Afghanistan Chang­ing Dy­nam­ics

The IS is grad­u­ally find­ing ground in Afghanistan, much to the con­ster­na­tion of the Tal­iban.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Dr. Raza Khan

The IS has reached this part of the world.

As the Iraq and Syria-based Is­lamic State (IS) is grad­u­ally en­trench­ing it­self in war-torn Afghanistan, it is en­ter­ing into turf ri­valry with the largest in­sur­gent Afghan group, the Afghan Tal­iban, re­sult­ing in bloody clashes. The an­i­mos­ity is sig­nif­i­cantly chang­ing the dy­nam­ics of the war theatre in Afghanistan. The Afghan Tal­iban have been wag­ing an in­sur­gency against the In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity & As­sis­tance Force (ISAF) and the Afghan Na­tional Se­cu­rity Forces (ANSF) since the for­mer’s oc­cu­pa­tion of Afghanistan in Novem­ber 2001, when it dis­lodged the Afghan Tal­iban rule (1996-2001). The IS which emerged in Iraq in mid 2014 by adopt­ing the nomen­cla­ture ‘Is­lamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)’ af­ter declar­ing es­tab­lish­ment of a ‘global caliphate’ on the ter­ri­to­ries it got hold of through its swash­buck­ling of­fen­sive in both the Mid­dle Eastern coun­tries, as­sumed the ti­tle of ‘IS’ and vowed to ex­tend its branches to the en­tire Mus­lim world. Be­hind The Ri­valry The IS has been es­pe­cially work­ing on hav­ing a strong net­work and fran­chise in

the Pak­istan-

Afghanistan re­gion be­cause of many at­trac­tions it of­fers to in­sur­gent and ter­ror­ist out­fits. The fore­most at­trac­tion of the Af-Pak re­gion for the IS or any other Mid­dle Eastern group is the huge pop­u­la­tion of Mus­lims, par­tic­u­larly young males which pro­vides the most po­ten­tial re­cruit­ing grounds for fight­ers. Se­condly, the Pak­istanAfghanistan re­gion also pro­vides ar­guably the big­gest sanc­tu­ar­ies due to ex­tremely rugged ter­rain. The re­gion hosted the Al Qaeda, another Mid­dle Eastern glob­al­ized mil­i­tant or­ga­ni­za­tion, for decades. Osama bin Laden led the Al Qaeda lead­er­ship and is said to have planned and ex­e­cuted the Septem­ber 9/11 at­tacks on the US main­land.

As the Afghan Tal­iban have been fight­ing for restora­tion of their rule la­beled as the ‘war of na­tional lib­er­a­tion’ by the group against the ‘anti-Is­lamic’ forces and their lo­cal agents, their agenda has largely been lo­cal, which is in di­rect clash with the state­less and global schema of the IS. Both the terror groups de­clared war on one another in April this year af­ter the Afghan Tal­iban dubbed the IS self­de­clared ‘Caliphate’ as il­le­git­i­mate and re­fused to de­clare al­le­giance to the IS founder Abu Bakr al-Bagh­dadi, also the self-ap­pointed Amir-ulMom­i­neen ( (Lead­erLeader of all faith­ful or Mus­lims). No­tice­ably, Mul­lah Omar, the founder and head of the Afghan Tal­iban, also chose for him­self the ti­tle of Amir-ul-Mom­i­neen way back in 1996, when the group had cap­tured power in Afghanistan; but he, nor any of the lead­ing lights of his move­ment, ever vowed to launch re­gional or global mil­i­tancy. Thus there has been an in­her­ent con­tra­dic­tion in the words and agenda of the Afghan Tal­iban. Nev­er­the­less, the Tal­iban hosted many Is­lamist mil­i­tant groups from across the world dur­ing their rule, whether it was the Al Qaeda, Abu Sayyaf of Philip­pines or the East Turk­istan Is­lamic Move­ment of Uighurs from China.

The IS in re­sponse to the Afghan Tal­iban dec­la­ra­tion of their caliphate as hav­ing no Is­lamic grounds launched re­cruit­ment drives deep into the Tal­iban ter­ri­tory, al­low­ing them to ex­pand rapidly - even re­port­edly re­plac­ing the Tal­iban as the dom­i­nant con­trol­ling force in sev­eral dis­tricts of Nan­garhar province. It is im­por­tant to note that the IS has been able to en­trench it­self rel­a­tively in some prov­inces of Afghanistan be­cause of switch­ing of sev­eral Afghan Tal­iban com­man­ders as well as of many Pak­istani Tal­iban com­man­ders present in Afghanistan. Seem­ingly the Afghan Tal­iban com­man­ders who joined the IS got dis­en­chanted with the lo­cal­ized agenda of their for­mer group. In the latest clashes be­tween the Afghan Tal­iban and the IS fight­ers, 10 Afghan Tal­iban were cap­tured by the IS fight­ers in Afghanistan and were be­headed. The in­ci­dent took place in Nan­garhar province of Afghanistan which borders Pak­istan’s volatile Khy­ber tribal dis­trict in the Fed­er­ally Ad­min­is­tered Tribal Ar­eas (FATA). The be­head­ings were aimed at herald­ing the pres­ence and strength of the IS in Afghanistan as well as to get a very strong mes­sage across to the Afghan Tal­iban that the IS meant busi­ness. Forces Be­hind IS Rise Cer­tain in­de­pen­dent in­ter­na­tional media out­lets have in­formed through their sources in Afghanistan that the Afghan Na­tional Di­rec­torate of In­tel­li­gence has been be­hind the steady rise of the IS in the coun­try. The rea­son which these media fur­nished for the Afghan in­tel­li­gence sup­port to the IS is to prop the lat­ter as a coun­ter­force to the Afghan Tal­iban. Afghan in­tel­li­gence sup­port to the IS in Afghanistan is par­tially plau­si­ble. Be­cause the Afghan in­tel­li­gence would be an­tic­i­pat­ing that the strength­en­ing and ap­par­ent power of the IS in Afghanistan could cre­ate schisms in the Afghan Tal­iban as many com­man­ders and or­di­nary fight­ers of the lat­ter would like to join the IS. This would weaken the Tal­iban. There has rarely been any ma­jor fis­sures and fac­tion­al­ism in the Afghan Tal­iban move­ment since its emer­gence in 1994 de­spite bad times.

As the IS has an equally strong, if not stronger, Is­lamist agenda like the Afghan Tal­iban have, the Afghan in­tel­li­gence would be ex­pect­ing that such Is­lamist cre­den­tials could push many Afghan Tal­iban to­wards the IS at a time when the lat­ter have failed to get con­crete re­sults de­spite their ter­ri­to­rial gains. The Afghan in­tel­li­gence, by sup­port­ing the IS, would also ex­pect that the group could cre­ate ex­ten­sive prob­lems for Pak­istan, es­pe­cially when the Pak­istani Tal­iban move­ment or the Tehreek-eTal­iban Pak­istan is fac­ing fac­tion­al­ism and the worst time of its ex­is­tence and many of their com­man­ders would like to join the IS.

This is a re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tion as the Pak­istani Tal­iban, un­like the Afghan Tal­iban have on sev­eral oc­ca­sions vowed to wage ‘global Ji­had.’ The Afghan in­tel­li­gence sup­port to the IS must be based on the es­ti­mates of its sleuths that the IS could not be­come a threat to Afghanistan, there­fore, it could be used as a tool. How­ever, in­tel­li­gence agen­cies en­gi­neer­ing of­ten re­sult in catas­tro­phes for their own coun­tries. There­fore, the Afghan in­tel­li­gence agen­cies must not play with fire and should learn from Pak­istan which un­der Gen­eral Zi­aul-Haq in­vested on Mus­lim mil­i­tants to fight the Sovi­ets in Afghanistan in the ex­pec­ta­tion that it would have no ef­fect on Pak­istan. But even to this very day, Pak­istan can­not get it­self shielded from the ill-ef­fects of that strat­egy. Panic Among Tal­iban On their part, the Afghan Tal­iban seem to have pan­icked by the grad­ual rise of the IS in their heart­land. Know­ing that once the IS gets it­self en­trenched, it would pounce on the Tal­iban. The sud­den de­ci­sion by the Afghan Tal­iban to en­ter into di­rect peace talks with the Afghan Tal­iban for the first time ever and the hold­ing of the first round of this process in Mur­ree is ob­vi­ously, although par­tially, the re­sult of the Tal­iban fears due to the rise of the IS in Afghanistan. The Tal­iban have been re­fus­ing to hold talks with the US or Afghan gov­ern­ment un­less the en­tire west-cre­ated con­sti­tu­tional and po­lit­i­cal ed­i­fice in Afghanistan is rolled back. The first round of talks be­tween the two sides re­mained in­con­clu­sive; how­ever, the Mur­ree meet­ing set the tone and tenor of the peace ne­go­ti­a­tions. Thus the pres­ence of IS and its gain­ing grad­ual ground has forced the Tal­iban to come to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble. How­ever, noth­ing seemed to be said with cer­tainty re­gard­ing the out­come of the talks be­tween the Afghan Tal­iban and Pres­i­dent Ghani’s gov­ern­ment. The sec­ond meet­ing of the process would keep mon­i­tor­ing these de­vel­op­ments. All this points to the fact that the peace process in Afghanistan has en­tered a decisive phase. The writer holds a PhD in In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions and is a po­lit­i­cal and se­cu­rity an­a­lyst.

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