Situation, Facts and Events

Rivalry between ISKP and the Taliban intensifies amid the worsening humanitarian situation in Afghanistan

The Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) recently released a 59-page booklet in Pashto that has sent shockwaves through the region. In this document, the ISKP nullified the Fatwa issued by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) and even went a step further by inviting low-ranking Taliban members to join its ranks.


This move signifies a complex and troubling development, shedding light on a dispute over religious authority, alliances, and the ongoing power struggle within Afghanistan’s turbulent landscape.


The ISKP’s rejection of the 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.


This dispute over religious authority within Afghanistan’s Islamist landscape is indicative of the deep-rooted ideological divisions that continue to plague the region. It highlights the ISKP’s determination to chart its own course, outside the realm of the Taliban’s authority, and underscores the complexities of interpreting Islamic law in a way that aligns with specific political agendas.


The ISKP’s rejection of the IEA’s Fatwa is not an isolated incident. There is an ongoing nexus between the ISKP and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) aimed at countering the influence and control of the Taliban in Afghanistan (TTA). The TTP has already given a twisted explanation of the decree by the Taliban, hinting at a potential alignment with the ISKP’s stance to reject the Fatwa. The TTP recently made headlines with a propaganda video that appears to be aimed at discrediting Pakistan and its law enforcement agencies. The video shows that Pakistan and its allies are unable to destroy TTP hideouts, bases and strongholds. While such propaganda efforts by this group are not new, it is important to dig deeper into the motivations behind such actions and the realities on the ground that often go unnoticed.

The TTP's propaganda campaign appears to have multiple goals.

First, it is an attempt to complement the public narrative and policies of the current Afghan government, which is seeking to ease international pressure. By shifting the focus to Pakistan's perceived failure to resolve the TPP issue, the aim may be to divert attention fr om the ongoing problems within Afghanistan. One of the key messages in TTP narrative is that the problem is Pakistan, not Afghanistan.

However, facts on the ground give a different picture. The TTP relocated to Afghanistan following military operations in Pakistan in 2008. It has even fought alongside the Afghan Taliban against United States and NATO forces and has established operational and planning bases in Afghanistan that are internationally recognized, as seen in an August 23 UN Security Council report.  


In 2021, TTP activity increased after the withdrawal of US troops and the Taliban's takeover in Afghanistan, which became the movement's main rear base. Current TTP commander Noor Wali Mehsud gives interviews to media from Afghanistan. Cross-border attacks, undermining of border fences and links to al-Qaeda (banned in Russia), as outlined in the August 2023 UNSC report, further emphasize the TTP's presence in Afghanistan.


Second, it is presently a more informal alliance between the ISKP and the TTP against Kabul  that demonstrates the complex web of allegiances and rivalries that define the region’s militant landscape. It also underscores the challenges the IEA faces in consolidating its rule and imposing its religious decrees across Afghanistan.


The ISKP’s strategic choice to encourage defections among lower-ranking IEA officials is not unique. It aligns with broader terrorist tactics, wh ere extremist factions seek to weaken their enemies from within by fostering internal conflicts.

By targeting low-ranking Taliban members, the ISKP aims to create dissension and disarray within the ranks of its rival group, further destabilizing the already fragile situation in Afghanistan. The formal invitation extended by the ISKP to low-ranking Taliban members to join its ranks is a troubling development for the Taliban. It reveals the ISKP’s willingness to exploit disillusionment and dissent within the Taliban’s ranks, potentially sowing the seeds of further conflict and division.  


It’s essential to note that allegations have been made suggesting that the ISKP operates as an Indian proxy and pursues an anti-Muslim and anti-Islam agenda. While such claims should be critically examined and based on credible evidence, they underscore the complexities of regional dynamics and the role of external actors in Afghanistan’s security landscape.


Of course, in this case, it is necessary to understand that the recruiting base of ISKP will grow due to the difficult humanitarian situation in the country. Over the past two years, there has been an increase in poverty levels. UN statistics are alarming; in fact, as of December 2022, according to the IRC, “more than 90% of the country’s population” suffered from poverty. However, humanitarian aid arrives slowly and intermittently. Nearly 20 million Afghans - half the population - are hungry, and the country could face real famine in the coming winter.


According to UN experts, the only way to prevent mass famine is cooperation between the Taliban and Western states that control the flow of aid to Afghanistan. This is how a humanitarian catastrophe was averted last winter. However, today both sides are at a negotiating impasse - the West wants the Taliban to lift restrictions on women's rights, and the Taliban wants the West to lift crippling sanctions and recognize the legitimacy of their rule.

  During the American presence in Afghanistan, much of the rural irrigation infrastructure was destroyed. This made it more feasible to grow the drought-resistant and monetizable poppy, the plant from which opium paste is made, than the staple food. As a result, Afghanistan's rapidly growing population gradually became increasingly dependent on imported food. The current shortage is partly caused by the withdrawal of financial support from the West, severe drought and rising wheat prices due to the crisis in Ukraine.


At the same time, the Taliban took measures to address the consequences of food shortages. They reduced taxes on food imports by 50%. Their generally successful campaign to reduce opium production in Afghanistan brought immediate benefits by forcing farmers to grow food crops instead of poppies. The Taliban also implemented a program to pay government employees with wheat purchased from India and Pakistan. According to international experts, without international humanitarian interventions the problem of food shortages in Afghanistan cannot be overcome.

  ISKP’s rejection of the IEA's fatwa, along with its invitation to low-ranking Taliban members to join, is a troubling development reflecting the dispute over religious authority and the deepening power struggle in Afghanistan. The move underscores ISKP’s determination to forge its own path and challenge the Taliban's religious and political legitimacy. The ongoing relationship between ISKP and the TTP against the Taliban further complicates the situation in Afghanistan, making it necessary for the IEA to take more serious measures to establish control over the country, especially in connection with the very difficult humanitarian situation. Inciting internal conflict and sending invitations to defectors are tactics often used by extremist groups, which means that there is the need for vigilance and unity in the face of such threats.
Source: Институт Ближнего Востока