Taliban vs. ISIS: Supremacy in Afghanistan



By Masud Wadan, For VT

The Islamic State speedily expanded over vast territories in Iraq and Syria and inspired some other terrorist networks and factions in the Middle East and Africa like Boko Haram to join this group. But the only group that defied ISIS and refused allegiance to its leadership is the Taliban. So far, the two groups have engaged in deadly clashes in parts of Afghanistan. The hostility escalated after ISIS chief Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi called the Taliban supreme leader an” illiterate and fool warlord”.

The Islamic State first announced its expansion into Afghanistan on 26 January this year simultaneously with a breakaway Taliban commander’s allegiance to this movement. Most of the Taliban commanders who have joined ISIS to date were opposing the Taliban’s supreme leader Mullah Omar. Following disclosure of Omar’s death, there has been disillusionment in the ranks of the Taliban and a total disagreement over who should be the next leader; some accepted the new leadership under Mullah Mansoor though others turned to ISIS.

The coincidence of Mullah Omar’s death and the rise of ISIS in Afghanistan raised the question that his death was intentionally revealed to cause disarray among the Taliban and prompt flow to the IS front.

For the time being, Taliban prevails over the Islamic State in Afghanistan, because ISIS is an “alien force” and it may find it difficult to conduct operations and seize the territories at an unfamiliar environment. They may not survive in Afghanistan unless they form an insider force rather than from the Middle East nations, while Taliban has emerged out of local communities or somewhere around and carries strong sense of direction in the region.

Now with the persistent operations and advancement of fighters claimed to be Islamic State loyalists in parts of Afghanistan, the question is, are they really Islamic State associates from their heartland the Middle East or they are old fighters in the guise of the IS. Absolutely, Islamic State has no other choice but to allow the Taliban or its old fighters in its ranks to take the lead of war.

We can conclude that the white flag of the Taliban is lowered and instead the black flag of the Islamic State has been raised and there has been some kind of “shift in power” just in name.

Upon arrival in Afghanistan the Islamic State claimed that the Taliban fights for Pakistan’s ISI, to show they have come up with a different approach and to prove they are autonomous and battling for a different purpose.

The gradual replacement of the Taliban with Islamic State makes sense as the Taliban’s war and role has become obsolete in the eyes of the world. People around the world are getting skeptical about the strength and will of the nations involved in the fight against terrorism as this has become the history’s “lengthiest” war on terror.

In other words, the time has come for the Taliban to step back and let the Islamic State step forward. The removal of the Taliban could provide the basis for Pakistan to respond to international calls for an end to the terrorism.

The Islamic State’s campaign in Afghanistan seems to be more of a “propaganda war”, as its range of activities is limited to one or few provinces. When the rise of Islamic State reverberated across Afghanistan last year, it prompted the fears and became a key factor behind the subsequent outpouring of people of Afghanistan into Europe and elsewhere.

Its inferiority to the Taliban can be clarified in few points. First, because there is a wide reputation about Islamic State’s persecution and ethnic and minority cleansing in the Middle East as compared to the Taliban. It is not just unwelcomed by the Taliban but they may also face the resistance by the people of Afghanistan.

Secondly, the Taliban is already leading an ideology that ISIS intends to bring along with even more harsh and severe manner. Taliban’s support of Al Qaeda has also been contributive in non-defection of many to the Islamic State.

The two group’s ambitious plans also differ from each other as Taliban struggles for power within Afghanistan though Islamic State looks to “make extra-Afghanistan gains”.

The air raid is a good solution in Afghanistan and a single warplane would be sufficient to strike their positions, because they mostly operate in nonresidential areas where the use of air attack is a logical and gainful option. Acknowledged by Afghan ground forces, militants are highly afraid of air raid and can lose the ground when air support arrives in area. But this has remained myth as govt. critically lacks in air equipment and combat-ready aircrafts.

Fighters under Islamic State are fighting Afghan security forces in the southern parts of eastern Nangarhar province of Afghanistan – the only favored area of the group in Afghanistan. They storm public areas to force them out of their houses in a bid to clear the ground for establishment of training centers and command posts in the area.  

According to media reports, some 24,000 people have fled their houses due to oppression of militants loyal to Islamic State or for being caught in the crossfire between Afghan security forces and the IS fighters in many districts of the province.

Shift in Pakistan’s Arguments

Quoting a prominent Afghan daily newspaper the 8am, an Afghan politician and once spokesman to ex-president Hamid Karzai, Waheed Omar wrote about his visit to Islamabad two weeks back to attend the nongovernmental conference between high-profile Afghan-Pakistani politicians. He says he hoped to hear something different and new at this conference as he was fed up with the repetitious narratives of Pakistani officials in the past.

He explained “On the eve of the conference, I got the chance to dine with a number of Pakistani political experts. I sat next to retired general Talat Masood, a renowned and outspoken Pakistani analyst on international affairs. In reply to my query on how he analyzes the current Afghan-Pakistan relation, he said we did our job and eliminated Pakistani Taliban as a result of “Zarb-e Azb” operation”.

“Afghan Taliban has been driven out of the country and now some of them have posed the threat to Pakistan from across the border. There is no shelter for the Taliban in Pakistan and it is now up to Afghanistan to tackle the problem and we are not in a position to do something”, saying Talat Masood as quoted by Waheed Omar.

“Pakistan has no more control over Afghan Taliban and if Afghan govt. asks we are willing to bring the Taliban to negotiating table”.

He went on saying Afghanistan has facilitated the safe havens for the Taliban and then citing some of recent major terror attacks in Pakistan as work of those in Afghanistan.

In response to what kind of cooperation they can do in this respect for Afghanistan, he said “we can just assist you with exerting pressure on Taliban for a peace dialogue, and play a go-between role and it is not fair to expect us to annihilate them”.

Later on the day of conference, Omar stated, I met overwhelmingly with the same response of the retired general from members of Pakistani civil society. In the event, Pakistani delegates unanimously and surprisingly laid the same single opinion with apparently no change in their Afghan policy.

It was what we had foreseen and had fear of. It sounds odd to me as if all have already agreed to the same point of view. They have adopted a new policy to leave no space for argument that it hosts terrorist groups and instead put the burden on Afghanistan. They may have disagreements as to their internal policies, but with respect to Afghan policy, they commonly say one word.




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