The Taliban are now in control of Afghanistan. This means that there is a new enemy.
Another violent phase is being predicted by the Islamic State group. The Taliban, an ex-insurgent group, will now play the role as the state after the U.S. troops have left Afghanistan and the allied Afghan government.
The Taliban pledged the United States that they would keep the extremist group under control during subsequent rounds of peace negotiations. The 2020 U.S. – Taliban accord guaranteed that Afghanistan would not be a safe haven for terrorist organizations threatening the U.S. and its allies.
It is not clear if they will be able to keep their promise, given the sudden increase in IS attacks following the Taliban takeover on August 15.
46 Shiites were killed in a bombing that struck a Kunduz mosque on Friday. Another deadly IS attack has struck Kabul and the provinces to its east and north. Smaller attacks are almost daily targeting Taliban fighters.
“Historically, most IS attacks have targeted states… Now that the U.S. is almost gone and the international presence is minimal, they must go after the state — the Taliban is the state,” stated Andrew Mines, research fellow at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.
Both IS and the Taliban advocate rule according to their extreme interpretations of Islamic law. However, there are important ideological differences that fuel their hatred.
Taliban claim they are creating an Islamic State in Afghanistan within the borders of Pakistan.
IS claims it is THE Islamic State. It insists that all Muslims support it. It doesn’t recognise the Taliban as an Islamic pure movement and is contemptuous towards their nationalist goals. Similar reasons have made IS a long-standing enemy of al Qaida.
Both IS and the Taliban advocate extreme Islamic Shariah laws and use suicide bombers. IS, however, was more brutal than the Taliban and was subject to more severe punishments when it ruled Syria and Iraq.
In Afghanistan, IS was established in 2015 under the name Islamic State of Khorasan Province. This happened at a time when IS was at its height, controlling large swathes of Iraq and Syria. It was made up of members of militants from Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as a wave defectors from the Taliban.
Initial support was found among the small Salafist movement of Afghanistan in eastern Kunar, Nangarhar and Nangarhar provinces. After being marginalized by the Taliban, the Salafist movement connected with the rising IS to find a way to establish military power.
Some Salafi clerics have voiced opposition to IS’s brutality since then. After its inception, IS suffered severe setbacks from the Taliban and U.S. airstrikes. However, IS has seen a resurgence over the past year.
The Taliban minimize IS’s potential and dismiss them as fringe groups with little mainstream appeal.
According to Sheikh Abdul-Hameed Hamasi, an influential Taliban figure, “They have no roots in here,” The Associated Press reported.
Despite this, the threat of IS is real.
Two bombings that claimed the lives of 169 Afghans, and 13 U.S. military personnel in Kabul were the result. Attacks of a smaller scale are also increasing.
Ibraheem Bashiss, a consultant for the International Crisis Group, stated that the Taliban’s “intensity and breadth of attacks” has taken them by surprise. IS is not a short-term threat.
It may be some time before IS is able to seize territory again. Its immediate goal is to destabilize Taliban and destroy the group’s image of itself as a security guardian.
Its strategy is slow and methodical at the moment. It is reaching out and recruiting to tribes and other groups, while also stamping out moderate Salafis dissent and carrying out assassinations and jailbreaks on Taliban personnel.
Mines stated, “Package all that together, that’s an entire method to insurgency that the Taliban isn’t equipped to handle.”
Bill Roggio, a writer for the Long War Journal (Foundation for the Defense of Democracies think-tank), offered a different perspective. He said that he believes the Taliban could uproot IS by themselves, even without the support of U.S. airstrikes, which nearly ended IS.
Roggio said the Taliban have shown themselves capable of rooting out some IS cells, using their vast local intelligence-gathering networks. He pointed out that IS, unlike the Taliban insurgency, don’t have safe havens in Pakistan or Iran.
Prior to the direct talks between the two sides last weekend, the Taliban refused to cooperate with the U.S. in fighting IS.
The future of IS in Afghanistan will be determined by its ability to attract more members and win the support of large sections.
They have been poaching Taliban leaders since their inception. Abdul Rauf Khadim (a former Taliban commander) was made deputy of IS in Afghanistan in 2015. He reportedly offered financial incentives for other Taliban fighters to join his group.
When IS returned to Afghanistan in 2020, it was led by a Haqani Network member, which is currently a Taliban faction.
As the Taliban leadership is now in power, hard-line Taliban members could join IS. Although the Taliban promised a more inclusive government they have set up a temporary administration entirely composed of Taliban members.
The Taliban will be more hostile to the image of the mujahedeen resistance leader, the more they cooperate with international countries. Mines stated that the Taliban will lose this key identity.
As the Taliban move from insurgency into governance, one of their key tests will be whether or not they protect minorities that their fighters once tyrannized like the Shiite Hazaras.
The Hazaras have been subject to multiple persecutions and displacements throughout Afghanistan’s history. The Taliban were the first to rule Afghanistan in the 1990s. They committed massacres against the community in some cases as a retaliation for the massacres of Pashtuns.
IS targeted Hazaras as most of them are Shiite Muslims. It has killed hundreds in brutal attacks on their worship places in what it calls a “war against heretics”.
Friday’s attack on Kunduz’s mosque was an opportunity for Taliban to present a new image of themselves as state powers. The Taliban quickly reacted: Special forces invaded the scene, investigations were initiated, and the provincial police chief made lofty pledges to protect minorities “brothers”.