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ISKP – Another Threat to Peace in the Region

By C. Andrew

Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP) is a branch of ISIS or Daesh operating in Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and other South Asian counties for establishing Islamic State. Defunct militants from various terrorist organizations such as Tehrek-e- Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) have not only joined ISKP but also pledged allegiance to ISIS and its leader Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi. ISIS announced the group’s formation in January 2015 and appointed former Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan militant Hafiz Saeed Khan as its leader, with former Afghan Taliban commander Abdul Rauf Aliza appointed as deputy leader. It is widely believed that ISKP was transported from Israel, Syria by the nexus of some hostile intelligence agencies (RAW, CIA and NDS) to counter growing influence of Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan. Since last several months, ISKP has not only tried to increase its influence in Afghanistan but has also been trying to develop a nexus with the Jamat ul Ahrar (JuA), the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi al-Alami (LJA), and the Jaishul Adal. The JuA has developed a good rapport with ISKP. While shuttling between Nangarhar and Kunar, ISKP fighters cross Chaknawar, Goshta and Shonkray – JuA strongholds. Several rounds of talks have also been held for a possible merger between JuA and ISKP but with no results.

According to the Story Maps website, during 2017 in Pakistan, ISKP has carried out attack on the shrine of Sehwan Sharif and the Police Training College in Quetta, which resulted in the death of 150 innocent people. While in Afghanistan, ISKP has carried out 16 attacks and killed 276 innocent persons. ISKP uses the social media for inspiration, propaganda, and connectivity. The group is a phenomenon that hounds the entire region, eclipsing all other militant groups in brutality and ambition. The success of ISKP in its early years was also due to its ability to provide funds and resources to its fighters at a time when the Afghan Taliban were operating under constrained circumstances. According to Antonio Giustozzi, ISKP in 2016 raised nearly $271 million from a mix of private donors, Arab Gulf States, contributions from the ISIS as well as local taxes levied on the areas under its control. In February 2018, the discovery of its hideout filled with explosives and suicide vests in a poor Kabul neighbourhood indicates the ability of it to operate and move money and resources freely even within the heavily guarded capital of Afghanistan.

It is noted here that in the Nazian, Achin, Kot, Deh Bala and Speen Ghar districts of Nangarhar, Afghanistan, ISKP is struggling to set up an ‘operational caliphate’. ISKP’s presence in Nuristan, Kunar and Nangarhar may affect security and peace in the adjoining areas of Dir, Chitral, Bajaur, Mohmand and Khyber agencies in Pakistan. However, Operations Zarb-i-Azb and Khyber-IV have successfully destroyed the strongholds of the militants in the area but it is apprehended that ISKP may formulate a sectarian grouping with the collaboration of the JuA, LJA and Jaishul Islam. The situation warrants the prevention of a formal nexus between ISKP, the JuA and LJA. If ISKP establishes its hold in Afghanistan, it may also attract the attention of Pakistan-based Salafi seminaries. Owing to its sectarian bias, its linkages with Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi cannot be ruled out and its presence in Nangarhar could affect peace in Khyber and Kurram agencies. In such a scenario, the security of these areas requires more intensified patrolling and the procurement of intelligence and strict border management.

Pakistan, since long, is expressing concerns over growing violence in Afghanistan and supports dialogue based settlement of Afghan issue by recognizing Taliban as a legitimate party. Similar stance has also been adopted by China, Iran, Russia and other Regional countries including Central Asian Republics. Russia has repeatedly aired concerns about the possibility of tacit US approval or of an inability to control the ISKP. President Karzai and few other Afghan leaders have also aired such apprehensions. Pakistan has time and again pointed out ISKP’s involvement in anti-Pakistan violence and terrorism. Pakistan has also shared credible information regarding the presence of ex TTP militants inside Afghanistan, many of whom have switched sides to join ISKP. Pakistan expects Afghanistan and the US-led forces in Afghanistan to check the activities and projection of the ISKP activities. It is mentionable that Pakistan is making concerted efforts to address extremism in all its forms. Recently taken steps by Pakistan including the nationwide agreed upon ‘Paigham-e-Pakistan’ are efforts to address the menace of terrorism and extremism on ideological and narrative fronts. In the same context, the speech of COAS, General Qamar Javed Bajwa in Munich Security Conference was a polite reminder to the US-led international community of their past practices in the region. On the other hand, Russia and Iran have reportedly provided arms and logistical training to the Afghan Taliban in a bid to limit the growth of ISKP, which is perceived as a bigger threat to their own interests in the region. China has supported these initiatives because it too has concerns about ISKP and its implications for Beijing’s economic initiatives like the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as well as the political ramifications of a resurgent Islamic State for its control over Xinjiang. And it is also perceived that if ISKP succeeds in gaining a foothold in Kunduz, it may jeopardize Chinese interests in the region.

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It is notable that Pakistan is making concerted efforts to address extremism in all its forms and reality of ISKP is well known to the regional powers. People like Hamid Karzai and countries like Russia have been quite vocal in expressing their concerns as to who supports ISKP? Pakistan has successfully been eradicating the menace of terrorism from its soil while efforts to check the narrative and ideological growth of the militancy and extremism are also resonating successfully. For ISKP in Afghanistan, the onus rests on the US-led NATO as well as the Afghan forces to carry out a reality check. So it is high time that the region should realize the gravity of the threat posed by ISKP and it cannot be defeated in isolation. All regional powers including Pakistan are ready to help alliance in undermining the evil and bring peace to the region. Hence the gravity of the threat needs to be reassessed and responded to accordingly.

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