IS franchise terrorism
Recruiting from the middle class
Stumbling block for the negotiations
Digital signpost through traffic
IS franchise terrorism: “The conflict and bloodshed will not go away”
Afghanistan actually seemed to be calming down lately. Many Taliban and also the Afghan national armed forces de facto adhered to a ceasefire that ended at the end of May Id al-Fitr had been agreed – at the end of Ramadan. But on May 30, a street bomb exploded in Kabul, killing a journalist and the driver of an Afghan TV station. The Afghan branch of IS, the ISKP (Islamic State Khorasan Province), claimed responsibility for the attack.
Another attack followed on June 3 in which Mawlana Muhammad Ayaz Niazi was killed. The well-known priest was a preacher in the Wazir Mohammad Akbar Khan mosque in central Kabul. So far, it was not known who was responsible for the attack. But here, too, it is believed that the ISKP is behind it, who also does not shy away from the murder of clergymen. Many observers in Afghanistan believe that the ISKP is using the attacks to try to torpedo efforts to achieve lasting peace in Afghanistan.
Numerous extremely brutal attacks in the past few weeks seem to be due to the ISKP. One of the bloodiest occurred on May 12th. At least 24 mourners were murdered by the ISKP militia at a funeral service in the eastern province of Nangarhar. On the same day, another perfidious massacre took place in West Kabul. Gunmen disguised as security guards and paramedics attacked a maternity hospital run by MSF.
Twenty-four civilians were murdered and dozens injured. Including women and newborns. No terrorist group assumed responsibility, but many observers suspect the ISKP was behind the attack, especially since the attack, like others committed by the ISKP, targeted Shiite Hazara. A few weeks earlier, the ISKP attacked a Sikh temple in Kabul’s old town and killed 25 members of the Afghan Sikh community.
While the structures of the ISKP’s “big brother”, namely ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), are largely known, its Afghan branch has remained in the dark since it first appeared in 2015. In addition, there seems to be hardly any connection between the two terrorist organizations. “I look at the two separately, mainly because of their geographical location,” says Thomas Ruttig, vice director of the non-governmental organization Afghanistan Analysts Network.
According to Ruttig, many militia officers from the Afghan IS operate independently of one another, which could make negotiations impossible. “You don’t have to interact with each other. You can operate separately and declare attacks under the same banner. That is the basic idea of IS franchise terrorism,” said Ruttig.
Ruttig, like many other observers of the war in Afghanistan, believes that despite a plan for peace talks designed by the United States, long-term stability remains unlikely as long as there are terrorist groups like the ISCP.
Waheed Mozhdah, a late Afghan political scientist and writer who was known as a connoisseur of the Islamist militant groups, once said: “The war in Afghanistan will weaken, but the conflict and bloodshed will not go away”. When Mozhdah was assassinated in Kabul last November, his analysis proved to be bitter.
A new report from the U.S. Institute of Peace points out that the ISKP is preparing the ground for ideological radicalization not only in rural but also in urban areas of Afghanistan. Even if there is peace between the Afghan national government and the Taliban, this radicalization is unlikely to end. The report by Borhan Osman, one of the leading experts on militant groups in the region, notes that many ISCP members are from the educated urban middle class, including: a. from Kabul.
“Unlike the rural members, who often enter the jihadist business in the absence of normal job prospects, a significant number of ISCP members come from central urban areas (from Kabul and the surrounding urban centers of Parwan, Kapisa and Punjir). They come from families that can be assigned to the ‘middle class’, “says Osman. Many are non-Pashtuns who have become radicalized in universities.
“In terms of education, about a third of the ISKP members surveyed have a remarkable academic record,” he writes. In addition to several university professors who have recruited members for the ISKP, the Kabul cell of the ISKP is made up of many of the best students and alumni. A considerable number of the best in the class come from the Shari’a Faculty. Others attended faculties of law, chemistry, engineering, and literature, often at state universities. Three institutions represented the largest number of recruits in the ranks of the ISKP: Kabul University, Nangarhar University and Al-Biruni University. “
Part of the ISKP’s tactic is to sow mistrust between the two main conflicting parties: the government and the Taliban. After the infamous attack on the maternity ward in May, the government blamed the Taliban, although no one claimed responsibility for the attack. Even then, experts like Ruttig suspected that the ISKP was behind the attack. “The attack clearly bears the signature of the ISKP. It makes no sense that the Taliban carried out the attack,” says Ruttig.
“The Afghan government continues to take advantage of the IS threat. This became clear after the recent attacks when the government blamed the Taliban for new operations and launched new operations against them,” said Zakir Jalaly, a Kabul-based official resident political scientist. After the attacks in Kabul and Nangarhar, the Ghani government blamed the ISCP and the Taliban. The Taliban denied any involvement.
Indeed, according to Jalaly, there is ample evidence that the Taliban have taken action against the ISCP and pushed it back in the country. Also, the government in Kabul will hardly consider the ISKP to be a supporter of the political struggle against the Taliban, which, unlike the ISKP, is the largest and best organized enemy group in the country.
Both the Taliban and the government are currently working on negotiations, which also indicates the release of prisoners. In a statement, the Taliban gave the order to “all the mujahedeen to take special preparatory measures for the security of our compatriots and not to attack the enemy anywhere.”
President Ashraf Ghani’s government welcomed the announcement, accepted the ceasefire and said it would shortly release hundreds of Taliban prisoners. At the same time, politicians and civil rights activists pressed for an extension of the ceasefire and the start of intra-Afghan talks.
The former has already been unofficially. But there are still doubts about the lasting goodwill of both sides, which have been fighting for two decades. Several attacks have occurred in the past few weeks, including operations against Afghan security forces and at least one government airstrike killing civilians.
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