The influence of the IS or Daesh has started to grow in Afghanistan at an alarming rate. Their recent activities include attacks on government establishments, clashes with Taliban, and multiple abductions of numerous members of the Hazara tribe including women. The abduction of the minority Hazaras was reported by numerous media channels, however, another report regarding Daesh’s involvement in abduction of over 600 girls from the Shinwari Tribe area in eastern Afghanistan somehow never made it to mainstream media for some unknown reason. Moreover, attacks on government establishments by Daesh seldom gets coverage, whereas attacks by Taliban continue to be reported vigorously by local and international media. This even casts aspersions on the Daesh vs Taliban stories that often circulate.

According to some source, Daesh has acquired physical areas for establishing themselves in provinces of Nangarhar, Pakitika, Nooristan and Badakhan from where they continue to conduct their expansion operations, close to Pakistani borders. Daesh has gained allegiance from numerous local commanders who either defected from Taliban post confirmation of Mullah Omar’s death such as Mullah Muhammad Rasul, or were removed from command by Taliban leadership for misconduct against civilians during operations against ISAF. Daesh fighters continue to grow and strengthen their established foothold in their area of operations and exercise their intent by launching physical attacks from time to time against government forces and Taliban alike. The writ of the sitting Afghan government which was barely established over the past decade has now been threatened by another enemy, who perhaps unlike the ones displaced by US invasion, are ruthless and un-forgiving.

Unlike the AQ, and like the local Pushtuns, Daesh does not accept rule of any other, nor makes allegiances with other groups. Moreover, it doesn’t accept rule of any other force, whether Islamic or non-Islamic, over their earmarked territories for future expansion which includes Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and all other countries up to Malaysia in the east and up to and including Spain in the west. But our concern is Afghanistan at the moment, as whatever happens there usually reeks all the way here.

The expansion of ISIS in Afghanistan over the past 6 months carries a strong message for those who refused to accept this possibility and continued to fool themselves by believing that, “there is no Daesh in Afghanistan” and that “they cannot come in and establish themselves in such a place as Afghanistan,” and that the “ISAF/NATO will continue to permanently protect us against any internal aggression, as we continue on our seats of power and persist in this pretentious mockery of democracy.” This was the crux of the statement made by an Afghan minister during an international round table event a few months back in Islamabad. Of course, all was said except for the “mockery of democracy” line. However, there is little of what was said which can be related to ground realities in Afghanistan and the false sense of security under which these claims were made is easy to decipher.

There is a strong leaning of Daesh towards the borders of Pakistan. Those in Pakistan Government who are yet not willing to understand the expansion, intent and dynamics of Daesh should pay heed, for what seems like plain leaning, is obvious to the strategic mind as placing. The pawns are in motion as they always have been. The Chinese are moving towards warm waters through Pakistan and Afghanistan to establish an economic corridor of unprecedented scale. An area which the US for so long has been trying to gain control over through its wars and its imperial hubris which comes with its trigger happy philosophy. The US is also losing on the international economic front, which without harnessing this region or at least destabilizing it for China, will surely mean a major economic battle lost. Moreover, the creation of BRICS bank, with China and Russia as the major players is another nail in the coffin for western economies which is soon to materialize. This is a critical link, which most analysts seem to miss out when talking about the global interest of major powers in this region. And then there are other stakeholders including Iran and UAE whose economies are likely to suffer by China’s development of deep water port at Gwader in Balochistan. And since NATO/ISAF is reducing its presence in Afghanistan, with the Taliban and Daesh both gaining ground, the security of the present governance system, “the mockery of democracy”, cannot be guaranteed for very long.

Reportedly, many National Army soldiers have made secretive pacts with either the Taliban or Daesh operatives for letting them live in peace on the condition that they will continue to work for these organizations covertly. The Afghan National Army and the government itself is highly infiltrated with the Taliban at least, if not the Daesh yet. This fact was obvious when Afghan soldiers started turning against American training personnel and even shot a US general. It’s not just physical infiltration, a source stated, but instead the idea of being ruled by western puppets is taking strong roots in the people. Moreover, public sentiments have always been highly influenced by the victories throughout history. The Taliban without a speck of doubt, are winning as their recent advances have shown. In the event of future takeover by the Taliban, it should be easy to understand that most of the government forces will conveniently shake hands with the new rulers, while the so called democratically elected rulers will again be seeking asylum with their masters in the west. But what of Daesh?

Unlike the Taliban, the message from Daesh is not really from Daesh at all. Daesh continues to wreck havoc for furthering their expansionist philosophy, under the umbrella of US covert support as Putin recently put it in so many words. But Daesh is not just a US pawn as some conspiracy theorist view it; it has its own axe to grind. The players; however, know the game well. “Militant groups are like water,” someone told me once. “You can turn them wherever you want if you tilt the board right.” If the Taliban do finally regain control of Afghanistan and declare a government, Daesh will be ever present to keep them in a spin and keep their friends from AQ tangled up in internal security. And then, there is the Torabora effect which will ensure two simultaneous aims; one, the continuance of policy to damage the Pakistan-China economic corridor; second, keep Pakistan under the gun for not doing “MORE” against terrorists. But that’s a topic for another time. For now, it can be clearly understood that, planned chaos seems to have been unleashed in Afghanistan, which will do well to counter the growing economic hegemony of China in the region; a region, over which control has long been sought by our so called friends in the West.
But is that the only aim?

Where the Shark feasts, the pilot fish accompanies and feeds on the leftovers. In our region, the Pilot fish has its own strategy. Some say that Indian scheme to support militants in the western borders of Pakistan was devised in 1985 with the aim of pulling the troops towards west and scatter their strength thereby releasing the pressure of Pakistan from Indian occupied Kashmir. Captured Indian spies on the western borders and financial trails of numerous militant outfits operating in Afghanistan and western Pakistan clearly reveal the Indian intended strategy. The completion timeline for this strategy was reportedly in the year 2000; however, like most plans, it got delayed due to various reasons. Not surprisingly though, the US strategy to push militants into Pakistan during Torabora operations, referred to earlier as the “Torabora Effect”, seems to coincide with the Indian desires to destabilize Pakistan’s tribal belt. Or was this effect merely a planning mistake as the US claims? But “there are no mistakes when the players have similar aims,” a military strategist had once said. However, the intricate web of causality, opportunity and planning opened the gateway for the Indian strategy to materialize in the form of this vacuum of military forces on its borders as the Pakistani forces were sucked towards the west. Although, comparative vacuum did occur, nonetheless, credible nuclear deterrence forced the Indians to develop and implement the doctrine of Cold Start military strategy against us; the state whom our leader favored as the best nation for trade. But Business-Politics is also a subject for another time. For now, the Indian Cold Start strategy needs a terrorist incident via Pakistan to be initiated to launch quick, short and shallow maneuvers to capture territory in the garb of pursuing terrorists. Whether the incident by terrorists is real or self devised by the Indians, it doesn’t matter. Perception is what shapes world opinion, and the world is programmed to believe what the media tells them. There are some who decry this notion as a “conspiracy theory” but it actually is a grave possibility.

Whether the Indians really go ahead with the Cold Start strategy or not; in either case, the militants like Daesh, Taliban and AQ will continue to remain in Afghanistan and their effects will continue to boil over in Pakistan from time to time, willingly or unwillingly, as and when suitable for world powers. However, even, if Indians gain small successes by Cold Start, they shouldn’t forget the religious sentiments of these highly motivated and trained militant fighters. What divides them and separates them from the State of Pakistan or Afghanistan is the difference in their philosophy of rule and law; essentially the constitution and “mockery” of democracy, but what may unite them is an attack on a Muslim majority state, Pakistan. I don’t believe that such an incident will settle well with the Taliban, the AQ or even Daesh. Further, expecting that Pakistan would be able to control such militants of independent minds from launching strikes inside India would neither be possible for Pakistan, nor be a priority. This is a scenario Indian strategic planners should keep in mind.

Nevertheless, the dynamics of supporting militant groups such as Daesh have intricacies we barely understand and perhaps those who use them don’t understand the complete cycle either. One such intricacy is the end point. Like any strategy or operational plan, there must be an end point to arming and using militant groups to “further” ones geopolitical agenda. But does the word “FURTHER” imply “CONTINUOUS” without end; with only the tilting of the board from one point or the other? Or is there any end at all?

Zeeshan S. Khan

“Zeeshan S. Khan has pursued numerous formal and informal academic interests in varied disciplines and holds Masters Degrees in Arts and Sciences of Warfare, Project Management, and Global Business Management from Australia.

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