The Taliban can contribute to the fight against IS-K

The terrorist organisation known as “The Islamic State – Khorasan Province (IS-K)” has the potential to become one of the deadliest factions on the continent if it doesn't face serious resistance.

The terrorist organisation known as “The Islamic State – Khorasan Province (IS-K)” has the potential to become one of the deadliest factions on the continent if it doesn’t face serious resistance. With a relatively small number of bases located in hidden and difficult-to-reach locations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the IS-K organisation has aggressive plans that could pose a threat to the security of several countries in the West and East. Both the Taliban and the unrecognised Afghan government can become a serious force that will be able to suppress this branch of the Islamic State.

In March of this year, a devastating terrorist attack took place in Russia, which was later claimed by a group known as IS-K. This situation has forced us to take another look at this organization. Despite the presence of serious and professional security measures, the terrorist organization was able to carry out a major terrorist attack, resulting in the death of more than 140 innocent civilians. The investigation of this crime is still ongoing and not all of the organizers have yet been fully identified. However, it is widely acknowledged by experts that IS-K terrorists were involved in the attack.

In January 2015, the IS-K appeared in Afghanistan during the period of the Republic, when US and NATO troops were present in the country. This marked the first time that ISIS had extended its reach beyond the Arab world and established a presence in a non-Arab country outside of the Middle East. At the time, the Taliban were opposing foreign troops and the Afghan army, waging an active sabotage war. The initial members of the IS-K were former Taliban members who had become persona non grata for various reasons. It is important to note that the new branch was primarily established in the territory of Pakistan and the Tribal areas along the Afghan-Pakistan border. The group has undergone various stages of development and has not always had a large number of members. Over the years, the number of fighters in the IS-K has ranged from 1,500 to 5,000.

The Taliban initially opposed IS-K during the early days of its formation, which led to violent and bloody clashes between the two groups. Eventually, the Taliban emerged victorious. As a response, IS-K began to increasingly resort to suicide attacks. Since its formation, the militants have been sharing videos, appeals, and pamphlets from territories in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Additionally, many new recruits came from the Tribal areas of Pakistan and some western provinces.

There are many different theories and speculations about the size and plans of the Afghan-Pakistan branch of the Islamic State. However, it’s worth considering the perspective of Sami Sadat, the former deputy chief of general staff of the Afghan army. According to Sadat, “there’s a high likelihood that terrorist attacks have been planned in Balochistan, Pakistan, where the IS-Khorasan leadership council is based.” This was stated by Sadat on social media and cited by the Interfax news agency.  Well-known journalist Seymour Hersh also mentioned that IS-Khorasan terrorist has bases in Pakistan.

According to a recent publication, detainees who were interrogated reported that they were recruited through Telegram while they were in Russia. After being recruited, online curators instructed them to travel to Afghanistan via Turkey. Once they arrived in Afghanistan, they were ordered to go to Quetta, which is the capital of the Pakistani province of Balochistan, to complete their training. The publication notes that Balochistan has become a major centre for the terrorist organization ISIS Khorasan, providing them with shelter, training facilities, and bomb-making workshops. Some media sources have also mentioned that “Balochistan currently serves as a significant stronghold for the Khorasan branch of ISIS.” Several senior Taliban sources also note that the Pakistani province of Balochistan has become a center of IS-K militants. A certain presence of sypatizants remains in the southern part of Tajikistan.

Despite being a small group, IS-K remains a significant threat to many countries. In March and April, news outlets around the world reported that several European nations had increased their security measures in response to the potential of terrorist attacks. Meanwhile, IS-K continues to operate in the Afghan-Pakistani border region. The Taliban are fighting against IS-K in the unrecognized Islamic Emirate, attempting to eradicate the group. If in the first years of its existence, IS-K carried out several hundred terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, then after the Taliban seized power, their number dropped to several dozen. The threat has been significantly reduced in many Afghan provinces, but in Pakistani territory, radical Islamist groups continue to find safe havens and face little resistance from the army and police. This is particularly true in the Western Pakistani provinces, where Islamabad has never been able to establish full control.

The Taliban, a group known to violate human rights and oppress women and certain minorities, continues to have a significant presence in the region. Despite this, major global and regional powers are hesitant to engage in direct conflict with the Taliban. Instead, many countries in the area are trying to initiate a dialogue with the group, recognizing that it is likely to remain in power for some time. Moreover, engaging with the Taliban diplomatically, as the group seeks international recognition, may contribute to its gradual transformation and modernization, albeit at a slow pace and with limited results.

The terrorist group IS-K does not have any significant strategic objectives other than carrying out attacks on countries where it can do so. Therefore, if there is any dialogue with the Taliban, it may involve discussing ways to increase military pressure on IS-K terrorists. The outlook for opposition to the Taliban from external groups is currently uncertain. A new round of conflict between various groups and clans, with external support, could lead to further instability in the country. A better solution could be to pressurize the Taliban to intensify their efforts against IS-K and other extremist groups operating from Afghan and Pakistani territories. Furthermore, it may be possible to ease some sanctions on Afghanistan to improve the country’s economic situation.

Georgi Asatrian
Georgi Asatrian
Georgi Asatryan, associate professor, Lomonosov Moscow State University and Plekhanov Russian University of Economics.