IS-Khorasan enterprise: the agent of chaos


December 05, 2021


The so-called Khorasan chapter of the Islamic State group was initially written off by the Taliban as a nuisance. However they had been flawed. A string of horrific mass-casualty assaults after the autumn of Kabul confirmed that IS-Khorasan (IS-Okay) may very well be probably the most formidable problem to the Taliban’s fledgling rule in Afghanistan. The realisation seems to have sunk in because the Taliban are actually sizing up the menace.

IS-Okay was diminished from its zenith resulting from a sequence of navy defeats starting in 2018. However the exit of overseas forces has resurrected the group. Its ranks swelled in a single day as lots of of its prisoners returned to the combat after fleeing from Afghan prisons throughout the Taliban’s chaotic march on Kabul. The Taliban are actually morphing right into a authorities from insurgency, however they lack the required sources and experience. This case has been exacerbated by a digital diplomatic boycott by the worldwide group and a brewing humanitarian disaster at dwelling. IS-Okay would possibly benefit from the scenario, undertaking itself as an anti-government resistance power and encourage different teams to unleash chaos within the nation.

The Islamic State, or Da’ish as it’s known as in Arabic, got here to prominence in June 2014 when a former al Qaeda commander Abu Bakr al Baghdadi introduced a self-styled caliphate on giant swathes of land in Iraq and Syria and anointed himself its caliph. The lure of caliphate backed by refined propaganda helped the group mint 1000’s of recruits, particularly younger radicals within the West. It commandeered international highlight with grisly violence, together with barbaric executions and beheadings.

The Islamic State is “one manifestation of a worldwide jihadist enterprise”, says Brian Michael Jenkins, Senior Adviser to the President of RAND Company. “This was by no means a single organisation, however a broad motion that has coalesced and fragmented over the previous 4 many years,” he says. “Islamic State is the successor to a one-time affiliate of al Qaeda, though even then there have been tensions between the commander of the Iraqi entrance and al Qaeda’s central management over techniques and concentrating on.”


Al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the predecessor of IS, break up in 2014 in a dispute about who would lead the marketing campaign in Syria. The 2 teams additionally differed on the declaration of a caliphate by the chief of ISIS, which al Qaeda, for doctrinal causes opposed, in keeping with Jenkins. By declaring a caliphate, the IS chief was asserting his declare to the allegiance of all Muslims all through the world, one thing al Qaeda’s former chief Osama bin Laden by no means did. Nor have the Taliban, who’ve all the time regarded their jihad as native, restricted to Afghanistan, declared a caliphate.

However Dr Michael Barak, Senior Researcher at Worldwide Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT), says IS and al Qaeda are lower from the identical fabric as each belong to the Salafi-Jihadist college and each intention to ascertain a transnational caliphate. They solely differ on three points: 1) Al Qaeda focuses on “Dawah amongst Muslim communities” for now and is keen to postpone the institution of a caliphate to a later interval. IS, nevertheless, desires a caliphate now; 2) Da’ish adheres to a strict interpretation and implementation of the thought of Takfir, declaring an individual infidel. Al Qaeda may be very cautious with the utilization of Takfir not solely in the direction of Muslims but additionally in the direction of non-Muslims; 3) The Islamic State intends to beat territories to arrange a caliphate. Al Qaeda prefers to not take over lands and apply governance to them.

The gorgeous rise of IS led many students and politicians – particularly within the Muslim world – to suspect that the group was created by Western powers as a part of their political recalibration efforts within the Center East. Da’ish was facilitated to take management of huge swathes of land in Syria and Iraq, says Prof Dr Mehmet Seyfettin, President of Ankara Middle for Disaster and Coverage Research (ANKASAM). “Then the West tried to legitimise the terrorist organisation PYD, or Kurdish Democratic Union Occasion [Syrian affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party] on the pretext of preventing Da’ish. [Simply put] the group was introduced in for a selected mission, which it has completed,” he says.

The Khorasan franchise

Qari Hekmat, the commander of IS-K in the northern Afghan province of Jowzjan before his death in a US airstrike in April 2018

Qari Hekmat, the commander of IS-Okay within the northern Afghan province of Jowzjan earlier than his dying in a US airstrike in April 2018


The institution of a “mini caliphate” in Iraq and Syria inspired IS to pursue its dream of a transnational empire. Accordingly, the group determined to arrange 35 Wilayats (provinces), together with the one in Khorasan, an space that traditionally encompassed components of Afghanistan, Iran, and Central Asia. “Driving on the crest of its victories in Syria and Iraq and its repute for uncompromising ideology and endless warfare towards infidels and apostates, IS attracted professions of loyalties from native jihadists and Muslim rebel teams world wide, enabling it to ascertain provinces in lots of nations,” says Jenkins, who has authored quite a few books and articles on terrorism-related subjects.

Initially, defectors from al Qaeda, Tehreek-e-Taliban Afghanistan (TTA), and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) joined IS-Okay. Its energy steadily rose from preliminary 2,000-2,500 fighters to five,500 in 2019 earlier than lastly settling at 3,000-3,500 in August 2021 when about 1,000 of its prisoners escaped from Afghan jails. IS-Okay failed to ascertain a foothold in Pakistan resulting from sustained navy and intelligence operations by Pakistan Military, however the group efficiently arrange bases in Afghanistan: in Nangarhar and Kunar within the east, in Badakhshan within the north-east, and in Jowzjan within the north.


The Taliban decisively defeated IS-Okay in its strongholds of Nangarhar and Kunar in 2019-20. After their rout, Da’ish fighters fled to Helmand, Kandahar, Balkh, Kunduz, Jowzjan, Faryab, and Baghlan provinces, in keeping with intelligence officers. A few of them moved to Laghman and Kabul to arrange sleeper cells for future assaults within the city centres.

The defeat of its caliphate in Iraq and Syria triggered a change within the IS technique because the group set sights on different areas. India was recognized as a fertile floor because of the simmering tensions among the many marginalised and alienated Muslim communities. IS-Okay simply discovered recruits within the states of Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Talangana, and West Bengal who later shifted to Afghanistan with their households.

The 2020 assault on Sikh Gurdwara in Kabul and the jailbreak in Nangarhar the identical yr concerned Indian Muslims from Kerala, in keeping with officers. The mastermind of Sri Lanka’s Easter assault in 2019 – Zahran Hashim and his affiliate Mohammad Mubarak Azaan – had additionally travelled to Karnataka earlier than finishing up the atrocity. In 2020-21 Nationwide Investigation Company of India arrested 49 Indians for conspiring with IS.

IS-Okay reportedly had 112 Indians in its ranks – 26 males, 13 girls and 21 kids – who travelled to Afghanistan from Kerala in 2016. Round 24 of them had been killed, whereas 10 girls and 21 kids surrendered in November 2019. In April 2017, the US navy dropped MOAB (Mom of All Bombs) towards the IS-Okay bases within the Achin district of Nangarhar. Among the many casualties had been 13 Indians.

Within the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir, IS-Okay was reportedly proliferated in a managed method by Indian spy company RAW in an try and discredit and muddle the indigenous combat towards Delhi’s rule. However the plan seems to have gone awry. IS-JK has extensively chronicled its varied features on social media and in its journal “Saut-ul-Hind (Voice of Hind)”, which has printed 20 points up to now.

IS established the Khorasan entrance in a direct problem to the Taliban. “The identify is a clue to its broader ambitions, which the Taliban don’t share, and which might trigger issues for Afghanistan’s new rulers,” says Jenkins, who has previously served as chair of the Political Science Division on the American international coverage think-tank RAND. “The Taliban instantly reacted to the IS problem, which led to preventing between Taliban and IS formations. The 2 teams declared struggle on one another in January 2015.”

The IS-Okay emergence underneath the complete presence, surveillance, and intelligence of US-led Nato forces had raised suspicions. In a 2017 interview with Al Jazeerah, former Afghan president Hamid Karzai accused the US of permitting IS-Okay to flourish inside Afghanistan. Regional nations, Russia and Iran particularly, have additionally accused the US of aiding IS-Okay extremists – a cost Washington denies. Some students additionally see IS-Okay as a Western “agent of chaos”.


“It will not be stunning to see that the organisation [Da’ish] which performed the function imperialism has set for itself in Syria and Iraq is used as a component of instability in varied geographies, particularly in Afghanistan, as a result of huge powers perform their proxy wars by terrorist organisations,” says Prof Mehmet. “Within the New Nice Sport, the stage has been set for sowing chaos. The target is to destabilise the Turkish world, Russia and China through Afghanistan. And Da’ish can play an especially helpful operate [in this game]”.

How huge is the IS-Okay menace?


The exit of overseas forces has been celebrated by the Taliban as a navy victory. This immensely contributed to their self-confidence – one thing that may assist them vanquish rival teams in Afghanistan, together with Da’ish. In line with Prof Mehmet, the Taliban have a robust ideological assist base within the form of madrassahs, which give a gradual stream of latest ideologues. Da’ish, alternatively, espouses an ideology virtually alien to Afghanistan. Therefore it could be troublesome for the group to seek out new recruits.

IS-Okay might not discover new recruits, nevertheless it might encourage defections throughout the Taliban. “The menace it [IS-K] poses is extra insidious. A continued IS-Okay terrorist marketing campaign will impede Taliban efforts to revive normality and will complicate the nation’s future overseas relations,” says Jenkins. “There are already studies of complaints among the many Taliban’s extra excessive parts that the group’s leaders are behaving extra like politicians and making too many compromises. IS-Okay might appeal to the hardliners in addition to those that have been preventing for years and haven’t any needs to put down their arms and have few prospects in civilian life.”

Dr Barak concurs. “IS-Okay has been de-legitimising the Taliban calling it a pretend Jihadist organisation. IS-Okay has criticised the Taliban ‘victory’ in Afghanistan, claiming that the American withdrawal was achieved solely as a result of the Taliban had agreed to serve the American curiosity in Afghanistan,” says Dr Barak, who additionally serves because the crew chief of the World Jihad & Jihadi Web sites Monitoring Group on the ICT. “IS-Okay has criticised the peace talks in Doha claiming that whereas Muslims had been killed by America in Afghanistan the Taliban had been prepared to take a seat in lodges, eat good meals and negotiate with the Individuals.”

He referred to the current high-casualty violence and mentioned these “assaults intention to embarrass the Taliban within the eyes of the Afghan folks and the worldwide group and to recruit folks to IS-Okay ranks resembling former Taliban members who are usually not happy with the Taliban’s new method”.

By these terrorist assaults, IS-Okay can be making an attempt to recruit overseas fighters in Afghanistan and overseas, particularly the Chinese language Uyghur Muslims. When the Taliban relocated the Uyghur fighters who had been stationed on the Afghan-Chinese language border to the western a part of Afghanistan following an settlement between China and the Taliban, IS-Okay launched a terrorist assault towards the Hazara minority in Afghanistan saying that this was a message to the Taliban to not mistreat the Uyghur fighters, claims Dr Barak. “In Afghanistan at present there are about 8,000 overseas fighters whom IS-Okay is making an attempt to recruit.”

Prof Mehmet doesn’t suppose Da’ish, a radical Salafi group, would have the ability to recruit among the many Afghan folks, who predominantly belong to the Hanafi college of Sunnis. “Da’ish might use [individual] legionnaires in its plan to disrupt the institution of stability in Afghanistan. Nonetheless, as it’s recognized, the West sees the precise to intervene in varied methods on the grounds of combat towards terrorism which implies violent assaults in Afghanistan will proceed,” he says.

Dr Barak believes so long as the financial and safety scenario retains deteriorating, IS-Okay will recruit extra fighters and supporters and can broaden its affect and talent to problem the Taliban’s authority. “There may be [also] a concern that the Taliban will use the IS-Okay card to extort the West and power it to put money into Afghanistan to be able to let the Taliban combat extra effectively towards IS-Okay,” he provides.


However Jenkins foresees fragmentations within the Taliban, if their authorities comes down arduous on IS-Okay. “A Taliban crackdown on IS-Okay and the implacable parts in its personal ranks may very well be portrayed as a betrayal of the trigger — turning one’s again on God – prompting additional defections”.

Nonetheless, senior Pakistani safety analyst Maj Gen (retd) Inamul Haq doesn’t agree with these dire predictions. “The Taliban are taking it as a localised concern. It’s not an existential menace as a result of they know that an insurgency can’t survive with out widespread public assist which, in contrast to the Taliban, IS-Okay doesn’t have,” he says.

“Furthermore, the Taliban are actually higher armed to combat, and higher outfitted to snoop, surveil, and snoop on IS-Okay. I feel the Taliban would simply cope with this menace as soon as they’ve tackled probably the most urgent financial points,” provides Gen Inam who has written extensively on the Taliban insurgency.

Ought to Pakistan be nervous?

IS-Okay has emerged as probably the most deadly worldwide terrorist organisation in Afghanistan which has claimed over 270 operations up to now in 2021 leading to over 1,600 casualties. These embrace over 50 assaults perpetrated after the Taliban takeover of Kabul on August 15, 2021. The group is now reaching out to different worldwide terrorist organisations, together with TTP, to coalesce a joint entrance after the Taliban assured its neighbours that the Afghan soil wouldn’t be used towards any nation.

Prof Mehmet sees the Khorasan enterprise as an agent of chaos aided by those that wish to destabilise China’s Belt and Street Initiative. “Pakistan needs a secure Afghanistan and a secure Central Asia-South Asia line within the context of the China-Pakistan Financial Hall, a part of the BRI undertaking, in addition to tasks resembling TAPI and TAP,” he says whereas referring to transnational fuel pipeline tasks. “For this objective, it’s creating de facto cooperation with the Taliban. However sinister efforts are being made to create instability in Pakistan by varied terrorist organisations, particularly the TTP.”


Pakistan has already engaged the TTP in negotiations – because of mediation from Kabul – in an effort to preempt any alliance between TTP and IS-Okay. “The IS-Okay resurgence ought to be worrisome for Pakistan, however I don’t suppose it may very well be a menace greater than TTP,” says Gen Inam. “Peace negotiations are already ongoing with TTP. Nonetheless, if the talks fail, then there may very well be a distant risk of some disillusioned cadres from the 2 teams making localised alliances. But an alliance between the TTP and IS-Okay on the organisational stage might not occur, provided that TTP has already pledged allegiance to TTA,” he provides.

The Taliban-led authorities in Kabul is facilitating the TTP talks. Jenkins says the Taliban can’t coerce TTP to chop a peace deal. “Pakistan can strain the Afghan Taliban to steer TTP to put down their arms – or at least – to decrease the extent of violence. Nonetheless, if the Taliban act with too heavy a hand, they threat a response by TTP hardliners,” he says. “IS-Okay has little interest in any settlement and due to this fact might develop into the pure allies of TTP irreconcilables.”

Dr Barak, nevertheless, is satisfied the Taliban would use their affect on TTP to cease it from stoking violence in Pakistan. “IS-Okay and different terrorist organisations interpret it [Taliban-Pakistan relations] in a damaging method, perceiving the Taliban as a instrument within the arms of Pakistan. This alleged alliance can gas the motivation of terrorist organisations to cooperate towards Pakistan,” he says. “However I’m unsure TTP will probably be a part of this axis as a result of the Taliban have develop into an essential actor who has the flexibility to restrain TTP from taking motion towards Pakistan.”

Ought to China be nervous?

At the very least two of the current lethal assaults claimed by IS-Okay purportedly concerned fighters of the East Turkestan Islamic Motion (ETIM), a bunch blamed by China for unrest in its Uyghur-majority Xinjiang province. China fears IS-Okay might kind an alliance with ETIM to encourage and recruit Uyghur youth to stoke unrest in its mushy Muslim underbelly.

Such fears are usually not unfounded. “IS-Okay’s horizons prolong past the borders of Afghanistan. Offended Muslims in surrounding nations are potential reservoirs of IS-Okay recruits whereas teams just like the ETIM can see advantages in allying themselves with IS-Okay,” says Jenkins.

Dr Barak has a special take. He claims the Taliban have already lower a cope with China to take away ETIM fighters from the world bordering China. “The truth that the Taliban [have] reached an settlement with China to relocate the Uyghur fighters from the Chinese language-Afghan border to western Afghanistan might gas anger and disappointment and the Taliban could also be perceived as keen to scarify the Uyghur trigger for financial advantages from China,” he says.


Inam doesn’t suppose a long-term alliance between IS-Okay and ETIM may very well be doable given the jarring distinction of their worldviews and targets. “ETIM has restricted targets. It claims to be preventing for the rights of the Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang. IS-Okay, alternatively, is extra international in its outlook. Its violent marketing campaign is for a transnational Islamic caliphate,” he says, although he doesn’t rule out a brief “marriage of comfort” between the 2.

Nonetheless, Inam agrees China does have fears that ETIM might align itself with IS-Okay to foment unrest in Xinjiang. That’s maybe the explanation China will not be speeding to formally recognise the Taliban authorities in Afghanistan. The Taliban, on their half, have repeatedly assured the Chinese language facet to not fear an excessive amount of about ETIM.

China’s overtures to the Taliban had been prompted by two causes: enlargement of the BRI undertaking, and prevention of a spill-over of Jihadism into Xinjiang, in keeping with Prof Mehmet. “China gives help to Afghanistan fearing a humanitarian disaster [which appears to be looming on the horizon] will set off radicalisation. The primary situation set by China for Afghanistan’s new rulers is that they’ll guarantee their nation doesn’t develop into a protected base for terrorist organisations,” he says. “And the Taliban have [already] given assurances to China on this regard.”

Regional stability and technique


Fears abound that an IS-Okay foothold in a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan might encourage terrorist teams energetic within the neighbouring nations and plunge the complete area into instability. Prof Mehmet warns that if Da’ish manages to perpetuate instability in Afghanistan, which it’s going to attempt to do, then it’s going to additionally spill into neighbouring nations within the area.

He recommends a realistic method to deal with the IS-Okay menace to stop regional chaos and instability. “Afghanistan ought to be included in regional tasks by an method that prioritises cooperation [for a win-win situation for all],” he says whereas opposing any effort to isolate the Taliban internationally.

Dr Barak agrees with Prof Mehmet in technique however differs on execution. “The regional nations ought to attain an settlement with the Taliban to kind a joint operation room that will probably be accountable on monitoring the IS-Okay exercise in Afghanistan and can have joint operations towards it,” he says. If the Taliban don’t conform to this type of cooperation, IS-Okay will proceed to develop into stronger.

Jenkins believes a strategic re-calculation would possibly have already got been underway in Afghanistan’s neighbouring nations, although they could not attempt to intervene militarily. “IS-Okay poses the larger menace and a number of the exterior actors will see advantages in facilitating Taliban efforts to cut back IS-Okay whereas avoiding overt navy involvement in these efforts,” he says. “On the similar time, the encompassing nations will wish to discover methods of lowering the susceptibility of their very own restive populations to extremist subversion, thereby denying IS-Okay potential footholds. How they obtain this lies past my pasture.”

Gen Inam, nevertheless, insists the IS-Okay menace is being broadly exaggerated. “I doubt IS-Okay might create a regional safety scenario. It’ll stay a localised menace,” he says. “IS-Okay’s funding sources have already dried up. Even when its financiers wish to hold it alive, nonetheless the group will want widespread public assist which is feasible provided that the Afghan folks develop into disillusioned with the Taliban,” he provides. “And I don’t see that occuring. I really feel the Taliban are delivering on their three key guarantees: safety, justice, and finish to endemic corruption – one thing each Afghan desires.”

In line with intelligence assessments, after the lack of its strongholds in japanese Afghanistan, the IS-Okay management has reconfigured its technique which now entails strengthening its positions in northern Afghanistan, primarily in Badakhshan which can be utilized as a base for actions in Central Asia and China; avoiding direct fight with Taliban forces with the intention to preserve its energy; and conducting high-profile assaults in city areas to empty the Taliban energies, overshadow their “victory”, and de-legitimise their rule.

With the Taliban on the helm in Kabul, IS-Okay might simply implement the brand new technique because the spectrum of targets and its anticipated resonance has elevated manifold, together with financial infrastructures, minorities, warlords, overseas missions and media homes. In the intervening time, the group will attempt to attain out to different overseas terrorist organisations to broaden its marketing campaign.

If IS-Okay cobbles up such an unholy alliance of terrorist teams – one thing, safety officers say, may be very a lot possible – Afghanistan would possibly descend into chaos. And the supply of unregulated areas will probably be exploited by worldwide terrorist teams to show the nation into a brand new epicentre of terrorism, imperiling regional and international safety.

“The Da’ish menace gained’t stay confined throughout the borders of Afghanistan. It will proliferate and jeopardise regional safety,” says Prof Mehmet. “The combat towards Da’ish provides a chance to the Taliban to extend personal legitimacy.”