Emerging Threats of IS-K: Implication for security of South Asia

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Afghanistan is vexatious geographically as it lies at the crossroads of major regions of the world. Due to this very reason, it has got a long history of sometimes being a buffer state, and sometimes being a battleground for the empires. Taking recent history into account, from the era of the cold war, the country provided a battleground to two great powers, US and USSR. After the withdrawal of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan in 1989, a deadly civil war erupted in Afghanistan. Then the incident of 9/11 added fuel to fire and Global War on Terror, led by the United States, unleashed another wave of violence in Afghanistan. Since then, various militant outfits are active in the state having transnational linkages in bordering countries. Al-Qaida, the Afghan Taliban and other insurgent groups had a stronghold in the cross-border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the meantime, ISIS emerged in Iraq and Syria and in no time, this new terror outfit captured large swathes in the region. Since then, it is carrying serious terrorist activities with a strong ambition to increase its ambit of influence. It became evident when ISIS declared its growth towards Khorasan province in the areas of Southern Afghanistan as Islamic State Khorasan Province, widely known by ISK, ISIS-K, ISKP, an offshoot of the core Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The threats posed by IS-K have become more conspicuous with the deteriorating situation of security in Afghanistan, urging a strong riposte by regional countries to counter the menace of IS-K. The Islamic State Khorasan was formed officially in 2015 but it had started its actions in the year 2014. The former members of Al-Qaeda and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) pledged their allegiance to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi in the latter quarter of 2014. This terrorist outfit got it to name after the Khorasan province. It has a long-established recruitment network that attracts militants from other groups like former Taliban, the Haqqani Network, members of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, Baluchistan National Army and a few smaller factions of terrorists. They claim themselves distinct from other notorious terrorist organizations in terms of ideological, geographical and ethnic compositions. Afghan Taliban follows the ideology of the Deobandi school of thought, whereas IS-K strictly adheres to the hardliners Salafi Takfirism. In terms of ethnicity, the Afghan Taliban has appealed for Pashtuns but IS-K holds people from several nationalities, including Pakistanis, Afghans, Uzbeks and Central Asians. Geographically, the Taliban restricts themselves to local agenda whereas IS-K has agenda to establish a global Caliphate. In addition, the political motive of IS-K is its struggle for territory, influence and resources in the concerned states. This terror outfit attracted the attention of regional stakeholders by unleashing the most devastating attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The average number of attacks carried out by IS-K in Afghanistan remained higher than the average of attacks carried out in Pakistan. During the years 2015-2017, they carried out over 100 attacks. Afghan Taliban condemned the attacks of IS-K and along with US troops they led an operation against them. Since January 2017, US and NATO conducted more than 300 airstrikes against IS-K. The US also dropped the deadliest non-nuclear bomb, known as the mother of all bombs (MOAB) in eastern Afghanistan. The group lost some of its potentials in the operation and was perceived to be defeated. But in the early four months of 2021, the group has made a comeback and it has carried out attacks against almost 77 targets. The IS-K group wanted to disrupt the evacuation process of foreign forces from Afghanistan. The recent attack on Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul in August 2021 flaunted the resurgence of the Islamic State in this regard. IS-K set off an explosion killing dozens of Afghan civilians and 13 US service members. The active retaliation from the US is also observed in terms of rhetoric from Washington and drone strikes at IS-K’s hideouts.

It doesn’t end here, IS-K also holds enmity with China for various reasons. Above all, the IS-K’s connections with the Uyghurs and its criticism of Chinese oppression of the Uyghur community in Xinjian province. IS-K has recruited a large number of Uyghur Muslims to politicize the Chinese oppression. Another reason for IS-K’s opposition to China is Chinese support for the Afghan Taliban. Despite being defeated by the collective actions of the Afghan Taliban along with the United States and Pakistan’s military in the years 2018-19, the militant group re-emerged during the evacuation process of foreign forces from Afghanistan. It came up as an adversary to the US, China, Pakistan and including the Afghan Taliban as well. IS-K and its allied networks want to destabilize the Taliban interim government on one hand and regional security on the other by conducting terror activities in Pakistan. There is an expected retaliation from the world community including the US, its allies and China, and counter policies of Pakistan and the Afghan interim government against IS-K. It gives an impression of another War on Terror on its way that will, in turn, jeopardize the stability of South Asia.

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