By Jai Kumar Verma*
Islamic State (IS), which is an emerging force in Afghanistan, is slowly but steadily becoming powerful. There can be a difference of opinion about the actual strength and its area of influence in the country, or even its link with IS of Syria and Iraq, but there can be no dispute that the strength of the IS (Da’esh) fighters is increasing.
In January 2015, IS announced about the formation of Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP) and Hafiz Saeed Khan was made the Chief of the organization and Abdul Rauf, who was killed later in drone attacks, was appointed as Deputy of the outfit. The organization owes allegiance to IS Chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and believes in Salafist Islamism.
The cadre strength of IS in Afghanistan and Pakistan is believed to be more than 10000 at present. The leaders of ISKP after the formation approached various terrorist outfits of Afghanistan and Pakistan especially of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Lashkar-e-Toiba (L-e-T) and allured them to join IS.
The leaders of IS before meeting Afghan or Pakistani leaders completed the groundwork by distributing leaflets, pamphlets and other propaganda material especially about establishing of Islamic State of Khorasan Province. The publicity material was printed in Pashto, Dari and other languages so that the common Afghans as well as Pakistanis could read the material and formulate a favorable opinion about the terrorist outfit.
A banned Jundullah terrorist organization which has influence in Pakistan as well as in Afghanistan have also proclaimed its allegiance to IS (Da’esh). Besides Jundullah, some discontented elements of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Ahl-e-Sunnat Wai Jamat (ASWJ) also joined Daesh. Jundullah has a committed cadre of terrorists, which in the recent past had killed 43 Ismaili Shias in Karachi and more than 60 innocent persons near the Wagah border.
Outreach through internet too figures prominently in IS’ modes of operation. In fact, such has been the influence of IS and its Khorasan affiliates that TTP changed their loyalty and joined IS. The IS being an international outfit was able to lure many, including a significant number of disgruntled elements of the Afghan Taliban and other terrorists outfits that operate in areas along the notorious Durand Line.
Mullah Akhtar Mansour, the claimant to the position of supreme leader of Taliban has opposed the recruitment drive of IS in Afghanistan. He wrote a letter to Baghdadi that IS should stop recruitment in Afghanistan and let Taliban fight independently. However, with the active connivance of IS, Mansour, it is believed was critically wounded during a meeting with other factions of Taliban in the Pakistani town of Kuchlak.
Fierce fighting has been occurring between IS and Taliban forces ever since. In June 2015, IS evicted Taliban from few districts of Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province. In fact, the strength of IS in the Central and surrounding areas got enhanced when Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) declared its allegiance to the outfit.
IS which is aware of the importance of publicity started radio station with the name of “Voice of the Caliphate”, reaching out to the masses in Afghanistan and in a rather intimidating way. Needless to say, radio which is still the most popular form of communication in underdeveloped Afghanistan has managed to lure young Afghans into IS’ fold. The broadcasts are being done both in Pashto and Dari languages.
Besides recruitment from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan, IS has also sent few hardcore cadres from Syria to increase the ideological and operational strength and organization of the outfit in Afghanistan. The IS cadres of Syria have been imparting training to Afghans, Pakistanis, Uzbeks and others who have declared their allegiance to it. IS is also getting financial assistance from foreign countries.
IS ideology of establishment of ISKP is luring hence jihadists from whole world are gathering under IS flag. Islamic mercenaries of several countries are joining ISKP. Hence the Afghan government, Central Asian states, Iran, Russia, India and other world players should chalk out a plan to curb the increasing influence of IS in the country, as it is not only dangerous for Afghanistan but it will be perilous for the region as well as for whole world.
The Afghan government lacks resources to counter the threat emanating from world’s most powerful terrorist outfit therefore regional as well as peace loving countries of the world should assist directly or indirectly to Afghan government.
Afghan Taliban, which was united and powerful under Mullah Muhammad Omar, is considerably weakened due to infighting, large scale desertions and pressure from Afghan government. IS is taking advantage of weakening of Taliban and trying to increase its influence. IS is spreading ethnic and religious abhorrence which is very dangerous for Afghanistan which is already suffering from deep ethnic divide.
At present, Taliban are fighting IS more effectively than the Afghan government. Taliban who are still powerful in Afghanistan are giving a tough fight to Da’esh but the ideology, financial resources, armaments and techniques of IS are far superior to that of Taliban’s. Hence, the outfit is making inroads even in what were believed to be the strongholds of Taliban with the help of defectors as well as of locals.
IS cadres are very ruthless with their opponents and kill them brutally. They resort to sexual abuse of young women, extortion, severing of limbs, looting and burning of houses etc. The IS generates fear in the residents of the area. The IS is enhancing its influence and fighting is increasing in Afghanistan and chances of peace are becoming remote. The economy of the country is deteriorating and the present government is losing public support.
After the departure of majority US-led NATO forces from Afghanistan, Taliban and IS have strengthened themselves. US President Obama’s decision to retain some US troops even after 2017 is a welcomed decision. US has rightly authorized its troops in Afghanistan to target IS.
In case world community abandons Afghanistan, IS will defeat Taliban and will occupy large parts of Afghanistan which will be used as a base to carry out terrorist activities in the whole world especially, in the South Asian region. Therefore the world leaders should equip Afghan army with latest weaponry, electronic gadgets, training and should provide the requisite intelligence about IS so that Afghan forces can counter this dreaded terrorist organization.
*Jai Kumar Verma is a Delhi-based strategic analyst. He can be contacted at: [email protected]