. Rifts among the Taliban and disputes about the future of the insurgency have contributed to the rise of IS’s popularity but security sources believe there are no operational links yet between IS and South Asia. Disgruntled former Taliban commanders have formed the so-called Khorasan chapter — an umbrella IS group covering Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and other South Asian countries — in recent months but have not been involved in any fighting. Their leader, Hafiz Saeed Khan Orakzai, a former Pakistani Taliban commander, appeared in a video address in February urging people in the region to join the group.

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