Losing grip

Naimat Khan

With large parts of Afghanistan still under Taliban influence, can the militant Islamic State establish control beyond Nagarhar?

taliban-fighters

JALALABAD, Afghanistan: Before being hit by the US airstrikes on February 2, the FM radio station was calling for waiving the ‘black flag’ on Kabul and Islamabad.

‘Voice of the Caliphate’, which began transmission in December 2015, was run by militants of the extremist Islamic State group – also known as Dai’sh, ISIS or ISIL and locally called Daishian – could  be heard in Afghan province Nangarhar’s capital, Jalalabad.

It can be easily tuned from here, residents of Jalalabad told this scribe in late January.

While the airstrikes ended the ‘propaganda’ through radio waves, fears in the minds of the locals still persist.

“If the militants are not taken to the task they will spread to the provinces of Afghanistan,” Sohrab Qadri, member of the provincial council of Nangarhar province told The Frontier Post in an interview conducted at his house in Jalalabad.

“They are worse than Taliban.”

Qadri says action by Afghan forces was taken against IS, which has halted their further advancement.

With large parts of Afghanistan still under Taliban influence, can the militant Islamic State establish control beyond Nagarhar?

“But still six districts of the eastern Nangarhar province are in complete control of Dai’sh. Those displaced are unable to return to their homes,” said the provincial council member.

He warned that the absence of a timely and effective action will spread them to other parts of the country.

A local journalist said over 2400 families had left their homes, which were set on fire by Dai’sh militants.

However, spokesperson for provincial governor Ataullah Khogyani alleges the Pakistani media for exaggerating the presence of ISIS in Nangarhar province.

“Once they had influence in most of the provincial districts but now have been restricted to Achin district on the Pakistani border,” he said.

The IS was founded in the Achin district of Nangarhar, a stronghold of the Mujahidin during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, told a local journalist who wished not to be named.

“Nangarhar has a transit route and has lawlessness but the presence of terrorists is exaggerated,” added Khogyani.

Islamabad-based journalist Tahir Khan, who has a grip on issues related to the Taliban, agrees.

“The issue is not of that proportion as presented by Pakistani, as well as the international media.”

Meanwhile, a majority Afghan journalists and activists this scribe spoke to in Kabul and Jalalabad, subscribe to the allegations leveled by Afghan intelligence agency that ISIS enjoys support from Pakistani side of the Durand Line.

Dai’sh has recruited members in 25 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, and is continuously growing in the war-torn country, according to a UN report issued in September 2015.

“In the North and South, the Taliban are able to conduct large-scale attacks, bringing Musa Qala and Kunduz under control. However, in the East, the IS is gaining momentum, launching coordinated attacks on the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in Nangarhar province,” said Halimullah Kousary, a Kabul-based security expert. “ISIS is a serious threat to the Af-Pak region, especially on the Afghan side.”

But Khan doesn’t see IS as a major threat for the region in near future, at least.

“Sect has a major role in Pashtun society and since IS is a Salafi outfit, it may not be an attraction for majority non-Salafis,” he says.

Barbarity and violence has also dented the support base of the Middle Eastern terror organisation.

Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost, who was the first militant to swear allegiance to Abu Bakar Baghdadi, the head of IS, distanced from the militant group due to extremely violent activities of the militants, including slitting throats, burning people and their homes.

According to Khan, IS is passing through bad times in Iraq and it may not focus on Afghanistan; yet another reason of slow or no expansion of the terrorist outfit in the near future.

Another reason for ‘slow advancement’ of IS is that its organisation in Khorasan primarily comprises Orakzai Pashtuns from the Pakistan’s side of border, restricting them to parts occupied by the IS and barring them for going to settled areas, where they can be identified as foreigners.

The importance of this factor can be gauged from the fact that for the first time Afghan Taliban included three non-Pashtuns – Tajik, Uzbik and Hazara – in its Shurah or council.

For IS, it’s completely opposite, which is relying on both Pashtuns and Salafis; both can’t take hold in most of Afghanistan.

Since Da’ish is a common enemy in Nagarhar, it has united the different factions of Afghan Taliban, the group which has witnessed rift in others parts after the death of Mullah Omar.

Air strikes and fighting with Taliban have also slowed down the group’s advancement. In Batikot district of Nangarhar, Taliban have regained the areas previously occupied by the IS, sources say.

Meanwhile, Afghans hope the inclusion of China in peace efforts will bring a sigh of relief.

According to security experts, similar to Al Qaeda, the IS is also recruiting foreign militants, including that of Chinese origin; thus attracting the attention of the emerging economic superpower.

China’s efforts for peace apparently are a part of its long-term economic goals in the region, which have increased hopes for a peaceful Afghanistan.

 

Published in The Frontier Post

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Author: Naimat

Karachi based journalist, writing on national and international issues.

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