ISIS expansion faltering in Afghanistan, Pakistan

By Javed Mahmood


Alleged ISIS and Taliban fighters are presented to media in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, October 3. Afghan police said 10 alleged ISIS fighters, including two non-Afghans, and four Taliban militants were arrested during an operation in Nangarhar Province. [Noorullah Shirzada/AFP]

ISLAMABAD -- The expansion of the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) in Afghanistan is dwindling because of effective counter-terrorism operations and feeble public support, and the group has a scant presence in Pakistan, analysts say.

The presence of ISIS in Afghanistan does not mean that militants from the Middle East have migrated to the land-locked country, according to a report published by the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) on November 16.

"The foundation of ISIS in Afghanistan appears to be driven by the defections from Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other loose Taliban groups [aiming] to rebrand themselves in a successful manner," it said.

Furthermore, ISIS survives on "external support" and financing, the report said. "Its expansion in Syria and Iraq appealed to groups with grievances against sectarian regimes, whereas the landscape in Afghanistan is totally different."

Clashing with other militants

Although ISIS boasts of "thousands of fighters and supporters in Afghanistan" the reality on the ground tells a different story.

"In order to establish a strong foothold in Afghanistan, ISIS had to challenge both the Taliban and al-Qaeda," the report said.

It is "a major challenge" for ISIS to expand in a country where the Taliban have been living and fighting for years, often "with the support of [the] tribal system and [shared] ethnic ties with Afghanistan".

ISIS "comes off as another foreign entity trying to encroach on the Afghan space", the report said.

Although support for and "expansion of ISIS is very thin in Afghanistan ... it still needs the attention of the international community", according to the report. "The only way to contain the expansion of ISIS in Afghanistan is to monitor the objectives of external forces present in Afghanistan."

A weak foundation

"ISIS is facing elimination in Afghanistan, and physically it exists nowhere in Pakistan," Peshawar-based Brig. (ret.) Mehmood Shah, former security secretary for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), told Pakistan Forward.

"ISIS has lost many of its highly trained warriors in bloody clashes with the Taliban, especially in Zabul Province of Afghanistan, and this terrorist organisation will soon disappear," he said.

ISIS has no strongholds in Pakistan, thanks to military operations and intelligence based operations that have crushed militancy over the past few years, he said.

"Border fencing will [further] help Pakistan overcome the infiltration of militants from Afghanistan and eliminate chances of local support for ISIS," said Islamabad-based security analyst Col. (ret.) Ali Raza Mir, who previously worked with the counter-terrorism wing of Inter-Services Intelligence.

Pakistani military operations have uprooted militancy and prevented ISIS from developing a foothold in the country, he told Pakistan Forward, adding that "by developing religious tolerance and harmony, Pakistan can eliminate extremism and militancy" once and for all.

Dwindling pockets of support

"ISIS has some support in Balochistan and is promoting militancy there," said Abdullah Khan, managing director of the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies think tank in Islamabad.

However, ISIS "is unable to find its foothold in other areas of Pakistan because of tight security measures and ongoing intelligence-based operations against militants", he told Pakistan Forward.

Recent bloody clashes between ISIS and the Taliban in Afghanistan prove that the Taliban will remain enemies, he said.

"Unanimous efforts should be made to discourage ISIS, the Taliban and others from fanning militancy in both the countries," Khan said.

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Who's war is this? Afghanistan's, Pakistan's or Pukhtoons'; the countries that use Afghanistan for their interests are not hidden. I believe if India gets out of Afghanistan, peace will prevail. War will not end till India's presence in Afghanistan.