IS challenges the Taliban

After taking power, the Taliban immediately faced a security threat from IS-K, which considers itself to be the last jihadist movement in Afghanistan.

While the Taliban strives to form a new government in Kabul, the Islamic State of Khorasan (IS-K), the Afghanistan and Pakistan branch of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS), seeks to discredit trust this force. IS-K wants to differentiate itself from the Taliban by carrying out violent attacks, while challenging the new ruling force’s ability to run Afghanistan.

To compete for potential membership, IS-K is describing the Taliban as “collaborators with the US”. The Taliban responded by cracking down on IS-K and its supporters in the eastern provinces of Afghanistan, which border Pakistan. Neda Mohammad, governor of Nangarhar province appointed by the Taliban, said more than 80 people were arrested in the locality on suspicion of IS-K links.

The Taliban are said to have executed about 150 IS-K members, including former leader Abu Umar Khurasani, when they took over the Kabul prison on August 16. However, many IS-K fighters have escaped from prison across Afghanistan and returned to the ranks of the group.

Taliban members patrol the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan on August 19.  Photo: AP.

Taliban members patrol the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan on August 19. Photo: AP.

On September 5, the Taliban executed Abu Obaidullah Mutawakil, an influential Sunni Muslim cleric, because most of his students joined IS-K. After closing more than 30 mosques and religious schools linked to IS-K, the Taliban on September 8 killed Farooq Bengalzai, the IS-K leader in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, when he arrived in Afghanistan’s Nimroz province.

IS-K is also an enemy of the US. The US military launched an operation to hunt down IS-K after the group carried out a suicide bombing outside Kabul airport on August 26, killing more than 170 people, including 13 US soldiers. General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at a press conference on September 1 said it is likely that the US military will coordinate with the Taliban to fight IS-K.

Security experts say that IS-K is looking for ways to smear the image of the Taliban as much as possible. After the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, IS-K mocked the Taliban’s victory, accusing the group of not participating in a real jihad and claiming “Afghanistan has been returned to the Taliban in a global conspiracy”.

“The more the new government formed by the Taliban makes concessions to accommodate Afghan social classes, the more space IS-K finds to propagate propaganda against the group in order to recruit new members,” Riccardo Valle said. , an expert on Islamic extremism in Afghanistan, said.

“Members who doubt the Taliban’s decision to be more conciliatory can look to IS-K, which claims to be the legitimate successor to Osama bin Laden and Mohammed Omar, the founder of the Taliban who died in 2013. “, Valle said.

Location of Nimroz, Kunar and Nangarhar provinces of Afghanistan.  Graphics: Nikkei.

Location of Nimroz, Kunar and Nangarhar provinces, IS-K operations in Afghanistan. Graphics: Nikkei.

IS-K was founded in January 2015 by former members of the Afghan Taliban and Terheek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a group considered a terrorist by Pakistan. IS-K quickly became the most successful branch of IS outside Syria and Iraq with a large number of fighters in eastern Afghanistan.

However, IS-K lost ground in Kunar and Nangarhar provinces after US troops, Afghan government forces and even the Taliban launched attacks on the group over the years. Experts say that IS-K regularly accuses the Taliban of being a puppet of Pakistan and the US.

“The US tactical air support campaign tacitly supporting the Taliban attacks on IS-K positions in Nangarhar and Kunar in 2019-2020 reinforces this allegation,” Valle said.

Anticipating the Taliban’s takeover of power in Afghanistan, Shahab al-Muhajir, the new leader of IS-K appointed in May 2020, announced an urban terror campaign against both the Taliban and the former Afghan government and ” their American master”.

With a core group of 1,500-2,200 fighters in eastern Afghanistan, IS-K staged 115 attacks between April 2020 and March 2021, according to a June United Nations report. “The Taliban don’t have the counterterrorism experience to crack down on the IS-K network that’s lurking around Afghanistan,” Valle said.

Taliban members walk outside the main gate of Kabul airport on August 28.  Photo: AFP.

Taliban members walk outside the main gate of Kabul airport on August 28. Photo: AFP.

Khan, a political science lecturer at Nangarhar University, said the efforts of international cooperation, especially with the US, by the new administration formed by the Taliban could cause a backlash within the group’s ranks and make many people angry. member defected to IS-K.

“Islamic armed groups maintain anti-state and Western views. The Taliban is now a state entity and wants to cooperate with Western countries,” Khan said. “The Taliban have a hard time convincing low-level members who have been involved in anti-Western jihad for many years, and IS-K is ready to take advantage of this.”

Neighboring countries, especially Pakistan and China, have pressured the Taliban to crack down on groups like the TTP or the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) on Afghan territory. These groups once helped the Taliban capture the northern region of Afghanistan.

“If the Taliban try to take action against the TTP or ETIM because of outside pressure, these groups could form an alliance with IS-K and make it difficult for the Taliban to rule,” Khan said.

Nguyen Tien (Follow Nikkei)

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