Taliban vs IS: Birds of one feather not flocking together


Taliban fighter with an AK-47 in Kabul during the group's second anniversary of victory in August 2023. Photo by @AADIL for ADN.

By Ilhamuddin Afghan

A recent escalation in attacks attributed to the Islamic State group in Afghanistan and beyond has reignited anxieties about regional stability and security. 

In a particularly devastating attack in March claimed by the IS group, a brutal assault by the group on a Kabul Bank branch in Kandahar province resulted in a significant number of casualties.

This attack, along with a near-simultaneous incident at a Moscow concert hall that claimed over 140 lives–allegedly by IS, with Russia implicating Ukraine without concrete evidence, underscores the group’s continued potency. 

While the Taliban government maintains that IS lacks a substantial presence in Afghanistan, sporadic clashes and counter-insurgency operations paint a different picture.

Analysts suggest a more intricate power dynamic at play. The Taliban and IS, both with their own agendas, might operate as situational allies, hindering each other’s influence while ultimately aiming to undermine the legitimacy of one another.

“The Taliban lacks the authority and capability to decide on the destruction of Daesh (the Arabic name for the IS group)”  Mohammad Sarwar a former security official in northern Afghanistan said. 

“Several militant groups, including the IS, operate in northern Afghanistan, but the Taliban avoid acting against them. The Taliban’s apparent inaction against known IS operations in the north raises concerns about their control and level of autonomy,” he added. 

Following the Kandahar attack, the Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi downplayed the threat, attributing the attacks to foreign actors. However, experts argue that while foreign elements may be involved, the majority of ISIS fighters are likely Afghan nationals. This raises critical questions concerning the Taliban’s ability to effectively counter the threat.

While the IS group was active under the republic government, the first IS-claimed attack under the Taliban took place in August 2021 at the Kabul airport during the evacuation process just after the Taliban return to power. The attack claimed over a 100 lives, including over dozen American soldiers. 

Subsequent attacks targeting Chinese interests in Kabul, the Taliban’s own Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and other strategic locations further demonstrate the threat’s persistence.

This resurgence has understandably alarmed neighboring countries, who fear Afghanistan could become a safe haven for extremist groups planning attacks beyond its borders. The Taliban’s failure to effectively address the IS threat erodes regional confidence in their ability to govern and maintain security.

As Afghanistan grapples with renewed violence and instability, a concerted regional effort is essential to combat the IS threat and prevent further bloodshed. Only through cooperation and collaboration can regional stakeholders effectively tackle this scourge of terrorism and pave the way for lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan.

Ilhamuddin Afghan is a university professor based in Afghanistan.

Note: The contents of the article are of sole responsibility of the author. Afghan Diaspora Network will not be responsible for any inaccurate or incorrect statement in the articles. 

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