The white turban of Taliban to be replaced by black turban of ISIS in Afghanistan


In June 2014, when ISIS was brought into the stage in Iraq and then Syria, President Karzai was asked during a press conference, if ISIS will outcrop in Afghanistan as well? Although, President Karzai bluffed that his government will fight against any terrorist group, however, shortly ISIS flags were raised in Farah and Helmand, the two western provinces of the country. Soon, ISIS build their camps in these two areas and even their Arab fighters moved their families to the camps. Being close to Iranian border, Iran already fighting against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, started to widely support Taliban to crush the ISIS camps in the area. Taliban, following Deobandi school and Hanafi jurisprudence of Islam that even considers Salafists and Wahabbists as infidels, started bloodied war against ISIS followers, forcing them to surrender and were allowed to leave the area only with wife and children. ISIS was defeated in Farah and Helmand, but they were about to surface in other areas.

ISIS may had perished in west of Afghanistan, but surfaced in east as its stronghold and then north of the country. Kunar, a mountainous north-eastern province, had experienced the ISIS-like governance in the past as well. Jamil ur Rahman from Pech district, a Salafist religious leader and ex-commander of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-i-Islami, established an independent Salafist-Wahhabi emirates with Saudi aid from 1989-1991 in Kanar and current Nuristan province, and accommodated hundreds of Arab fighters. His government didn’t last long and he himself was killed by Gulbuddin’s Hizb-i-Islami to take control of the area, but his sporadic followers are still alive. However, this time ISIS chose neighboring province, Nangarhar, as their base, and are called ISIS – Khorasan. They took control of Achin district of Nangarhar as their stronghold, which had many cave complexes, built by Osama bin Ladin during Afghan jihad against Soviet Union. Although, they took control of two other neighboring districts –Haska Meyna and Pachir Aw Agam– but it didn’t last long.

But why ISIS, holding Salafi and Wahhabi believes, was getting so rapid popularity, while majority of Afghans follow Hanafi  jurisprudence, considering some acts of Wahhabis as non-Islamic and calling them The Kharijites –the renegades who started the First Muslim Civil War and fought against the fourth caliph Ali in the Battle of Nahrawan.

A resident of Jalalabad, capital city of Nangarhar, who prefers to stay anonymous, and has lost a younger brother and uncle as ISIS combatants, shares his family’s story:

Back in 2015, my brother was recruited to Taliban forces through our local mosque’s mullah. He was involved in bombing a fuel tanker transporting diesel oil for US forces. He was arrested and sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment. We borrowed money from the relatives and friends and paid 600,000 Afghanis (then equal to US $12,000) to the judges and prison staff, who was released from the prison after one and the half years. We were suffering from the financial difficulties and everyone in the family was taunting him for the miseries. He contacted the Taliban for assistance, but, they told him that whatever he has done is jihad and for the sake of Allah, and there is no compensation. A neighboring friend told him about ISIS paying monthly salary of 600 to 1200 US dollars to their militants. He joined ISIS and moved to their stronghold in Achin. He started to send good money and soon we paid all the money that we had borrowed. Lured by the money and benefits, my uncle also also joined ISIS, and soon moved to Achin along with his wife and two kids. After a year, we got a phone call from an unknown that my brother and uncle have to killed during a battle, and that the wife of my uncle has been married to another ISIS fighter. We had no other option but to stay silent, and fearing the Government and Taliban retaliation, we even didn’t hold any grieving for them.”

In December 2015, Russia’s Tass News Agency reported that Hanif Atmar, holding many ministerial positions during both Karzai and Ghani presidencies, and Masoom Stanekzai, then Chief of National Directorate of Security (NDS), the intelligence agency of Afghanistan, are moving ISIS militants via Mil Mi-17 helicopters to Tajikistan and Turkmenistan borders, north of Afghanistan. Ahmad Behzad and Lalay Hamidzai, the two Afghan MPs, also named these two high officials as the in charges of ISIS project in Afghanistan. President Ashraf Ghani denied the allegations, and then everything went silent. Later on, Russia openly announced its support of Taliban against ISIS threats.

ISIS – Khorasan fighters come from many sources. Afghanistan has been a war market since last four decades. There are local commanders who used to be paramilitary forces of pro-Soviet regime, then joined the jihadist factions and kept on changing the factions, depended on who paid them more, later joined Taliban, and when Taliban government was toppled by US forces, they joined Afghan military forces as local militias, then once again joining the Taliban, and lately joined the ISIS. While, the pro-Iran Islamic regime recruited Afghan Shia youth and ex-combatants to join Fatemiyoun Brigade to fight in Syria against ISIS, luring them with better wages, Iran citizenship, and  the ISIS supporters recruited Afghan Sunni youth from within Afghanistan and Gulf states, paying them more than US $1,000 and a promise of going to heaven in the after life. Once, ISIS defeated in Syria and Iraq, these fighters returned to Afghanistan to join ISIS – Khorasan. Other foreign fighters from Islamic terrorist organizations, residing inside Afghanistan, have also joined them. The Afghan government had also given an open hand to ISIS’s propaganda organizations such Jamiat Eslah and Afghan Society of Muslim Youth (Najim), who were busy recruiting university students, especially Faculty of Islamic Law, Kabul University. NDS arrested three of the Kabul University lecturers namely Zahir Dahi, Mahruf Rasikh and Mubasher Muslimyar, on the charges of links and recruiting students for ISIS, however, they were released within few months.

When ISIS was launched in Afghanistan, many of the progressive and leftist organizations and individuals stated that the white turban of Taliban will painted with black turban of ISIS, meaning that the project of Taliban is coming to an end and they will replaced by ISIS.

ISIS – Khorasan have done many suicide attacks and explosions against Shia religious centers and ceremonies, and other civilian targets. In the recent years, when an attack took place in Afghanistan, Afghan could easily predict if the responsibility will be taken by Taliban or ISIS. In the past, before the arrival of ISIS, all the attacks were done by Taliban, including those attacks killing hundreds of civilians, but once ISIS came into being, the role was divided between Taliban and ISIS. The attacks targeting military were done by Taliban, while the attacks against civilians were apparently done by ISIS.

ISIS – Khorasan enjoyed the friendship and hostility both with Afghan government and Taliban. If they faced threat from Afghan forces, they joined Taliban; and in case they were attacked by Taliban, they asked for airstrike support from Afghan government which passed their request to US forces, or surrendered to Afghan forces.

While, the United States dropped the “mother of all bombs” on an ISIS cave complex in Achin, Afghanistan, New York Times reported on August 1, 2018, that more than 200 Islamic State fighters and their two top commanders surrendered to the Afghan government to avoid capture by Taliban insurgents, in Darzab district of Jowzjan, a northern province of Afghanistan. What is ironic that Afghan military force were given the task to guard them. And the Afghan Air Force bombarded Taliban positions to prevent them from capturing the remaining IS forces. The same happened in Kunar and Nangarhar, where the ISIS militants surrendered to Afghan military forces to escape the Taliban. There were many inter-faith assassinations among Wahhabist and Hanafist followers. While many Hanafi prominent mullahs such as Ayaz Niazi and Azizullah Mufleh were killed, Mohammad Hatif, the pro-Wahhabist head of Jamiat Eslah, was killed in a bombing.     

Abdul Salam Hanafi, a central member of the negotiation team of Taliban’s Qatar office and acting second deputy prime minister, during peace talks in Doha, told reporters that no other armed opposition groups exists in Afghanistan except for Taliban, adding that all other Islamic militant organizations –local or foreign– are acting in consensus with Taliban. And when asked if ISIS is included in this list? He remarked, “including ISIS.”

With the withdrawal of US troops and take over of Taliban, the pro-Wahhabists were exited for the first  step in formation of Islamic government, but soon this lust ended with the ISIS attacks on Kabul Airport on August 26, 2021, killing 183 people, including many Taliban militants. Further attacks by ISIS took place against Taliban in Nangarhar and Parwan. ISIS also targeted two Shia mosques in Kunduz and Kandahar, killing hundreds of civilians. ISIS attacked a military hospital and killed a prominent Taliban commander. Recently, the pro-Ahmad Shah Massoud supporters, who are calling for resistance against Taliban, in a rally in Paris, openly announced their support for ISIS, and urged their supporters inside the country to join the group. Taliban have arrested many people suspected of being ISIS members, while, they had released all prisoners, including pro-ISIS prisoners, when they took over the country. It is claimed that Haqqani Network has close links with ISIS – Khorasan and use this group against Mullah Baradar’s Taliban in their internal rivalries to gain more share of the joint power.

As predicted by progressive and leftist forces that the project of Taliban will come to an end and they will be replaced by ISIS. Now, that prediction has taken reality. Taliban have taken the role of previous Afghan government, ISIS doing the deadly attacks, and Taliban are using the same rhetoric which used to be said by Afghan government spokespersons. And US may use ISIS as an excuse to directly or indirectly once again invade Afghanistan. However, the progressive elements and leftists have always said that the people of Afghanistan, especially women, should learn from the epic women of Kobani to fight against ISIS and other jihadist fanatic groups.