Afghanistan: Taliban Divisions a Boon for Islamic State
|Publisher||Institute for War and Peace Reporting|
|Publication Date||13 February 2017|
|Citation / Document Symbol||Terrorism Monitor Volume: 15 Issue: 3|
|Cite as||Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Afghanistan: Taliban Divisions a Boon for Islamic State, 13 February 2017, Terrorism Monitor Volume: 15 Issue: 3, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/58a31acc4.html [accessed 14 December 2017]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Gunmen in Afghanistan's Jowzjan Province killed six aid workers with the International Committee of the Red Cross on February 8. Two other members of the eight-person team — which consisted of five Red Cross staff and three drivers — were reported missing following the attack (1TV, February 8). The Taliban denied any responsibility for the incident, and local officials have attributed it instead to fighters with Islamic State (IS) (Channel NewsAsia, February 8).
The IS presence in Afghanistan has been concentrated in Nangarhar Province, but several IS factions are thought to be active in Jowzjan, in northern Afghanistan. They emerged early last year, and their activities have since steadily increased, with Afghan authorities arresting Mullah Baz Mohammad, described as IS' "shadow governor" of Jowzjan, who had apparently travelled to the province from Nangarhar in order to bolster recruitment (Tolo, August 17, 2016; 1TV, August 17, 2016).
In December, Afghan security forces killed a senior IS commander in Jowzjan following an attack on a checkpoint (Afghanistan Times, December 4, 2016). Later that month, following a clash with police, IS fighters raided a village in Darzab district, killing three people and taking two children captive (Pajhwok, December 27, 2016).
While IS in Afghanistan remains less of a threat than the Taliban, the group has been able to take advantage of a growing disarray among the Taliban leadership to extend its operations.
Following the death of the divisive Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour in a drone strike in Pakistan in May, the Taliban appointed Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada as its new leader (see Militant Leadership Monitor, November 1, 2016, Gandhara, May 25, 2016). Haibatullah, a conservative cleric rather than a political actor, was intended to appeal to competing factions within the Taliban and dispel the suspicion among many of the rank and file that the insurgency had become corrupt and lost its way. He has so far struggled to do this.
Instead, he has fallen increasingly under the influence of Sirajuddin Haqqani and the Haqqani network (see Terrorism Monitor, September 30, 2016). Meanwhile, the faction belonging to former-leader Mansour — now led by the Taliban governor of Helmand, Mullah Mohammed Rahim — has grown to become the most powerful within the group, in large part as a result of its access to the lucrative opium trade.
These divisions could be exploited by international actors as an opportunity to re-start peace talks with the group, which fell apart in 2015. Pakistan, eager to maintain its influence on the process, has in recent months put pressure on the Taliban to do just that (Pajhwok, November 2, 2016).
Diplomats and politicians, however, will need to move quickly. The Taliban's divisions are also an opportunity for IS, which recruits from a growing pool of disaffected Taliban members, to make gains.