Zainabiyoun Brigade: A Threat to the National Security of Pakistan

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The national security environment of Pakistan is characterized by daunting security challenges, which are both internal and external. Although the nation still seems to struggle with perennial issues of terrorism and sectarian conflict, a new impediment has risen to the surface: the presence and activities of the Zainabiyoun Brigade. This article will explore the roots, objectives, and possible dangers arising from this terrorist group, that threaten the security paradigm of Pakistan.

Origins and Ideology

Zainabiyoun Brigade is an outfit of foreign militia which mainly has Shia fighters, recruited from Afghanistan and Iran.

Zainabiyoun Brigade is an outfit of foreign militia which mainly has Shia fighters, recruited from Afghanistan and Iran. They claim that the stated reason for their establishment is to protect Shia shrines, more specifically targeted attacks against the Shia community. The name of the group derives its roots from Hazarat Zainab, the granddaughter of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), whose memory is revered by Muslims (Shia Sect in particular).

Precise information about the Zainabiyoun Brigade formation remains obscure. Some research hypothesizes that the formation of such organizations dates back to the 2010s when Pakistan witnessed an increase in sectarian violence in the country. Another postulate is that those were initiated during conflicts in Iraq and Syria, where Iranian-backed Shia militias participated fiercely and achieved success.

Activities and Concerns

The Pakistani Government has acknowledged the Zainabiyoun Brigade operation in the country and given voice to concerns over their activities. In the world of terrorism, some groups think that they are justified in their violent methods. They take the power into their hands and start to demand and move according to their agendas. Like many other similar terrorist groups, this group was also declared a banned entity by the Government on March 29th, 2024. Nevertheless, throughout the ban’s execution, its effectiveness has not been proven yet. The vulnerability of the border between Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran resulting from the absence of strict control requires Iran and Afghanistan to search for new ways to fight terrorism.

Also Read: Counterterrorism: Who is Tasked with Doing What?

The activities of the Zainabiyoun Brigade entail many questions for the security of Pakistan. The Pakistani government had reasons to believe that the Zainebiyoun Brigade was engaged in certain activities “prejudicial to the peace and security of the country.” Subsequently, Pakistan’s National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) updated its official list of proscribed organizations, placing the Iran-backed group at the 79th spot. The US Treasury added the Zainebiyoun Brigade to its financial blacklist in Jan. 2019, Pakistani authorities have arrested several militants affiliated with the group, notably in the country’s commercial hub of Karachi, a significant recruitment hub for the militant outfit. Moreover, in July 2022, then-Pakistan Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan told the Senate that Zainebiyoun Brigade members were among the militants “found actively involved in terrorist activities” in the country between 2019 and 2021.


Sectarian Violence: Shia militias, which may come from abroad, are another source of sectarian tension in Pakistan, as they can destroy peaceful coexistence among people of different sects. Historical disagreements and past occurrences of contention between Sunni and Shia communities might erupt with the activities of this Brigade. The scenario of retaliation in a tit-for-tat manner and the broader conflict that would lead to sectarian warfare, remain unimaginable with a destabilizing effect on the whole country.

The involvement of a foreign militia in any kind of internal security operation in Pakistan is a valid concern.

Foreign Interference: The involvement of a foreign militia in any kind of internal security operation in Pakistan is a valid concern. This can also lead to serious friction with Iran, a neighbouring country. Additionally, the physical presence of the Brigade can be seen as a direct challenge to the state’s authority, which is the sole legitimate arbiter of the use of force, thus making the state a place under constant risk of facing a threat in the form of an armed squad.

National Security Risks: The appearance of the group in Pakistan might pose a direct threat to the national security of Pakistan. The presence of such groups gives terrorists a chance to use it as a tactic to get into Pakistan and carry out their armed operations. Moreover, the Brigade’s loyalty is often directed toward Iran, strengthening doubts that they may be exploited to serve the interests of Iran at the expense of Pakistani security.

Path Forward

Addressing the challenge posed by the Zainabiyoun Brigade requires a multi-pronged approach:

Dialogue and Engagement: It is imperative to mediate with the Iranian government through diplomatic channels to know the reason behind their support for the Brigade. Pakistan should focus more on the group’s destabilizing nature, which is the group’s partiality toward sectarian madness and the country.

Strengthening Border Security: Establishing stricter border security measures between Iran and Afghanistan should be made a priority to prevent militants and weapons from crossing over the borders. Through the use of advanced tech surveillance and by increasing the force presence in such areas, can be effectively attempted.

Addressing Underlying Grievances: Sectarian violence in Pakistan is rooted in intricate social, economic, political, and historical folds. This involves overcoming socioeconomic differences and guaranteeing equal rights as well as fair treatment for all communities. Rather, a more comprehensive society in which social harmony and equity exist will eliminate the prospects of extreme opinions being embraced.


The presence of the Zainabiyoun Brigade has become a challenge to Pakistan’s foreign policy and national security, which look after the internal security of the country. Through their activities, the possibility of further deepening the sectarian tension or the space giving rise to foreign interference or direct threats against security could emerge. Efforts to solve this problem should be comprehensive and include strengthening diplomatic efforts, improving border protection, countering sectarian narratives, and dealing with what is at the bottom of the problem at issue. It is only with the pursuit of an integral approach that Pakistan will be able to preserve its security at the national level and maintain peace for its citizens.

The opinions shared in this article reflect the author’s personal views and do not necessarily align with the institution’s official stance.

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