Friday, December 8, 2023

IS-Khorasan: A Solemn Threat to Taliban

Every war, whether inter or intrastate posses horrific consequences. Usually, when the war ends the very first effect is anarchy, no matter if it is a just war or not. In such situations, it is a very perplexing job to establish the writ of the state and ensure peace and stability. The same is the situation in Afghanistan after US forces pull out. On the 31st of August, the US and its allies officially ended a twenty years-long war in Afghanistan. Since the US started withdrawal of the troops, the Taliban were expanding their areas of influence over Afghanistan. Almost two weeks before the US’s complete withdrawal, the Taliban unexpectedly entered Kabul and seized power again, after twenty years. The US does not fulfill the responsibility under jus post-Bellum and left the state in susceptible situations. This may provide an opportunity for IS-K to accelerate the chaos, anarchy, and political instability. 

Yet, the Taliban have just formally declared their government, and lots of challenges are ahead for them to confront. There are groups in Afghanistan that are not ready to recognize the Taliban’s government, and IS-K is one among those groups. The IS-K chapter came out as an active threat and adversary to the Taliban, even before the formal declaration of the Taliban’s government. IS-K took responsibility for the brutal attack on Kabul Airport in which more than a hundred people lost their lives, the midst of the continuous US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The country after a long war of 20 years fell to the Taliban, when the withdrawal of US forces and Afghan supposed to be at risk, was proceeding. Amid the chaos and uncertainty in Afghanistan, the petrified attack by an offshoot of ISIS, commonly known as IS-Khorasan, IS-K, and ISKP heads up as a dreadful threat to the country and brought the faction into the limelight. Now the questions that need to be addressed are: What are the discrepancies between IS-K and Taliban? What are the IS-K capabilities? How much serious threat can they pose to the Taliban? And lastly How Afghanistan can be prevented from being a punching pad of IS-K?

The offshoot of ISIS has emerged in the region in January 2015. The establishment of IS-Khorasan was broadcasted by the focal person Abu Muhammad Al Adnani in his 7 minutes speech, where he stated that a new faction would be operating from the area Khorasan. Khorasan is the historic term used for the region that includes Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the adjoining states. The emergence of IS-K fanned the flames of terrorism in already conflict-prone Afghanistan.

Since the formation of IS-K, it has upgraded itself from an opportunist to a well-established group, posing a serious threat to both Pakistan and Afghanistan and carry out fatal attacks. Reports have shown that the faction initially emerged in two areas in Afghanistan, Nangarhar province is in the east, along with tribal districts of Pakistan, Kajaki district in Afghan province Helmand, and then spread in the northeastern part of the country, Kunar. 

IS-K has an edge over the Taliban to use social media sagaciously and keenly. The youth from the region got attracted to the ideology of the group through social media. The Salafi radicalized group has been alluring the populace of South Asia through its ideological tenet of creation of Muslim Caliphate, covering the area which was once under Muslim Caliphate. An important aspect to note is that the group lacks the leadership of their own recruited from the region, rather the leadership of IS-Khorasan is majorly the defected commanders and militants of other groups particularly The Afghan Taliban and Tehrek e Taliban Pakistan. Due to the presence of other jihadists and particularly powerful Taliban, IS-K tried to advertise its victory over the Taliban by exacerbating brutality and more violence, targeting the civilian population, and attacking Shia and Ismaili communities.

Although, having commanders and militants from TTP and Afghan Taliban, IS-K has not been on good terms with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Both the groups combat each other in Afghanistan to have their hold on resources and terrain. Another major point of divergence between both militant factions is ideology. IS-K following extremist version of Salafism and Taliban being the followers of the Deobandi school of thought. Many commanders who defected to IS-K were having differences with their former group over the peace talks with the US. Despite the leadership losses of IS-K in airstrikes and attacks by US forces, still, IS-K managed to persist and poses a potential threat to the Taliban and Afghan populace. 

At present, due to the amalgamation of commanders and fighters from other groups, and with no idea of actual strength, outreach and potential mobility of IS-K is difficult to predict and counter. The competition and challenges IS-K brought to the region unconditionally jeopardized the anticipation of peace and stability of Afghanistan Pakistan diaspora and South Asia at a larger level. From ideological impetus to the projection of violence introduced by IS-K, the Taliban need to consider the opportunities of exploitation in IS-K to minimize or nullify the effects of threats posed by the group.

The mortifying defeat of the US in Afghanistan, the fall of Kabul to the Taliban are major events in Afghanistan now, nevertheless, it should be kept in mind that IS-Khorasan is an existing potential threat to Afghanistan in this uncertain situation. To prevent Afghanistan from the IS-K punching pad Taliban need the support of the regional and international powers. The support from the regional and international power is possible only if the Taliban ensure to protect human rights, especially women’s rights. Taliban’s must ensure human rights safety to gain regional and international powers support to abolish IS-K, otherwise, a civil war may erupt in Afghanistan and it will be bloodier rampage as compared to that of the 1990s. The Taliban must foresee the possible internal weaknesses among IS-K and utilize it as an opportunity to exploit the group to wipe the slate clean from Afghanistan. Comprehensive joint strategies by the Taliban and the regional powers are the dire need of the time to neutralize IS-K in Afghanistan.



The Authors Asma Hussain and Ismail Ahmad are the MPhil scholars at National Defence University Islamabad, at the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies, and can be reached at,

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