Islamic State's affiliate in South Asia has continued to expand its areas of operation in Pakistan, particularly in Balochistan.
IS Khorasan claimed a suicide attack in Mastung city in the province on 12 May that killed more than 30 people. It was at least the tenth attack that IS Khorasan has claimed in Balochistan since August last year. Although there is evidence, including a claim for the murder of two policemen in southern Punjab last month, to suggest that the group also has some form of support network in other parts of the country.
In a claim issued through its Amaq News Agency on 12 May, IS Khorasan said that the attacker detonated his explosive vest as the convoy of deputy chairman of the national senate was travelling through Mastung. The blast, which occurred 50km southwest of the provincial capital of Quetta, only injured the deputy chairman. IS published an image of the purported suicide bomber along with the claim – IS Khorasan has often provided such evidence to prove that it was behind attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The bombing was the fifth incident that IS Khorasan has claimed in Balochistan this year – out of ten overall in Pakistan – and half of its attacks in the country since August have taken place in the province. The majority of these have occurred in Quetta. Almost all of the attacks that IS Khorasan has claimed over the past year have taken place in either Balochistan, Peshawar or the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan, where it is based.
Although IS Khorasan does not hold any territory in Pakistan, as it does in Nangarhar province of Afghanistan, it does appear to have some support in urban areas beyond Balochistan. The Pakistani authorities have disrupted cells linked to IS Khorasan in Karachi, Sialkot in Punjab, as well as Islamabad, over the past two years. Most recently on 24 April, IS Khorasan claimed the murder of two policemen in Rahim Yar Khan in southern Punjab. A claimed attack against a Shia gathering in Karachi last October also shows that it has the capability to strike far from its main area of operations.
Its ability to mount such operations is probably because the group has been able to use established and capable militant networks, such as the Al-Alami faction of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. There are around 2,000-3,000 IS members based in Pakistan, according to a report published last year by the London-based Royal United Security Institute. But despite the advantage of relying on existing networks, IS Khorasan has struggled to build on this presence, partly because of push-back from the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, the recent US military focus on IS in southeastern Afghanistan risks pushing the group to increase its activity in Pakistan. This is particularly against state and Western interests, as well as Shia communities.