violence map of Afghanistan in 2017 has not been different from its previous years.
The civilian and security forces causalities have rather gone up. What is
strikingly different is that Islamic State in Afghanistan has claimed more attacks
than Taliban particularly in last half of the 2017. The rise of Islamic State
in Afghanistan has also created problem for Taliban to widen its influence. The
tussle between Islamic State and Taliban although has intensified over the
years but the Afghan government has failed to exploit the division. Moreover,
the external powers have all the means to use both of them as proxies. Apart
from the external help, a tactical change in religious philosophy will
determine the trajectory of Islamic State’s prowess in Afghanistan.
Rise of Islamic State in Afghanistan
its military success in Iraq and Syria, Islamic State (IS) started extending
its branches by trying to persuade likeminded outfits to join them. Initially the
prospect for IS in the South Asia region was seen as implausible due the
existence of other terrorist organisations particularly the influence of al-Qaeda
and Taliban. Now down to the couple of years IS has emerged strong force to
reckon with. In Af-Pak region, IS consists of the former Taliban and Pakistan
Taliban fighters. The emergence of IS
goes back to 2014, when a delegation
sent by Baghdadi to contact TTP fighters in South Waziristan and Baluchistan.
the defecators from TTP maintained low profile when they left to Afghanistan
after the Pakistani military launched Zarb-i-Azb operation in North Waziristan.
They got settled in Nangarhar districts. Taliban welcomed its old hosts; it was
time for them to reciprocate. For Afghan government, TTP particularly Mangal
Bagh’s men from Khyber Agency bordering Durand line were seen as potential
asset to off balance the Taliban-ISI nexus. It was like the beginning of
tit-for tat between two neighbours. My enemy’s enemy is friend; the acrimony
started flaring up from the region. The NDS according to Borhan Osman, an
Afghan analyst was not only wooing Mangal Bagh’s fighters but also other
different factions of the TTP and were allowed to be treated in government
hospitals. He further said that the NDS “expected their protégés to fight
against the Pakistani government. It also saw a role for them to fight, or at
least stand, as a bulwark against the Afghan Taliban”.
However, that bromance did not last long. When IS paid allegiance to Baghdadi, a
rift emerged between host Taliban and IS in Nuristan and Nangarhar. Within
couple of months IS took territory from Taliban and started killing Taliban
fighters and its sympathisers. Taliban has to assemble its fighters to take out
IS- now seen a strategic enemy- from the areas which erstwhile were its
strongholds. IS started publically executing Taliban fighters and its
sympathisers, sent a message that they are very ruthless than Taliban. Afghan
government was forced to rethink its policy of using them as assets as
neighbouring states took development
what makes IS strong is that it is recruiting new fighters in the region, mostly
those who see Taliban as a religiously flexible and lackey’s of foreign
agencies. Those who constitute IS’s top leadership are mostly from Pakistan’s
tribal areas particularly those who control the opium trade routes. The
infighting within TTP and between Taliban and IS can also be seen in that
prism. One who controls opium trade routes controls organisation. The opium
trade route that crosses through South Waziristan had always been under the
control of militants from Mehsud tribe.
Therefore, financial woes of its parental organisation will not have any impact
on IS in Afghanistan.
other factor that would play an important role is the Iran-Saudi rivalry that
is going to be played in Afghanistan. What Taliban could not do, IS done it
succinctly by stoking sectarian conflict with aim of being portrayed as an only
bulwark against Shia expansionism. The unabated attacks against Shia’s in
Afghanistan forced Iran to reach out to Taliban.
Many Hazara Shia’s joined
Taliban against IS. The presence of Salafi’s also known as mowahedin in Taliban would make them prone target for the Saudi’s.
Over the years they were loosely under control of Taliban leadership. But resentment
was rising against Taliban’s top leadership for either being too soft in
applying religious rulings or not being able to control the illicit activities.
IS in Afghanistan has been successful in the areas where Salafi Islam is
dominant. In Nangharhar, Salafi communities provided base for IS to thrive. Salafi
scholars saw IS as an organisation that is pure in its ideology and also has a
vision for the political state. The Salafi’s
within Taliban have been close to Saudi’s and if Riyadh sees Taliban-Iran cooperation
materialising, they can reach out to Salafi’s within Taliban who over the years
have maintained a separate network within the group.
other factor that will determine success of each group depends on who attracts
young fighters. IS has an upper hand here, it still has model of a political
state to offer its followers which it ruled for many years in Iraq and Syria. The
second and more importantly Taliban is still seen as nationalistic driven
outfit that often puts it at odds with jihadi sympathisers.
from the IS in Iraq and Syria after it lost its territory is a master stroke.
It will add its fortunes in the Af-Pak region. These two rulings are fatwa (decree) on takfir- that is excommunicating the other. IS excommunicated every
other organisation be it al-Qaeda, Hamas, Muslim Brotherhood, Taliban and
others. The other ruling is tatarus-
using humans as shield, in military connotation it is known as collateral damage.
Previously IS defended tatarus and
argued that there is nothing wrong in it. By rescinding takfir, IS in the AF-Pak region will attract those outfits that were
earlier hesitant to join it partly because of its condescension towards other
organisations. The other terrorist organisations may not fully integrate with
it but in future may coordinate and will come each other rescue. Tatarus will be used to win hearts and
minds of the people once Taliban is defeated militarily and ideologically.
elections looming, the Afghan government and US would try its best to bring
some sort of stability. Even if Taliban is forced to come on negotiation table
they will not commit to ceasefire, a pre-requisite for any peace talks. If they
do that, Taliban will lose young fighters who don’t want to talk. There is
already enmity within Taliban regarding Pakistan’s influence on top leadership.
Therefore, the external elements will see where to rely and on whom to bet
their strategic calculations. What’s becoming obvious is that IS is not only a
reality but a force that would be reckoned with. They have all the means to
destabilise the region.