Tashfeen Malik, ISIS, and the Threat to Pakistan

The story of Tashfeen Malik is being pieced together. Malik is the Pakistani-born woman who took up an assault rifle and joined her husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, in killing 14 people in last week’s horrifying mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. Her actions are directly linked to the Islamic State (IS). She pledged allegiance to IS through a Facebook post on the day of the attack, and IS has taken credit for the gruesome incident. In the wake of this horror, the Pakistani government is trying to distance itself from this atrocity, arguing that it was the act of a radicalized individual and not connected to any IS network in Pakistan.

Interviews with those who knew Tashfeen say she was a polite and determined student in Pakistan, demonstrably devout in her niqab, and had lived in Saudi Arabia with an increasingly religious father estranged from his family. None of this is out of the ordinary. Pakistanis have a tendency to seek opportunity in Saudi Arabia and come home practicing a much more strict Islam, one that erodes the cultural and religious practices organic to South Asia. It is not surprising to find a young woman like her in southern Punjab, known for the proliferation of extremist ideology. The radicalization of Malik and her husband exemplify the pattern of how radical ideas are spread nowadays. Physical location no longer matters. Vulnerable individuals do not have to travel anywhere to receive the insidious message to kill innocents in the name of Islam. It is no longer as important what society an individual lives in or what immediate influences surround a person. This is the phenomenon of our times, the mobility of sinister ideas inciting murder anywhere across the globe, so long as the possible terrorist has access to an endless supply of justifications for such acts.

The facts of this case also force us to consider the extraordinary number of weapons amassed by Malik and Farook. Clearly, Malik is neither a ‘lone wolf’ nor just a disgruntled employee. It is abundantly clear the two were planning an attack. With IS claiming responsibility and evidence mounting that Farook had multiple online and personal interactions with suspected extremists, there are sufficient grounds to assume this was an attack organized by the IS.

A part of the puzzle lies in Pakistan. Leaders there need to stop playing the ostrich. IS has shown itself to be a successful terrorist group, planning attacks from Beirut to Paris, and now to San Bernardino, California. People affiliate themselves with the group that seems to be gaining increased power and reach. The victories IS has to its name attract individuals to follow it and carry out macabre acts of violence. IS has made inroads deep into Afghanistan, and images of hooded terrorists training in camps near the Pak-Afghan border are startling.

IS has declared the birth of “Wilayat Khorasan,” or the Khorasan Province, spanning parts of the country once known as the center of al Qaeda’s activity. Existing radical groups will increasingly jostle to find place to swear allegiance to IS. Afghanistan’s senior generals are on high alert as the group is winning over followers in Helmand and other southern provinces from the Taliban. It will be up to Pakistan to simultaneously maintain the successes of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, tackle terrorism in the mainland, and prevent IS from gaining a foothold in Pakistan. This cannot be done if the Pakistani government does not wake up to the nature of the threat.


Image: Farooq Naeem-AFP, Getty 

Posted in , Pakistan, Terrorism, US

Sana Ali

Sana Ali

Ms. Sana Ali holds a Master’s Degree from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in International Relations (concentrating in Strategic Studies) and International Economics. Ms. Ali has previously served as an aide to Ambassador Husain Haqqani and Ambassador Sherry Rehman at the Embassy of Pakistan, in Washington, DC, maintaining a strong focus on internal and regional security issues. She serves on the Board of Directors of Marshall Direct Fund, a non-profit dedicated to education efforts and the empowerment of women in the Pakistani economy. Ms. Ali currently is the Editor of leading Pakistani newspaper, The Daily Times.

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