In contrast to Daesh franchises in the Levant and Libya, it is unlikely that Daesh-K will manage to establish a de facto state on Afghan soil. Writes Giorgio Cafiero
Since the Taliban took over control of virtually all of Afghanistan last year, it has failed to curtail terrorism waged by Daesh Khorasan Province (Daesh-K, ISK, or ISKP), which has increased its attacks in recent weeks.
Founded in 2015 as an offshoot of Daesh, Daesh-K continues spilling blood in Afghanistan. Last month, the terror group was particularly gruesome with its deadly attacks in Mazar-e Sharif, Kunduz, and Kabul, killing at least 100 people.
The Taliban’s difficulties establishing a stable order in post-occupation Afghanistan stem from various factors, including Daesh-K’s terrorism.
The extremist group is working to undermine the Taliban’s narrative about bringing peace to Afghanistan following the withdrawal of US/NATO forces.
By the same token, the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) will probably find itself benefiting from the Daesh-K threat in certain ways too.
Growing regional and international perceptions of Daesh-K as a grave threat can help the Taliban convince more foreign countries that they have no choice but to engage Afghanistan’s only de facto government for counter-terrorism purposes.
In the case of Russia, this has already become somewhat of a reality. Moscow’s recent decision to establish diplomatic relations with the IEA largely stemmed from concerns about Daesh-K. Likewise, Iran is avoiding hostilities in its relationship with the IEA despite its concerns.
However, regional and global powers sharing the Taliban’s determination to prevent Daesh-K from successfully pursuing its local and global agenda will not guarantee formal recognition of the IEA as a “legitimate” government any time soon.
For that to occur, the Taliban would need to make major changes to its governance that demonstrate a true commitment to ruling the country in more inclusive and tolerant ways.
Local and regional capacity
In contrast to Daesh franchises in the Levant and Libya, it is unlikely that Daesh-K will manage to establish a de facto state on Afghan soil.
Isaia Galace, a global Security Analyst at RANE, explained in an interview with TRT World that “since the Taliban takeover, ISKP has not demonstrated the capability or near-term intent to durably hold territory in Afghanistan and establish local governance structures, which would be necessary for the group to claim the establishment of a so-called ‘caliphate.’”
Anatol Lieven, a Senior Research Fellow at the Quincy Institute and a former British correspondent in Afghanistan, explained that the range of local and regional actors aligned against the group would also limit its ability to rule in the country.
“China would certainly give help, though not military intervention, to the Taliban to prevent this happening, perhaps via Pakistan,” he added.
But even without creating a “caliphate” on Afghan soil, Daesh-K can be expected to remain a persistent threat to IAE’s rule by exploiting a sense of alienation on the part of Afghan Salafists, which has increased because of the Taliban’s campaign to crush the terror group.
The Taliban’s decision to engage China, Iran, Russia, and other foreign powers that Daesh-K considers enemies will also advance the group’s narratives about the IAE being insufficiently Islamic as defined by these extremists.
It is difficult to imagine states bordering Afghanistan not becoming increasingly worried about Daesh-K’s activities in the future. “It is only a matter of time that Daesh-K gets emboldened enough to expand its target areas and reach Afghanistan’s larger neighborhood,” Rabia Akhtar, a non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Centre, told TRT World.
Although denied by the Uzbek government, Daesh-K recently claimed that it carried out a cross-border attack against an Uzbek military base. The group has also been responsible for attacks against Pakistan, including a mosque bombing in Peshawar.
The stabbings at the revered Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad last month by an Uzbek national who entered Iran illegally via Pakistan contribute to Tehran’s growing fears of such hardline groups like Daesh-K that target Shia Muslims in countries bordering Iran.
Given that Khorasan refers to territory in parts of Iran, it is only natural for Tehran to view Daesh-K as a direct national security threat.
Neighboring countries also have concerns about potential refugee flows stemming from increasing instability in Afghanistan brought about by the terror group, as well as recruitment efforts that could lead to growing radicalization among their own marginalized citizens.
Yet the dangers posed by Daesh-K should be worrying for countries beyond Afghanistan’s neighborhood.
The West should also be concerned about the extremist group’s international agenda.
If chaotic conditions on the ground permit Daesh-K to gain greater influence and members, it is not difficult to imagine the organization plotting attacks against the West from Afghanistan.
The West’s Afghanistan policy
This brings us to the point that Washington’s financial warfare against post-US Afghanistan is set to boost Daesh-K’s ability to grow. “The poorer and more desperate ordinary Afghans become, the better for ISK,” according to Lieven. “That is why present US policy towards Afghanistan is extremely counter-productive.”
It would behove officials in the US to realize how such stringent sanctions and the seizure of Afghanistan’s sovereign wealth are strangling Afghanistan and worsening its already grave humanitarian disasters.
On April 25, UN experts called on Washington to “take into serious consideration the growing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and to re-assess its decision to block the Da Afghanistan Bank’s foreign assets…and to decisively contribute to the international efforts in addressing the growing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.”
The further exacerbation of these horrifying conditions will provide extremists like Daesh-K much fertile ground as they seek to overthrow the Taliban and pursue their global Daesh agenda.
To deny Daesh-K further opportunity to grow in Afghanistan, the US would be wise to revisit its sanctions policy towards Afghanistan.
But now, as Washington and European capitals have all their eyes on Ukraine, post-troop withdrawal Afghanistan is off the West’s radar.