Afghanistan, the Taliban, IS and a Simmering Struggle



By Ilhamuddin Afghan

Since the Taliban return to power in Afghanistan in August 2021 a formidable challenge has emerged in the form of the Islamic State, or ISIS, which has established itself as the primary armed opposition group.

ISIS has a well-documented history of violence in Afghanistan, perpetrating large-scale attacks even before the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul for the second time. The devastating bombing at Kabul airport during the 2021 evacuation serves as a grim reminder of their capabilities. Subsequent attacks targeting embassies, religious institutions, and various public spaces have underscored the ongoing struggle for control between these two extremist groups.

The Taliban narrative portrays ISIS as a weakened force on the brink of collapse. However, analysts paint a more nuanced picture, recognizing ISIS as a resilient and potentially disruptive threat to the Taliban’s precarious hold on power. Neutralizing ISIS would signify a significant victory for the Taliban, potentially offering a modicum of stability to a nation weary of war.

Ghulam Mohammad, a retired military officer in eastern Afghanistan, offers valuable insight. 

“I have fought against ISIS in eastern Nangarhar province and know their tactics. When ISIS emerged as a force in Nangarhar, they drove the Taliban out of Nangarhar. The Taliban claim of completely defeating ISIS is false as ongoing attacks by the ISIS continue to demonstrate their operational capability.” he said.  

This sentiment is echoed by Kabul-based military expert Ahmad Shah, who spoke under the pseudonym to protect his identity.  

“The Taliban is fully aware of the threat posed by ISIS but are deceiving themselves to maintain a facade of control,” stated Shah. 

The funding sources of ISIS in Afghanistan remain shrouded in opacity, with accusations pointing towards a confluence of foreign entities, local warlords, and even citizen-based financial networks. 

Numan Latif, a researcher based in eastern Afghanistan, has documented evidence of such support structures. His research indicates that fear and personal connections may motivate some to contribute financially to ISIS activities. 

Further complicating the geopolitical landscape are theories suggesting Pakistan’s potential involvement in a proxy war. Some analysts posit that Pakistan may benefit from a weakened Taliban government, allowing them greater influence in the region. This destabilization, fuelled by ISIS activity, could offer Pakistan strategic and potentially financial advantages.

The recent upsurge in large-scale ISIS attacks has heightened the Taliban’s security concerns.  Infiltrations within their own ranks by ISIS operatives are also a growing source of anxiety. The persistent threat posed by ISIS not only undermines the Taliban’s claims of control but also severely challenges their ability to govern effectively.

Afghanistan’s future remains uncertain. The ongoing conflict between the Taliban and ISIS casts a long shadow, with the potential for further violence ever-present. The battle within Afghanistan is a complex one, fuelled by extremist ideologies, external influences, and the desperate struggle for power. Only time will tell if the nation can find a path towards lasting peace and stability. 

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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