Analysis of the Mechanisms of the Islamic State Propaganda in the Afghan-Pakistani Region
Publicity is one of the integral components of the activities of extremist organizations, since propaganda lies at the heart of terrorism, by definition.
Terrorist groups do not resort to violence for the sake of violence. Rather, they do this in order to emphasize political, religious or ethnic claims and to draw attention to their demands and ideology.
The emergence of social media has further enhanced the scale of terrorist propaganda. Today these media are the key component of the organizational structure of any extremist group. The social media accounts of terrorist organizations serve to broadcast the points of view of their leadership, help communicate with the outside world, and recruit new potential militants and sponsors.
No terror group has honed the art of using social media as well as the Islamic State (banned in Russia).
After their military defeat and territorial losses in Iraq and Syria in 2018, IS made dissemination of their narratives through social media a priority. IS accords propagandists the same weight it gives to its fighters.
Since 2018, IS has managed to stay afloat, maintaining its image as a foreign terrorist group through powerful narratives on social media and the creation of a global network of branches - the so-called “provinces” or “vilayats.”
Of all the IS branches, its regional branch IS-Khorasan (also known as ISKP or IS-K, banned in the Russian Federation) has demonstrated the ability to produce propaganda materials in many languages, at the quality level on par with the IS propaganda. Although ISKP is focused on Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is also involved in IS’s global propaganda operations and has markedly increased the international scope of these operations in recent years. This is the function of the Al-Azaim Foundation for Media Productions and Communications, the main propaganda arm of the group.
Since the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban (banned in Russia) in August 2021, ISKP has sought to delegitimize its regime and undermine the desire to restore peace in the country. IG-Khorasan attaches great importance to the power of propaganda in social networks, claiming: "our pen is a dagger in the hearts of infidels (infidels - author)". Al-Azaim is currently producing social media propaganda in as many languages as ISIS did during its terrorist peak.
Since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, ISKP has pushed toward delegitimizing their regime and undermining their claim of restoring peace. ISKP attaches great significance to the power of propaganda on social media platforms, stating, “Our pens are daggers in the hearts of kuffar (the unfaithful ones).” Al-Azaim Foundation produces propaganda in as many languages on social media as IS did during its peak period.
In the post-territorial phase of its lifecycle, IS strives to control and dominate the media discourse. In other words, the group tries to use media against media. ISKP’s ideologues Abu Saad al-Khorasani and Sultan Aziz Azzam (who has been missing in action in the past year) are its two main propagandists.
ISKP’s social media propaganda network is very robust and spread across the whole social media spectrum. As mentioned, Al-Azaim Foundation for Media Productions and Communication is ISKP’s main propaganda arm, which mainly produces books and occasionally publishes videos. Its other propaganda units include:
- - Al-Millat Media (publishes booklets and statements from ISKP’s central leadership)
- - Khalid Media (video production)
- - Al-Akhbar Wilayah Khorasan (more mundane statements and day-to-day developments)
- - Haqeeqat News (same as above)
- - Tor Barighona
- - Al-Mursalat Media
ISKP produces propaganda in many languages: Pashto, Dari, Persian, Urdu, Uzbek, Tajik, Hindi, Malayalam, Russian, Arabic, English, and occasionally in Uyghur. The main themes of its propaganda are aimed at undermining the Taliban’s ideological legitimacy while bolstering IS claims to its self-styled global Sunni caliphate.
ISKP carefully watches concessions that the Taliban regime makes to gain the international community’s support with regard to the provision of humanitarian aid, and expands its list of criticism targeting the West accordingly.
ISKP propaganda also targets China for oppressing Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, increasing cooperation with the Taliban regime, and its growing “imperialism” through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Similarly, ISKP propaganda is directed against religious minorities, especially Shiite and Sufi Muslims, and against the Sikh community in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.ISKP also directs its propaganda at madrassa and school and college students it seeks to recruit. Its propaganda products range from books to videos, audio statements to infographics, magazines to credit claims for its attacks and occasional booklets on more pressing issues.
ISKP’s Al-Azaim Foundation also publishes two monthly magazines Khorasan Ghag and the Voice of Khorasan, in Pashto and English languages, respectively.
Of the several books that the group has published, the three that stood out in 2021 are “The Truth of the Taliban Movement,” “Recitation of Surah Al-Fatiha During the Prayer,” and “Oh Propagandist! Do You Know Your Value of Your Jihad?”
Thus, the ISKP’s robust propaganda strategy underscores the fact that military means alone will not be sufficient to overcome the ideological challenge it poses in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Instead, robust counternarratives to debunking the group’s ideological claims with effective social media components will be crucial.