Pakistani experts speaking on the causes of hostility between ISKP and the Afghan Taliban movement
As Pakistani experts point out, the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP) now poses the most serious threat to the Afghan Taliban movement and its power in Afghanistan.
It is important to note that the Afghan Taliban and ISKP are pursuing different ideological and strategic goals. While the Taliban seeks to create an Islamic emirate in Afghanistan and is primarily focused on this, ISKP seeks to establish a global caliphate and has a more expansionist agenda. This ideological difference has led to conflicts and competition for influence in the region.
ISKP and the Taliban have continuously fought for control of territory and resources, especially in eastern Afghanistan. This rivalry often led to clashes and violence between them, leading to instability in certain areas. At the same time, ISKP tried to recruit disgruntled members of the Taliban movement, taking advantage of internal tensions and discontent within the group.
It should be noted that this practice brought certain results: some Taliban militants and leaders defected to the side of IS-Khorasan, which further weakened the Taliban and stimulated internal divisions. Against this backdrop, ISKP has demonstrated resilience and adaptability, and has access to external funding and recruitment networks.
As mentioned earlier, the Taliban and ISKP have different ideological goals and tactics. This makes cooperation between them unlikely and may lead to continued conflicts and competition.
The Afghan Taliban are currently facing at least two small-scale insurgencies. In the east and parts of northern Afghanistan they are fighting IS-Khorasan. In the north, they are fighting branches of the former army, police and intelligence services of the former regime, which they defeated in August 2021.
The brutal campaign against ISKP has diminished its capabilities in the east, but the group has begun to adapt, changing its area of operations and tactics, and has even carried out cross-border strikes against Afghanistan's Central Asian neighbors, perhaps demonstrating its ability to operate from the “backyard” of the Taliban.
At the same time, the largest of the northern rebel groups, the National Liberation Front, is gaining momentum despite the Taliban crackdown - or perhaps partly because of it.
In the face of these challenges, the Taliban have also (in a quieter manner) taken limited steps to manage the risks posed by other militant groups that remain largely dormant but dangerous. These include al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups with regional or global ambitions that have historically enjoyed the protection of the Taliban.
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 presence of ISKP in Afghanistan has attracted international attention, leading to increased pressure on the Afghan Taliban to combat the group. In this context, the Taliban certainly faces the challenge of clearly demonstrating its ability to provide stability and security in the country, but given the evolving situation in Afghanistan, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Afghan Taliban to counter the threats emanating from IS-Khorasan.
Experts indicate that the Afghan Taliban's ability to effectively fight ISKP without international assistance may prove challenging. Even though the Taliban is a significant military and political force in Afghanistan, it currently does not have sufficient resources and potential to fully counter ISKP on their own.
Effective counter-terrorism efforts often require intelligence sharing and coordination among different security agencies, both domestically and internationally. While international assistance can be critical in the fight against IS and other extremist groups, the extent and nature of this assistance will depend on the geopolitical context and policies of the countries involved. In addition, the Afghan Taliban's willingness to accept such assistance and cooperate with external stakeholders will also be an important factor in any effort to combat the TTP. This has not yet been observed.
For quite some time, there has been a noticeable split between the Tekri-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA), and the reasons for this are not political, but ideological. The IEA fought against external interference, while the Al-Qaeda-influenced TTP adheres to takfiri ideology and pursues expansionist goals.
This fundamental ideological difference has led to the TTP and ISKP being perceived as natural allies, as they share an identical point of view. However, it should be noted that the activities of both groups only contributed to increased bloodshed and instability in the region.
Recently, a senior religious scholar, Rauf Etminan, came up with a new fatwa saying that no Afghan citizen needs to perform Jihad outside Afghan territory. Indeed, it is a very powerful decree to fight against extremism in the name of Jihad and to condemn any alleged action that may harm the dignified image of the Afghan Taliban. The ISKP reacted significantly to the decree and rejected the Sharia-based Fatwa of the IEA.
The dispute between the TTP, ISKP and the IEA has a complex and long history. Evidence shows that ISKP and the TTP worked together against the IEA, increasing regional tensions and violence. In addition, the TTP leadership has given a distorted explanation for the recent Taliban decree, worsening the conflict. It is also troubling that ISKP is attempting to force low-level IEA employees to resign as part of a larger plan to carry out terrorist attacks.
The TTP, ISKP, and IEA dispute has a complicated and long history. Evidence shows that the ISKP and TTP worked together to target the TTA, increasing regional tensions and violence. In addition, the TTP leadership has provided a distorted explanation of a recent Taliban decree, aggravating the conflict. Concerning is the fact that the ISKP is trying to get lower-level IEA personnel to quit as part of a larger plan to commit terrorist acts. From all of the above, it must be concluded that the conflict between the TTP, ISKP and the IEA is complex, multifaceted and focused on ideological, political and strategic differences.
The recent Fatwa issued by the IEA prohibiting Afghan citizens from engaging in Jihad outside of Afghanistan has widened the rift between the IEA and its adversaries, who deny its authority and legitimacy.
The fact that ISKP chose to reject this fatwa reflects a direct challenge to religious and political legitimacy of the movement. The rejection of the IEA's Sharia-based fatwa demonstrates the dispute over religious authority in relation to IS-Khorasan's terrorist activities.
After the TTP leadership gave a distorted explanation for the Taliban's decree, it is likely to follow the example of ISKP and reject the fatwa.
IS-Khorasan's strategic choice to encourage defections among lower-ranking IEA officials is consistent with broader terrorism tactics in which groups seek to weaken enemies by fueling internal conflicts.
Thus, ISKP and the TTP are now effectively united against the Taliban and continue to carry out attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan.