After setting the historical shrines of Logar province of Afghanistan on fire on Saturday February 21st, 2015, the ISIL militants also killed one civilian and replaced the Taliban’s white flag with their own black flag in the Charkh district. On the same day, the ISIL men entered locals’ houses, broke their televisions and warn people not to watching television anymore (Tolonews). The ISIL affiliated group claimed the responsibility and asked Talibans militants in the Province to declare their allegiance to Al-Baghdadi, the Caliph of Islamic States of Iraq and the Levant. On Tuesday February 24th, 2015, another 30 men, all from Hazara ethnic minorities, were kidnapped in Zabul province by a group of masked men but no one yet claimed responsibility for it.
Although such incidents were normally claimed by the Taliban as they are the only powerful insurgent group in Logar and Zabul provinces; however, the recent burning of shrines were taken by ISIL group who receives commands directly from their own commander Sa’aad ul Emarati or Hafez Saeed Khan, nominated Governor of Khorosaan.
Since ISIL made significant contribution in international Jihad against the West, Al-Baghdadi claims that the ISIL have gained more achievements in 2014 & 2015 compared to the whole Taliban campaigns in the last fourteen years. Being attracted by even radical group, The Taliban are continuously losing their men to ISIL. In contrast, the ISIL is rapidly maximizing its man power, ammunitions and financial resources. For example, since the announcement of the Khorosaan Province, covering modern day Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Bangladesh, and part of neighboring central Asian countries, in January 2015, the ISIL had not only convinced commanders of Pakistani Taliban to declare their allegiance to Al-Baghdadi, the Group had also nominated the Pakistani Taliban commander Hafez Saeed Khan as the emir of the Khorosaan. Other well-known Taliban figures who had recently joint ISIL are Shahidullah Shahid, Sa’aad al Emarati, Sheikh Muhsin, Dolat Khan, Khalid Mansoor, Abdul Rauf Khadim and dozens/hundreds others. The Allegiance of Hafez Saeed Khan and other Taliban commanders to Al-Baghdadi mean that the Pakistani Taliban is no longer under the command of Mullah Omar and Al-Baghdadi’s calling of Mullah Omar a “fool and illiterate warlord” was even disgraced Mullah Omar’s religious credibility and political weight.
Expansions of the ISIL group in Afghanistan and Pakistan:
Since its creation until the second half of 2014, or most probably until September of the same year, ISIL had never seen in Afghanistan, perhaps not publicly. However, according to the Times of India, the ISIL was shown their presence in Afghanistan when Hafeez Saeed Khan together with some other Taliban commanders declared their allegiance to Al-Baghdadi on July 2014. After few months on September 2014, the ISIL group in Peshawar of Pakistan distributed pamphlets and propaganda messages to Afghan refugees camps in nearby the city and called people to join them. Within few days, many commanders of hardliner insurgent groups, mainly Pakistani Taliban militants in the border provinces of Afghanistan and Pakistan became attracted in supporting ISIL. Among the Afghani members, Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost and Maulawi Abdul Qahar, who were backed by the Taliban in eastern provinces of Nuristan and Kunar, had extended their supports to ISIL.
The ISIL soon began to expand their influences towards southern province of Afghanistan, mainly towards major provinces of Loya Paktia, Ghazni and Helmand. In the late September 2014, just few weeks after the release of ISIL’s first propaganda message in Peshawar, the group killed about 100 people in Ajristan district of Ghazni province; among them 12 persons were women and children who were brutally beheaded. The Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid rejected claims for such mass killing; however, local inhabitants witnessing the scene considered Taliban militants, who were carrying the black flag of ISIL with them, responsible for such murders. According to local Afghan news, Wahdat news, the Taliban militants carrying ISIL’s flag not only killed dozens of people in Ajristan, they had also blocked communication roads to other districts of Ghazni province including Jaghori, Qarabagh and Nahoor.
By the late 2014, despite rapidly expansions of ISIL’s operations in the Eastern and the Southern provinces, the Afghan National Directorate of Security continuously rejected the groups’ presence in the country and denounced ISIL as the Haqqani’s or the Taliban’s militants. When the ISIL men riding on horse with black ISIL’s flags on hand maneuvered in front of the cameras got attentions of Afghan local TVs and newspapers, the group was already involved in hanging Taliban’s militants in Nuristan and recruiting men in east, south and Northern provinces of Afghanistan. Around the country, the ISIL commanders recruited men from eastern provinces of Badakhshan, Nuristan and Nangarhar; South and Eastern provinces of Paktia, Logar, Ghazni, Helmand and Zabul; and Northern provinces of Jawzjan, Kunduz and Parwan. By expanding their presence in almost all major provinces of Afghanistan, today the ISIL is not only considered a powerful rival against the Taliban, the group is also considered great threats to the stability and security of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other neighboring countries.
Afghanistan and the ISIL challenges:
The Afghan Security official claims that they are competent enough to control the situation. The Afghan National Directorate of Security considers the killing of ISIL’s commander Abdul Rauf Khadim and his eight men on February 10th in Helmand as a victory. However, the recent Logar incident which happened in 60km from Kabul reveals that the ISIL is capable of threatening Afghan people anywhere in the country.
Since nominated as the ISIL commander for Helmand, Abdul Rauf Khadim had been a key liaison between various insurgent groups in the country. He had recruited about 300 men fighting with the Taliban, Afghan armies and NATO forces in Helmand province. Abdul Rauf Khadim was a member of Taliban and captured in 2001 by the Americans. In 2007 he was transferred from Guantanamo Bay prison to Afghanistan but released by the Karzai Administration in 2009. Soon after his release, Khadim joint Taliban and served as nominated governor of Helmand. After joining ISIL, Abdul Rauf Khadim and his 45 men were disarmed by the Taliban in January 2015. However, he continued his operation in Helmand until he was killed by U.S. drone on February 10th, 2015. According to local Afghan Medias, like Abdul Rauf Khadim, dozens and hundreds other Taliban fighters are joining ISIL to make new align with a group that is notoriously growing in the country and region.
Today, the Taliban is much fragmented in the rise of even more radical groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Pakistani Taliban, known as the Tahrik e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), is no longer under the central command of Quetta Shura led by Mullah Mohammad Omar. The ISIL, which is rapidly increasing its members, is now considered main rival to the Taliban and receives command from the Governor of Khorosaan or directly from Al-Baghdadi. Other insurgent groups such as the Haqqani group, Al-Qaida, Hezb e Islami Hekmatyar, Islamic Party of Uzbekistan and others insurgents groups are all receiving commands from their own leaders. Amongst the various terrorists groups, the ISIL is not only much radical and well funded, the group had also proved capable of convincing loyal Taliban members such as TTP commander Hafeez Saeed Khan, TTP spokesperson Sheikh Maqbool (Shahidullah Shahid), founder of the radical Abtalul Islam Foundation Sheikh Abu Yazid Khorasani and dozens other Taliban and insurgent groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan to join them.
Future of Afghan-Taliban talk:
From 2001, the Taliban group by claiming Afghanistan under occupation had never agreed to enter into a peace talk with Afghanistan. But in the rise of ISIL in the country, recently, the Taliban had shown green light for a face-to-face discussion with the Ghani Administration. Though it seems Taliban changed their minds or perhaps received order from their main supporter Pakistan for peace deal; however, or perhaps I think, the Taliban is trying their last hope for gaining power in Afghanistan. Otherwise, the Group is already in the edge of fall and their ticket for peace deal will soon expires by few more push by the ISIL in the coming year(s).
By: Deedar R. Khudaidad, Perth-Western Australia, 23/02/15
Deedar R. Khudaidad was born in Afghanistan and has Bachelor degree in Politics and International Relations from Edith Cowan University and currently pursuing his Masters in IR and National Security at Curtin University of Technology, both in Western Australia. Deedar Khudaidad can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org