The war against Islamic State (IS) has ended in Iraq and Syria, after the Iraqi Prime Minister announced the victory in Baghdad. Two days later, Putin also ordered partial withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria. Though the terrorist organization has lost nearly all the territory it had controlled in the Middle East, its franchisees still operate in other parts of the world, particularly in Afghanistan. They have increased their attacks on civilians and military. In last year alone, the organization had claimed the responsibility for several deadly attacks in Afghanistan including the recent attack on the Shia culture centre in Kabul that resulted in the killing of more than 40 civilians. The growing strength of IS in Afghanistan is caused due to the anti-Taliban, anti-Iran and anti-Pakistan elements in Afghanistan. These three are fighting against IS and their associates in Afghanistan, the Middle East and Pakistan respectively.
The growing strength of IS in Afghanistan is caused due to the anti-Taliban, anti-Iran and anti-Pakistan elements in Afghanistan. These three are fighting against IS and their associates in Afghanistan, the Middle East and Pakistan respectively.
The Afghan franchise of IS, known as IS-Khorasan Province or IS-KP, was officially announced by the IS Spokesperson Abu Muhammad Al-Adanani in his audio statement in January 2015. This announcement came after the completion of the drawdown of the US forces from Afghanistan in December 2014. Hafeez Saeed Khan, the former leader of TTP, was appointed as the first Waali/Governor of the Khorasan Province and Abdul Rauf, the former senior leader of Afghan Taliban, was appointed as his deputy. Both, the Waali and his deputy, had been recruiting defectors from their respective groups active in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The organization has become stronger in a span of few months and claims responsibility for most of the attacks on civilians in the region. Their first major attack in Afghanistan was the suicide blast outside a bank in Jalalabad, killing more than 30 people in April 2015 and the very next month the killing of over 45 Ismaili Shia by attacking a bus in Karachi.
IS-KP has three main objectives in Afghanistan. First, countering the presence and influence of Taliban who are fighting against the US led foreign troops and the Kabul government since 2001. Unlike IS, Taliban are not questing for global or regional dominance. Their struggle is confined to Afghanistan and their goal is to re-establish Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan by ousting the last foreign soldier from Afghanistan.
IS-KP has also infiltrated in Taliban ranks to divide them and to get support for themselves. To stop this infiltration, Taliban have executed several of its local leaders over their alleged links with IS-KP.
Taliban does not want any other group to challenge their authority in the country. This is why, when IS announced its expansion in Khorasan region, Taliban not only rejected their franchise but also have been actively fighting against them. Several clashes have taken place between the two groups with Taliban usually gaining the upper hand. IS-KP has also infiltrated in Taliban ranks to divide them and to get support for themselves. To stop this infiltration, Taliban have executed several of its local leaders over their alleged links with IS-KP.
Their second purpose is to destabilize Iran and to some extent hurt Russian interests in Central Asia. This is because, Russia and Iran have played a major role in defeating IS in Iraq and Syria. Iran was the first country to support the Iraqi government in their war against IS by providing military aid. Similarly in Syria; Iran with the support of Russia and Hezbollah successfully defended their strategic ally (Bashar al-Assad) from secular, nationalist and religious groups including IS. Because of the Iranian role in Syria and Iraq, the IS targeted the mainland of Iran for the first time by attacking Iranian parliament and tomb of Ayatollah Khomeini in June last year.
Their third objective is destabilizing and avenging Pakistan for crushing their associates in tribal areas and foiling their plans across Pakistan. Most of the existing militants and leadership of IS-KP were once associated with Tehrik-e-Taliban-Pakistan (TTP) who were fighting against the state of Pakistan with alleged support and funding from India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS).
The question arises, who has been supporting these outsiders in Afghanistan? The New York Times reported that in 2013, Afghan intelligence agencies had been supporting TTP to avenge Pakistan for their alleged support to Afghan Taliban. Later on, Latif Ullah Mehsud, the right hand of Hakimullah Mehsud, and Ahsanullah Ahsan, the former Spokesperson of TTP, had confirmed that the New York Time’s report is based on facts.
Though the TTP itself is weakened significantly, but the existing IS-KP in Afghanistan is dominated by the former TTP fighters, which indirectly makes the Afghan government guilty for strengthening the terrorist outfit responsible for civilian lives on both sides of the Durand Line. Similarly, former President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai has blamed the US for IS presence in Afghanistan. In an exclusive interview with Al-Jazeera in November last year, he said boldly, ‘Daesh (IS-KP) is foreign created, foreign nurtured and for foreign purpose’. He further added, ‘the terrorist organization emerged in Afghanistan under the US presence, surveillance, military, political and intelligence’.
Moreover, triumph of Iran and its allies in Iraq and Syria in early December, and the rise of IS in Afghanistan by recent consecutive attacks in last week of December, and the conversion of legitimate protests into an insurgency to overthrow the government in Tehran cannot be coincidental. Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has already accused foreign hands behind the foiled protests. Connecting these dots will give us a bigger and clearer picture of Karzai’s claim of calling IS-KP ‘a foreign nurtured and foreign purposed group’.
Analysts believe that IS-KP will take advantage of Afghanistan’s harsh terrain, weak government and tribal schisms to strengthen itself. On the contrary, the ground realities indicate that before spreading into other parts of Khorasan region (including parts of Iran, Pakistan and Central Asia) Afghanistan will prove to be the graveyard of IS-KP. Because unlike Taliban, IS-KP has no local support in Afghanistan. They are considered an outside force that is why villagers have been supporting Taliban during clashes between the two groups. Furthermore, the traditional rivals of Taliban i.e. ethnic Hazara , Iran and Russia are also in contact with the Taliban to counter the increasing influence of IS in the region.
is a Research Associate at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research. He has done MSc. and M.Phil in International Relations from the National Defence University, Islamabad. His areas of expertise are politics and foreign policy of Pakistan and Afghanistan.