Zahra Tavakkoli

Afghanistan, A Possible New Base for Daesh

Date of publication : March 27, 2018 10:06 am
Afghan security force personnel take part in an ongoing operation against an Islamic State (IS) militant stronghold in Achin district of Nangarhar, eastern Afghanistan on April 14, 2017
Afghan security force personnel take part in an ongoing operation against an Islamic State (IS) militant stronghold in Achin district of Nangarhar, eastern Afghanistan on April 14, 2017

After the end of Daesh’s organized presence in Iraq and Syria was announced on November 20, 2017, the group was expected to choose Afghanistan as its new official base in order to continue its terrorist and inhumane activities. Therefore, if this happens, the issue of insecurity and instability in Afghanistan, and subsequently across the region, will become more serious.
The Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorist groups started their serious activities in Afghanistan in 2001 and continued them up to the present time. As a result of those activities, instability and insecurity has been on the rise in this country while security of many countries in the world, especially regional countries, has been seriously affected by these groups. Although the Taliban government was toppled sixteen years ago and foreign forces have been present in Afghanistan since that time, violence and terrorist measures continue in this South Asian country. As a result, in addition to escalation of violence in Afghanistan, the country has been somehow faced with revival and increased activities of other terrorist groups such as Daesh in addition to the Taliban.
Daesh terrorist group declared its presence in Afghanistan by announcing its so-called “Wilayat Khorasan” in January 2015, which covers a large geographical expanse, including Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of Central Asia. Wilayat Khorasan, which is actually the Daesh branch in Afghanistan, released a series of photos on November 21, 2017, that is, one day after Iran announced the end of Daesh’s rule in Iraq and Syria. In those photos, Daesh declared formation of special squads in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan, which borders Pakistan, naming them after Sheikh Abdul Hasib, who was Daesh’s former leader in Afghanistan.
The presence of Daesh in Afghanistan since 2015 has stirred serious and simultaneous concerns among regional countries and neighbors of Afghanistan, which fear that their national security will be affected by this development. On the other hand, the possible support of some transregional countries, especially the United States, and regional countries, such as Pakistan, for Daesh terrorist group is another reason behind those concerns. In view of the fact that both these countries had supported the Taliban and al-Qaeda in past years, there is concern that they may offer the same support for Daesh.
Officials of the United States and Pakistan have been incriminating each other in recent years over support for terrorists in Afghanistan. US President Donald Trump delivered a speech in August 2017, accusing Pakistan of providing safe shelters for rebel, violent and terrorist groups. Meanwhile, General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States, also made remarks in October 2017, in which he clearly accused the Pakistani Army’s intelligence agency, known as the Inter-Services Intelligence or ISI, of having ties with “terrorist groups.” On the other hand, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif made a speech at the 72nd annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2017, in which he took the US government to task over its past support for the Haqqani Network and other extremist groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He added that the United States should not consider Pakistan as responsible for the failure of its measures in past years in Afghanistan, because the Haqqani Network and its members had been trained by the White House.
Another major concern in this regard, even among the leaders of the Taliban, is the possibility of division in the ranks of the Taliban as a result of which disgruntled Taliban militants may join Daesh. The leaders of the Taliban are opposed to emergence of parallel militant forces in the country and have even warned Daesh over any attempt to increase its clout in those areas that are controlled by the Taliban.
The formation of new squads affiliated with Daesh terrorists’ Wilayat Khorasan is, in fact, indicative of the decision made by this terrorist group to continue its activities in a more serious manner in Afghanistan. Without a doubt, this development, will lead to intensification of concerns both in Afghanistan and at regional level, especially among Afghanistan’s neighboring countries, about the serious threat that this group can pose to their national security. In fact, continued activities of Daesh in a serious way in Afghanistan will cause spread of insecurity and instability in this country followed by spread of insecurity and increasing terrorist threats across the region.
Due to its neighborhood and having long borders with Afghanistan, Iran has been harmed by the phenomenon of terrorism for many long years and has been always fighting against this phenomenon. The shift of Daesh’s activities from Iran's western borders to its eastern borders will face the country with serious challenges. First of all, activities of this group may spread toward northern neighbors of Afghanistan, that is, the Central Asian countries. This issue alone will cause insecurity along Iran's eastern and northeastern borders. The second challenge is the possibility of other regional and transregional actors using such extremist Takfiri groups as a tool in line with their strategic rivalries. The third challenge is further deterioration of the current situation in Afghanistan, which will be followed with instability and insecurity, and in turn, will have a serious effect on the national interests and security of the Islamic Republic.
On the one hand, it must be noted that Daesh terrorist group has its roots in Afghanistan’s al-Qaeda group. On the other hand, following the group’s serial defeats in Syria and Iraq in past months and predictions that it would lose its official bases in Iraq and Syria, the group was expected to choose Afghanistan as the main and new base for its future terrorist activities.
Therefore, there is the possibility that Daesh will continue its terrorist activities from Afghanistan and Central Asian countries. This is why promoting “regional and transregional cooperation” in various political, security and even economic fields can be the most important strategic step that Iran and other regional countries should take in order to deal with this phenomenon in a complete manner, which means, tackling both its organization and the way of thinking.
Zahra Tavakkoli, a fellow at Iranian Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies, is the Afghanistan expert
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