Tough Task For Afghan Taliban To Tackle ISKP – OpEd


The Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), also known as ISIS-K or ISIS-KP, was a branch of the Islamic State that is primarily active in Afghanistan. However, the situation in Afghanistan has been rapidly evolving and it’s important to note that circumstances on the ground can change quickly, especially in regions affected by conflict and terrorism. ISKP is particularly active in eastern Afghanistan, mainly in Nangarhar and Kunar provinces, where it carried out a series of deadly attacks, including suicide bombings and targeted assassinations. The group aimed to establish a caliphate in the region and was in competition with the Taliban and other militant groups.

In August 2021, the Taliban took control of Kabul and much of Afghanistan, including areas previously controlled by ISKP. The situation was fluid, and it was unclear how the power dynamics between the Taliban, ISKP, and other groups would evolve in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. 

The Taliban victory has brought a measure of unfamiliar calm to Afghanistan, as killing subsided in late 2021 across the vast majority of Afghan territory. But all is not well. The Taliban are fighting two insurgencies – one led by the Islamic State’s local branch and the second comprising the National Resistance Front (NRF) and other groups aligned with the former government.

Meanwhile, Afghan Taliban face at least two small insurgencies. In the east and parts of the north, they battle the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP). In the north, they also fight affiliates of the former army, police and intelligence services whom they defeated in August 2021. The brutal campaign against IS-KP has diminished its capacity in the east, but the group has begun to adjust, altering its area of operations and shifting its tactics – even making cross-border strikes in Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbours, likely to signal the ability to act from the Taliban’s own backyard. At the same time, the largest of the northern insurgent factions, the NRF, has been gaining momentum despite – or perhaps in part because of – a Taliban crackdown.

As they confront these challenges, the Taliban have also (in a quieter way) been taking limited steps to manage the risks posed by other militants who remain largely dormant but dangerous. These include al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups with regional or global ambitions, which have historically enjoyed the Taliban’s protection. The Taliban’s way of handling of these groups aims at containing them without provoking them to turn against their nascent government. That precarious balancing act appears to have backfired and may no longer be sustainable in the wake of the U.S. drone strike that killed Zawahiri. His death made plain the contradictions in the Taliban’s desire to host global jihadists who in principle aim to bring down an international system from which the Taliban themselves seek recognition.

When security problems emerge, the Taliban’s first reactions have in some cases made them worse. They have tended to deny the existence of major issues, including by making absurd claims that al-Qaeda has no presence in the country. The Taliban issue similar denials about the scale of local insurgencies, presumably to thwart their adversaries’ publicity and recruitment efforts, while at the same time crushing dissent with heavy-handed tactics. These have included arbitrary detention, torture, extrajudicial killings, collective punishment and profiling whereby Taliban security forces target members of ethnic, tribal and religious groups whom they suspect of supporting insurgents or otherwise fostering anti-Taliban sentiments.

The ISKP has emerged as serious threat to Afghan Taliban’s ability to tackle militancy and tackle economic issues. The militant group is now pitching for more Taliban leaders to join ISKP and fight against Afghan Taliban. They have been booklets as well to pressurize Afghan Taliban. Recently, the ISKP released a 59-page booklet in Pashto nullifying the Fatwa in the light of Sharia; also invited low-ranking Taliban members to join ISKP. The ISKP’s rejection of IEA’s Fatwa has significant implications.

The Fatwa, issued by the IEA, was rooted in Sharia law, serving as a religious decree aimed at consolidating the authority of the Taliban over Afghanistan. The fact that the ISKP chose to dismiss this Fatwa reflects a direct challenge to the IEA’s religious and political legitimacy. Dismissing the IEA’s Sharia-based Fatwa demonstrates a dispute over religious authority in relation to ISKP’s terrorist actions. ISKP-TTP has an active nexus against TTA. After giving a twisted explanation vis-à-vis decree by Taliban, TTP leadership is likely to follow the ISKP suit to reject fatwa. ISKP’s strategic choice to encourage defection among lower-ranking IEA officials conforms to the broader tactics of terrorism, where factions seek to weaken enemies by fostering internal conflicts.

Shaikh Moazam Khan

Shaikh Moazam Khan is an Islamabad based expert of strategic affairs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *