Many of the veterans of the Afghan war are now leading the fight in Iraq and Syria. This is not unexpected news. Where else would these militants, who have spent their lives fighting and seeing only war since the 1980s, go? Whenever the fighting stops, there has been no chance of any rehabilitation, or any integration back into a peaceful community. Terrorism and militancy is such a problem for Pakistan because it is a way of life now. War can be embedded in society, and it is in ours. Pakistani officials would not have bothered much as long as the militants were leaving and not coming back after the emergence of the Islamic State. But its ‘caliph’, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi has caught the imagination of Pakistani militants and what invites caution is that IS is not recruiting anyone directly. People are flocking to them in droves. The war will come to us again and again. Historically, some regions are hotbeds of instability, where peace is fleeting. Iraq is one such historic hotbed, and along with Palestine and Nigeria, the Pakistan/Afghanistan fault line is also on the list.

What happens then, when the crisis in Iraq ends? Will these volunteers come back? They will be coming back not just to Pakistan and Afghanistan, but the US, UK, Australia, Malaysia, Thailand… all these countries will have to deal with veterans. And IS is not the only new kid on the block. Al Qaeda’s central command deployed the Khorasan group, a cell of seasoned jihadist veterans from Afghanistan and Pakistan, to Syria to recruit and equip suitable Westerners for terrorist attacks outside the region. The concern that al Qaeda’s affiliates in Syria and the Islamic State would inevitably employ their foreign fighters to launch terrorist operations against the US was one of the principal reasons given for initiating American military action in Iraq and Syria.

The American bombing campaign now also gives a motive for IS to counterattack, but there will always be reasons to counter-attack apart from just hating the west, because it is now the purpose of life for many militant networks. We have seen minorities being attacked, politicians being attacked, foreigners being kidnapped, India being attacked, innocent people for no clear reason being bombed… all violent cries for attention due to an impotent ideology and lifestyle. Zarb-e-Azb and the Khyber operations have now turned into tit-for-tat killings. It is not just enough today to maim and kill militants; their social life has to be uprooted and then they need to be given an alternative, a counter-narrative, so that one generation of death does not create another generation thirsty for revenge.