Afghan parliamentarians have recently warned about the increasing activities of the Islamic State Khurasan (ISK) especially in the Eastern region of Afghanistan. They have warned about the overwhelming presence of ISK in Nangarhar, Uruzgan, Logar, and Kunar provinces in particular.
Zahir Qadir, the first deputy speaker of Afghanistan’s Parliament, has warned about the presence of groups affiliated with ISK under the name of migrants in different districts of Afghanistan. According to him, the group plans to deploy its members as immigrant families in different districts of the country, thereby attempting to strengthen their base in Afghanistan.
Warning about the growing presence of IS in Afghanistan, Mr Qadir said that around fifteen suicide bombers have been deployed to assassinate him and he has received a notice letter about the threats from the security agencies.
Mr. Qadir said, “Neither any security commander, nor any deputy minister or minister has shared concerns nor sympathies regarding the security threat I have received. What kind of situation is this?”
Qadir added that he does not want the Afghan people to encounter more chaotic situations and experience ethnic and sectarian war. He described the situation in Afghanistan as very critical and said that people should be aware of the situation.
Nangarhar and Ghor provinces have been affected by ISK terrorist activities. Although the Afghan security forces have been fighting the ISK in Pchyragam district of Nangarhar for over a month, it seems that in addition to these areas, the ISK has expanded its presence in other provinces and has strengthened its influence.
Despite the warnings from the Parliament and some officials, ISK’s future plans and their strong presence in Afghanistan, which is a serious threat to Afghanistan’s security, have raised security concerns among the people.
Although Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) officials in the past have talked about defeat of ISK, presence of the group in areas such as Nangarhar, Ghor and Zabol shows that this group is not only unbeaten, but has also taken to new tactics and approaches to carry out their plans in Afghanistan.
ISK’s targets (Hazaras and Shias) in particular have raised concerns among people and officials about the presence of this group in Afghanistan. If these concerns and warnings are not taken seriously, it can lead to chaotic and difficult days in Afghanistan.
Some security officials believe that ISK has huge and noticeable differences with Islamic State (formerly ISIS) and the recent attacks on Afghan Shias in Kabul and some other provinces, which is a gain for Islamabad, occurred after bilateral relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan deteriorated.
Nangarhar, Stronghold of IS Khurasan
Since Its existence in 2014 in Afghanistan, Nangarhar has been one of the main centers of activities of ISK. Various reports have indicated its presence and violent activities here since past two years. On September 2016, Pychyragam district of Nangarhar become well-known when local officials announced ISK attack on some villages in the district.
A month has passed but ISK and Afghan National Security forces are still at war in this district.
In its latest report, Afghan Ministry of Interior said that Afghan security forces killed five ISK members and retook the control of several villages in Pcharagam that were under ISK control.
Zahir Qadir, who is from Nangarhar Province, has always warned about ISK’s presence in the province. He questioned the prolonged war against ISK in Pchyragam district, and has asked why the security forces have been unable to defeat ISK and undermine their influence in Pchyragam district.
But the MoD reports about successful military operations in Pchyragam claimed that they have now taken control of villages which were under ISK control.
Mohammad Radmanesh, the spokesperson of Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense (MoD,) told Khabarnama that only a few neighborhoods in the southern part of Pchyragam is under ISK control at present and the national forces are dedicated to combat the terrorist groups in this district. The reason why ISK has chosen Nangarhar as their central base is because of Turkham port and Kabul.
Zabol, next Stronghold?
Recently, a list of Afghan parliamentarians have warned and reported about the presence and influence of ISK southern Zabol province.
In an interview with Khabarnma, Qlatval, MP from Zabol, talked about emerging security threats in his province.
Mr. Qlatval said foreign nationals using migrant names are settling down with their families in Dai- Chopan, Arghandab and Khak-Afghan districts of Zabol and their number is increasing.
He warned about the possibility of serious security threats to Zabol and neighboring provinces as the presence of foreign nationals is on the rise.
Mr. Radmanesh too confirmed the presence of some foreign nationals in Zabol province under the name or immigrants, but rejected the presence of ISK affiliated there.
He stated that this issue requires further study to determine whether these people are really immigrants or people who want to threaten national security.
Recent terrorist attacks in Zabol, along with the warnings from MPs, indicate that Zabol could turn to one of ISK’s strongholds, although this has been highly undermined in social media.
Last year, clashes between the Taliban and ISK were reported in some parts of Zabol province.
In winter of 2015, 31 passengers who were going to Kandahar were taken hostage by ISK in Zabol. Later, 19 of those passengers were released, but a few days later, seven of the passengers, including Shukria Tabassom, a 9 year old girl, all of whom were Hazaras, were beheaded by ISK.
The killing of civilians led to widespread protests in Kabul and the movement was named Tabassom Movement.
ISK in Ghor
About a month ago, ISK took 30 people as hostage and then killed them brutally in Ghor province. Children were also seen among the hostages. The hostages were either farmers or people who were collecting firewood from where they were picked.
President Ashraf Ghani paid a visit to the province meeting Ghori citizens saying that the security forces will continue to diminish terrorist groups in Ghor.
Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman talked about the continuation of military operations to destroy terrorist groups in Ghor province. He also said because of the cold weather, the type of military operation has changed to tackle terrorist activities.
He informed about the ongoing night military operations and presence of Special Forces and commandos in the North and East of the city of Feroozkoh, center of Ghor province.
Fueling Sectarian War
The ISK’s terrorist activities in Afghanistan are not only limited to terrorist attacks, but also aimed at establishing their base and gaining influence among the local people.
Beheading of Hazara passengers in Zabol, attacks on Enlightenment Movement, Ashura mourning ceremony, and Baqir-ul-Olum Mosque in Kabul that killed and injured dozens of innocent civilians indicate that ISK plans to target specific ethnic and religious group in Afghanistan.
ISK’s Hazara-Shia attacks were followed by criticisms against the government. MPs warned about the continuation of such attacks in the country.
Shah Gul Rezaee, representative of Ghazni province at the Afghan Parliament, said, “A series of targeted killings and systematic attacks are happening in Afghanistan, but the government that is responsible to provide people with security is inefficient and has failed to fulfill its responsibility.”
On the effects of recent ISK attacks on Shia Hazaras, Afghanistan’s Second Vice President Sarwar Danish said that “This attack was not the first and will not be the last one.” This statement of Sarwar Danesh shows that the Afghan government is probably concerned and aware of upcoming attacks.
Recent reactions by Afghan officials and politicians to the ISK’s attack on Baqir-ul-Olum mosque all show that ISK is trying to cause religious and ethnic war in Afghanistan.
Abdur Rahman Rahmani, the representative of Balkh province in the Parliament, opines that ISK’s targeted attacks on Shiites is the group’s new tactic. “They will not limit their activities only to create ethnic and religious war in Afghanistan, because their brutal attacks in Iraq and Syria show that they are enemies of humanity”, Mr. Rahmani adds.
Mr. Rahmani told Khabarnama that the recent attacks on Enlightenment Movement, Ashura Mourning Ceremony, and Baqir-ul-Olum Mosqu indicate that ISK’s target is Hazara people, but he claimed that the ISK will not limit their activities to killing Hazara ethnic group of Afghanistan.
However, some experts believe that IS Khurasan is following strategic objectives of Pakistan in Afghanistan.
For many Afghan elites, ISK started targeting Shiites after Taliban failed to achieve strategic and tactical successes to take control of some defined and specified geographic locations.
Some Afghans believe that the Taliban and ISK’s terrorist attacks increased at a time when the government of Afghanistan changed its foreign policies towards Pakistan and tried for creation of a new block in the South Asian region with the cooperation of India and by lobbying in Washington to isolate Pakistan.
Defeating ISK menace
Abdur Rahman Rahmani, a Balkh province MP, claimed that the government’s military operations are not only insufficient to fight ISK, but they have failed in the battlefield. In addition, he warned about the presence of ISK in Kunar, Nangarhar, Laghman and Nuristan provinces.
Mr. Rahmani believes that negligence of Afghan authorities has led ISK to strengthen its bases and influences in Afghanistan. He added, “two years ago when ISK had newly emerged in Afghanistan, our security forces denied the presence of ISK in Afghanistan; however, there are proofs that ISK is not a mystery but a serious threat to our security.”
He believes that the government’s weakness and lack of control over all areas, insecurity, disputes among ruling elites and existence of active intelligence organizations in the region are the reasons for the growth of the Islamic State in Afghanistan.
Rahmani warned about the spread of ISK in other provinces of Afghanistan in the coming year.