The ISKP Challenge: Threatening Taliban Control In Afghanistan – OpEd


The Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) has emerged as a significant security concern in Afghanistan, challenging the control and stability of the Taliban regime. While the world’s attention has largely been focused on the geopolitical complexities involving Western powers and the Taliban, the resurgence of ISKP in Afghanistan’s landscape should not be underestimated. This piece discusses the multifaceted dimensions of the ISKP threat to the Taliban and examines the implications for Afghanistan’s security and regional stability.

ISKP, an offshoot of the Islamic State (IS), found its foothold in Afghanistan in 2014. It has since developed into a formidable entity with its own leadership structure and a distinct ideological stance. Unlike the Taliban, which predominantly focuses on nationalistic objectives and implementing its interpretation of Islamic law, ISKP aspires to establish a global Caliphate, making it ideologically distinct and even more radical. Key figures within ISKP, such as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, have played pivotal roles in its expansion.

Areas of Conflict

ISKP’s presence is primarily concentrated in eastern Afghanistan, particularly in provinces like Nangarhar and Kunar. These regions have become hotspots of conflict as the Taliban and ISKP vie for territorial control. Clashes between the two groups have been persistent, leading to localized instability. In many cases, these confrontations have resulted in civilian casualties, exacerbating the suffering of local populations caught in the crossfire.

ISKP employs a range of recruitment tactics to bolster its ranks. Poverty, lack of education, and a sense of marginalization are factors that drive individuals to join ISKP, offering them a sense of belonging and purpose. The group’s sophisticated propaganda machinery, utilizing social media platforms, plays a pivotal role in radicalizing vulnerable individuals. The allure of global jihad and a sense of religious duty are potent motivators for recruits.

Challenges for the Taliban

Diversion of Resources: Countering the ISKP threat diverts valuable resources and attention away from the Taliban’s governance efforts. As the Taliban engages in military operations against ISKP, it faces difficulties in delivering basic services and maintaining law and order.

Internal Dissent: Some Taliban fighters disillusioned by the leadership’s engagement in talks with Western powers have defected to ISKP, highlighting internal dissent within the Taliban ranks.

Governance Struggles: The Taliban’s efforts to establish effective governance are hindered by the persistent ISKP threat. The group’s presence undermines the Taliban’s ability to assert control and maintain stability in contested areas.

The emergence of ISKP in Afghanistan has prompted international actors to reconsider their approach to the country. While some Western powers have sought to engage with the Taliban as part of a broader diplomatic strategy, they are also wary of the ISKP threat. Collaborative efforts between the Taliban and external powers, including intelligence sharing and counter-terrorism cooperation, have become more pronounced in the face of this common adversary. The regional and global implications of ISKP’s resurgence have brought a renewed focus on Afghanistan’s security.

Future Outlook

Escalation of Violence: The struggle for supremacy between the Taliban and ISKP may intensify, leading to increased violence and instability in Afghanistan.

Fragile Peace: The Taliban’s ability to maintain control while addressing the ISKP threat will determine the country’s long-term stability. The delicate balance between governance and security remains uncertain.

International Engagement: The ISKP challenge has prompted international actors to stay engaged in Afghanistan, both in terms of humanitarian assistance and security cooperation.


The ISKP resurgence in Afghanistan poses a formidable challenge to the Taliban’s control and the nation’s overall stability. The clash of ideologies, territorial disputes, and recruitment efforts by ISKP contribute to ongoing violence and instability. The Taliban’s diversion of resources, internal dissent, and governance struggles further complicate the situation. The international community must remain vigilant in addressing the ISKP threat, recognizing that its resurgence has far-reaching implications for Afghanistan’s security and regional stability. Ultimately, Afghanistan’s path to lasting peace hinges on how effectively these challenges are addressed and managed in the years to come. 

Zafar Iqbal Yousafzai

Zafar Iqbal Yousafzai is Senior Research Associate at Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad and author of The Troubled Triangle: US-Pakistan Relations under the Taliban’s Shadow. He tweets @yousafzaiZafar5.

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