KABUL -- Recent attacks by the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria"'s Khorasan branch (ISIS-K) amid the prevailing political and economic uncertainty in Afghanistan have raised concerns that the group is expanding its recruitment campaign in the country and poses a serious threat to the region.
Almost 400 civilians have been killed in attacks mostly carried out by ISIS since last August, according to a recent United Nations report.
"ISIS has now become a real threat to Afghanistan more than ever," said Abdul Basir Salangi, former governor of Parwan and Farah provinces and a military analyst based in Turkey.
"If the neighbouring regional countries and beyond continue to support ISIS, the group will ultimately pose a greater risk and it will become very difficult to defeat it," he said.
In addition to establishing a prominent presence and to killing Shia in Afghanistan, Salangi said, ISIS plans to launch attacks in Central Asian countries as well as in other countries in the region.
Increasing ISIS recruitment
ISIS-K on April 2 posted a video on social media showing small groups of militants in unidentified locations in Afghanistan pledging allegiance to the new global leader of the group, Abu Hasan al-Hashemi al-Qurashi.
Al-Qurashi was named the new ISIS leader just over a month after his immediate predecessor, Abu Ibrahim al-Qurashi, blew himself up, along with his family members, during a US raid in Syria.
The new leader is reportedly the older brother of ISIS founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who also died by suicide bombing, along with two children, during a US raid in Syria in 2019.
"Several foreign terrorist groups... have now joined ISIS," Salangi said. "ISIS has expanded its recruitment, and the group's Khorasan branch exists in a number of provinces including Kunar, Nangarhar and some parts in northern Afghanistan."
"If ISIS increases its recruitment, Afghanistan's security will be at a greater risk and the group's Khorasan branch will become even stronger in the country," he said.
"ISIS has accelerated its recruitment" over the past several months, said Kabul-based political analyst Fahim Chakari.
It has carried out "a number of terrorist attacks including the attacks on the Kabul airport and two mosques in Kunduz and Kandahar where dozens of civilians have been killed or injured", he said.
"The group's recent deadly attack in Herat is yet another example of ISIS's expanded network of capability in Afghanistan."
"Unfortunately, rising unemployment and poverty have paved the ground for the recruitment of ISIS forces in Afghanistan," Chakari said. "If the situation continues, we will soon witness significant destructive activities and ISIS will make Afghanistan as its permanent base."
"The current situation has made the ground more conducive for ISIS recruitment," said Noor Rahman, 34, a native of Panjshir province now residing in Kabul.
Poverty, unemployment and the country's political instability are key drivers pushing Afghans to join ISIS, he said.
Over the past eight months, "dozens of ISIS fighters have either been released or managed to escape from prisons, and this has strengthened the group in Afghanistan", Noor Rahman said.
ISIS-K was "reinvigorated" by the release of numerous ISIS fighters from Afghan prisons in mid-August, Gen. Kenneth "Frank" McKenzie, head of US Central Command, said December 9.
'ISIS is the enemy'
Afghans have never accepted and will never fight under the leadership of a foreign commander, said Salim Paigir, a Kabul-based political analyst.
However, he said, ISIS has been trying to strengthen its forces and could become a serious threat to the future of Afghanistan.
"ISIS is the enemy of our tribes and religion. The group has always targeted civilians and is a great threat to the stability, security and sovereignty of Afghanistan," Paigir said. "Therefore, Afghans should not be deceived by this terrorist group and pledge allegiance to such an enemy."
"ISIS has sympathisers among extremist groups like Salafis... and has financial resources to provide for those who have desperately been coping with poverty and unemployment," said Abdul Shakoor Salangi, a Kabul-based political analyst.
Salangi doubts that ISIS wants to take control of any province; "however, the group aims to become a physical and psychological threat that can be used to destroy Afghanistan".
Today, in Afghanistan, ISIS is not as strong and scary as the media propagate. In some other provinces, including Nangarhar, there will be members of ISIS, but I do not think that they should make progress now because people don't want war. No matter how many young people there are in the country, whether they are employed or unemployed, most think there should be no more war. They say power can be with the Taliban, but war destroys the country. Given the recent bombings and attacks in Herat, Kabul, Kandahar, and other provinces, I am sure that ISIS cannot do this. Foreign intelligence carried out the attacks both during the presidential era and now. No country, including the region, wants Afghanistan to be secure. They only show sympathy for Afghans in the media. Others measure their profits by doing what they can, implementing the same projects. I agree that there will be a recruitment drive for ISIS right now, but I also know that very few people are willing to join it. Yes, in that case, more people would be attracted to ISIS if the Taliban changed its policy. People are still not so pressed, but if the Taliban continue to interfere in people's private lives (leave the beard, do the hair like this and do that, pray like that and so on, wear a burqa, don't wear the hijab) and don't think about their jobs - most people will be attracted to it. Otherwise, everyone still believes that the war must end. People should not be killed. The country should not be destroyed. The TalibReply
For sure, you have pointed out good points. But ISIS is on the rise, whether today or tomorrow. How can it not be so fast that millions of people are unemployed? When there is no work, there is no food, there is no treatment for the patient, there is no education, and there is no security. So I tell people who are not allowed by others to stay in their country and have no work at home, for sure they are not snakes to eat the soil. The new rulers of Afghanistan need to gain the legitimacy of their people first, then that of the international community; otherwise, a big headache will develop, which will cost them their government's failure. And if the Taliban government collapses this time, there will be no one else except the unemployed youth. When there is no work, the minds are confused, and only destruction comes to mind.Reply
Part four: Dear Leaders! Eight months of your power are complete. While 100% of Afghanistan's territory is under your control, no infidel or Islamic country, not even Pakistan, has recognized your government. Today the world is like a big home. No one can live alone in a big house. Only Afghanistan and the Islamic Emirate are isolated from the rest of the world. It is an insult to Afghanistan's international standing, and only you can manage to find the way of solution for it. The Foreign Minister of the Islamic Emirate, Mr. Mottaki, once said, "What does the world want from us?" What should we do to get the world to recognize us? I think you and Mottaki should be asked this question. Do you know any other country that no one in the world recognizes? The reason for this is known to everyone else. Dear leaders, I also know that this open letter of mine has no effect if it reaches you, but I fulfill my duty and lighten my moral responsibility. Once again, the people's dissatisfaction is the beginning of your downfall and another catastrophe for the country. Don't be proud of your power. It was not just your perfection that you took over the country's affairs today. You do not have such a strong political rival in the country that you are afraid of him. The corruption of the previous regime and the people's twenty years of dissatisfaction with it paved the way for your victory. And now that dissatisfaction with you is also present and growing. Public discontent, public hungeReply
Part three: Instead of focusing on solving the country's unprecedented economic problems and finding a way out, you focus on the ombudsman's office. They have no work other than to harass people. Every day, we see videos of the people of Afghanistan starving, unemployed, and begging on social media. We know every day that the country's youth are fleeing to those countries despite all the insults from the Iranian and Pakistani authorities. Instead of focusing your attention on this critical issue, you've focused all your energy and effort on breaking the lutes and killing musicians. A Talib or religious police member stands on the side of the road, puts his hand under the driver's chin, and says how much better he would look if he kept his beard. It is a violation of human personality. The fact that the driver can't say anything out of fear is different. You close the doors of schools for girls, leave universities and then shout for advancement. Is there any other Islamic country that does not have girls' schools in the world? And without girls' schools, is it possible to progress and even survive the country? On the streets, you cut the hair of young people and insult them in public. It is not only a violation of human dignity but also a clear violation of the limits of the Almighty Allah. You call yourselves followers of Islam, but can you tell me which book has allowed you to insult and treat the Muslim nation in this way?Reply
Part Two: Unfortunately, twenty-six years later, history repeats itself differently. I am sure you know that hunger and unemployment in the country have reached their limits. The lines of beggar women, youth, and children in the bazaars and on the streets on one side and the influx of Afghan refugees into Iran on the other side are clear evidence of this claim. They continue to go to the neighboring country despite the inhumane treatment and hardships. This is a mockery of Afghanistan's history and current status. Dear Elders! On the one hand, you say that Afghans should not leave the country and cooperate with the Emirate, but on the other hand, you have deployed armed Taliban in front of the ministries who do not allow the shaved employees to enter their offices. This means that ability and human personality are of no more importance to you and the only criterion of good manhood and ability is a beard. Your Minister of Higher Education says that in the last 20 years, everyone who has been educated cannot heal the country's pains. Should the Minister of Higher Education of a government make such irresponsible remarks? I do not think that a man of this stature should have the capacity and ability to be an ordinary manager.Reply
Abdul Bari Jahani's Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan April 12, 2022 Part one Dear leaders! I am not sure whether this letter of mine will reach you or if it is received, will anyone value it, but I am trying to perform my moral duty. Dear leaders! 26 years ago, many of my young friends weren't born or were children. I told Mullah Akhund in Kandahar, in front of Wakeel Ahmad Mutawakkil, that you were elected to power because people were unhappy with the government of the previous government. They supported you as a result. We heard in America that when you were at war with Ismail Khan, a white-haired woman (oldy) brought mung to you on the hem of her robe and told you to take what I had at home and give it to the Taliban. The sincerity and sentimentality of that nation brought you to power. But as I have come to Afghanistan, I have not seen a person pleased with you, and everyone is angry with you. If you make people angry like this, your fate will be the same as the previous government. I talked to Mullah Sahib about this and gave him many examples. Mutawakkil Sahib witnessed that Mullah Sahib did not respond to my words and did not say anything.Reply