On Wednesday, ISIS announced a new branch in Pakistan. Under the banner of "Khorasan Province", the group has claimed a number of attacks in the country – including the assassination of a police officer in Balochistan, and the targeting of rival Taliban fighters in Quetta, which has resulted in the death of one and the wounding of three people. According to a statement, Khorasan Province refers to a hypothetical territory, outlined in 2015 and covering "Afghanistan, Pakistan and nearby lands".
These attacks are significant, especially given that US forces claimed to have destroyed Khorasan Province’s Afghan stronghold back in April 2017. The group’s resurgence should not be mistaken for real territorial gains in Pakistan. It is simply a rebranding of existing local factions. However, for members, the new organisational structure and name will hold special symbolism, harking back to ISIS’s initial goal of physical dominion and the creation of a self-styled caliphate.
The groups achieved this aim for a short while, controlling more than 34,000 square miles in Syria and Iraq back in 2014. Having lost Baghouz, its final Syrian redoubt in March this year, it now stands defeated. Experts believe that this has forced the group to transform into a more traditional, decentralised network of terrorist cells. In this form, ISIS has claimed attacks worldwide, including the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka, which killed 258 people and wounded more than 500.
However, ISIS's identity remains inextricably linked to its earlier incarnation. The idea of nationhood lured thousands of foreign sympathisers to join the group in cities such as Raqqa in Syria. Now, landless and in a state of disarray, it is still able to draw on this idea as a powerful recruitment tool. By targeting Pakistan, a nation with existing militant networks, the group is playing an astute and worrying game. After all, what better way is there for disaffected men to register their anger and resentment towards their own state than to renounce it and pledge allegiance to another – even if that state happens to be entirely notional. For the threat of ISIS to be beaten, it is clear that it must not only be conquered on the ground but in the minds of those who might seek to be part of it.