Pakistan has a new divide and rule strategy for the Taliban. It’s called ISIS-K
EExactly two years after the establishment of the Taliban political bureau in Qatar, in 2015, the Islamic State, known as ISIS, announced the establishment of the Khorasan branch, ISIS-K.
During the years of the United States’ presence in Afghanistan, in the midst of intense conflict, the world obtained compelling evidence – of the assassination of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the death of Mullah Mohammad Omar and the assassination of Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour in Pakistan – underscoring the intimate relationship between the Taliban and the Pakistani government.
It was from there that the world unanimously pressured Islamabad to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. After much insistence and refusal, Pakistani officials were forced to strike a deal with the United States to do so, which led to the establishment of the political bureau in Qatar.
Pakistan’s deal with the United States constitutes overt and hidden changes in the country’s policy towards Afghanistan, which Pakistan has put as a bargaining chip on the table in exchange for a deal with the Americans.
The assassination and ousting of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leaders and supporters in eastern Afghanistan has been claimed by Pakistan, which the former Taliban spokesman said was sheltered by the Afghan National Security Agency and supported by the Indian government through financial aid and weapons. As a result of the deal, the United States bombed all of their hiding places in eastern Afghanistan, killing the group’s leader, forcing all to leave Afghanistan.
Read also: In Afghanistan, extremists target extremists. But the one in Kabul has no vision either
Pakistan’s new strategy against the Taliban
Pakistan’s new strategy is to divide the Taliban into moderates and extremists and maintain its influence on both branches. The moderate Qatari Taliban are under pressure from both sides, including the international community, to form an inclusive and rights-respecting government. However, such a government would come at the expense of the compromising principles and values of the Taliban for which the group has fought for the past two decades. The dilemma facing the Taliban leadership will lead to one of two scenarios.
The quest for international recognition could divide the group further, as Taliban extremists would likely feel estranged from leaders who seek to opt for a more moderate position to gain legitimacy. If the leaders opt for moderation, they are likely to see a sharp decline in the ranks of their group among the extremists. And if they seek to satisfy the extremists, they will lose the support of the world and isolate themselves. In either scenario, war-torn Afghanistan is doomed to remain a battleground.
For this reason, the Pakistani military intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has already identified ISIS-K. This is where many Afghan Taliban go, unhappy with the group’s deal with the United States and seeing the negotiations as a violation of their jihad. With the emergence of this group, Pakistan will no longer be subject to international pressure because ISIS is an Arab phenomenon that Pakistan played no role in creating.
Read also: Enemy of my enemy? Daesh-K violence could force the West to forge an unlikely alliance with the Taliban
ISIS-K Survival Support
A brief look at the history of ISIS also reveals that what operates in Afghanistan as ISIS-K requires financial resources, weapons, and a safe haven for its survival. However, ISIS-K is operationally very different from other terrorist networks around the world. It is an extremist Sunni group that seeks to revive the caliphate, which requires resources, including land, to achieve this goal. The territories in which ISIS operated were countries where Sunnis were in the minority and power was concentrated in the hands of Shiite rulers. The geography and makeup of predominantly Sunni and Shia minority Afghanistan would prevent ISIS-K from establishing a stronghold in the country. Moreover, the only border Afghanistan shares with the Middle East is Iran, which fiercely opposes ISIS in the region. However, ISIS-K is operating in the eastern provinces of Afghanistan, along the Pakistani border, as it needs weapons and shelter from Pakistan. For these reasons, ISIS-K was supported to prevent the re-emergence of TTP.
However, the deal between the United States and the Taliban does not address the ISIS-K threat, which will likely make it reappear. The group’s activities in eastern Afghanistan and on the border with Pakistan have provided it with enough fighters to prevent the return of the TTP to those areas, which has gained momentum in recent months. Additionally, due to the ISIS-K threat, the Taliban would likely cooperate with the United States and NATO for intelligence sharing purposes, leading to the presence of international special forces in Afghanistan, to combat ISIS-K. . This would allow the United States to maintain a limited and strategic presence in Afghanistan. With their presence, the United States could monitor, via satellite technology, Russia and China – one more reason to maintain a presence in Afghanistan.
Baktash Siawash is a journalist and was the first youngest parliamentarian elected in Afghanistan. He previously served as a senior political adviser to the Speaker of the House of the People. Opinions are personal.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)
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