After taking over Afghanistan, the biggest challenge for the Taliban was Islamic State-Khorasan (ISIK), the hardcore terrorist group which had wreaked havoc in the Middle East and Afghanistan is its new stronghold.
Taliban face serious threats from ISIK because the latter sought to become an alternative of the Taliban in the country. ISIK views Taliban as a major strategic enemy in South Asia, hence, they raised question about the legitimacy of Taliban from the start, which won them new followers including middle class youth and most importantly former Taliban and former Afghan intelligence members.
The ISIK faction of ISIS was established in 2015, when the organization was at its peak in the Middle East. Although the Middle Eastern faction has been largely defeated, the ISIK is growing strongly.
As per media reports, the current strength of the terrorist organization is 3,000. Although reportedly they have been hit seriously by US forces and Taliban in the last few years. And the organization is not only targeting Afghan Taliban but also Shia and Sikh communities in the country.
On March 20, 2022, ISIK attacked a Sikh Gurdwara in Kabul killing 25 people.
The South Asian region expert Michael Kugleman also believes that ISIK is trying to target the legitimacy and authority of Taliban in Afghanistan. “If Afghans are seeing things blown up left and right, obviously that flies in the face of that Taliban narrative,” he said.
The outfit has been in Afghanistan since 2015, however, it made its biggest impact right before US forces were leaving Afghanistan and Taliban were taking over.
ISIK claimed a terrorist attack in August 2021, at Hamid Karzai Airport in Kabul which killed 169 Afghans and 13 US service members.
Despite US President Joe Biden’s statement of “taking revenge” of the attack and US commitment to counter ISIK in Afghanistan, the militant outfit has grown strongly, mainly due to the Taliban inability to fight it and the release of thousands of ISIK prisons after fall of Afghan government last year.
And more importantly, the group is not only conducting terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, but also involved in terrorism in Pakistan. One of the biggest attacks in Pakistan-in recent years-was a suicide attack in a Shia mosque in Peshawar killing over 50 people. Claiming the attack, ISIS said that the “attack was conducted by an Afghan citizen.”
Meanwhile, the cross-border attacks on Pakistan security forces have increased in last few months, and security experts believe that a nexus between TTP and ISIK is behind it. Pakistan has strongly condemned the attack and raised the issue with Taliban regime in Kabul.
According to media reports, 97 security officials have been martyred in terrorist attacks since January to March, 2022. The issue has been become so serious that Pakistan reportedly conducts airstrikes in border provinces of Kunar and Khost. And the situation is more serious for Pakistan because Taliban’s return was majorly celebrated in Islamabad.
“Pakistan has carried out the attacks against terrorist hideouts even during the time of former President Ashraf Ghani,” claimed prominent political analyst Imtiaz Gul.
And this shows how serious the situation has turned into those Pakistani forces have to conduct operations inside Afghan territory.
On the Afghan side, the US and Taliban have conducted joint military operations against ISIK, but the question is can both sides join hands once again for this? There are estimates asserting that they should, since ISIK is not only a regional threat for South Asia but also for the West.
Since 2018, the UN has reported the detection of plots traceable to ISIK. Furthermore, in 2021, German government charged four Tajik nationals for planning attacks on US and NATO military facilities and their link was also traced back to ISIK.
Analysts insist that ISIK is new significant threat for the regional and world peace and not only Pakistan and Afghanistan. They urge the western powers to join hands to tackle this menace, because the world cannot afford a new string of terrorism as it already is hit by COVID-19 and the Russia-Ukraine conflict.