InternationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 08

Has Afghanistan really defeated Daesh?

Of late, Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani has announced that his government has defeated the feared terrorist organization, Islamic State (IS), in the country and if correct, it would have a far-reaching impact on the security situation in the region.

According to Afghan President Ghani, more than 600 fighters from IS, locally known as Daesh, have surrendered to the authorities along with their families in the past several weeks. Afghan officials claim that airstrikes by Afghan and coalition forces, lack of finances and low morale among Daesh fighters have been the key reasons behind IS giving up fighting. “No one believed one year ago that we would stand up and today be saying we have obliterated Daesh,” Ghani told a gathering of elders and officials in Jalalabad, the main city of eastern Nangarhar province that braved a wave of suicide attacks from the terrorists killing hundreds, on November 19. Importantly, according to Afghan officials the Daesh militants, who are in its custody, include foreign nationals from Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and the Maldives.

Daesh has been an ever-growing threat to the security and stability of the region since the rise of the ferocious group in Iraq and Syria in 2014. The group, whose leadership wanted to establish a global “caliphate,” soon extended its tentacles across regions and by the end of year 2014, a South Asian chapter by the name of Daesh-e-Khurasan was set up in Afghanistan. With its global aims and sickening violent terrorism, which the group displayed in territories under its belt in Iraq and Syria and which it replicated on a number of occasions in its strongholds in eastern Afghanistan, it was feared that it would result in an unprecedented bout of violence in the region.

The Iraq and Syria-based militant group, IS, has been able to get a toehold in Afghanistan and despite the deep desire of its leadership to expand to Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, the outfit could not establish an elaborate network in the three countries. However, there has always been an immense potential for IS to expand in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.

Insofar as President Ghani’s assertion that no one expected his government or the coalition forces would defeat IS in Afghanistan a year ago, is quite correct. The reason was with each passing day the violence of Daesh in Afghanistan had been becoming loathsome and deadly with more and more people surrendering before the strong-arm tactics of the group fighters. Even quite recently, IS carried out a deadly attack in Nangarhar province in which nearly 100 people were killed and no one anticipated that the group would be defeated. So, if President Ghani claims that his government has defeated IS, it is quite doubtful. One cannot believe in the claim outright. However, there are reasons that it is possible that Daesh fighters may have started giving up in Afghanistan. This includes the recent killing of its founder and head, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, in a United States Special Operations Forces (SOPs) in northern Syria. The killing must have a demoralizing impact on Daesh fighters in Afghanistan. Because already the group had lost almost all its occupied territories in both Iraq and Syria and the only hope to revive the group was its founder head, Baghdadi. His killing may have dashed all the hopes of Daesh fighters in Afghanistan and it could have been the reason for them to start giving up their arms.

Against this backdrop, the Afghan government does not seem to have any role in the defeat or weakening, to use the more apt term, of IS in Afghanistan. In fact, the rise of IS in Afghanistan has been surprising prima facie. However, there have been reports that the Afghan intelligence agency, National Directorate of Security (NDS), has been behind the steady growth of IS in Afghanistan. The NDS may have wanted to use it against its bête noire, the Afghan Taliban, and to conduct terrorist attacks inside Pakistan. As the Afghan security establishment since the fall of the Afghan Taliban regime in late 2001 has been dominated by former communist era (1973-1992) officials, they have a natural affinity with IS, which has a large number of former communists from Saddam Hussein’s Baathist Party militants in Iraq.

The desire to expand towards South Asia and South East Asia has been a core part of the agenda of IS, which, as mentioned, wanted to establish a global Islamist caliphate in the world. In this scheme of thinking of IS all the four countries, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, were of crucial importance. The reason is the predominantly Sunni Muslim population of these countries. Moreover, the Muslim population of the four countries comprises a large number of young men and women largely dissatisfied due to bad socioeconomic conditions of their countries and Muslim communities in India. There have been substantial reports that many Indian and Bangladeshi Muslims had also joined IS ranks in Afghanistan. However, the Afghan authorities unfolded a list of countries, whose citizens have been arrested as Daesh fighters, and it does not include India and Bangladesh. This seems deliberate because the Afghan authorities did not want India and Bangladesh to be associated with Daesh.

It is important to note that Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, reacting to the Afghan government claim to have defeated IS, totally rejected it and instead said that Kabul had zero percent role in squashing the terrorist group and it was the brave people of Nangarhar province, who along with support from the Taliban defeated it. How and whosoever may have forced the Daesh fighters to accept defeat and give up arms is immaterial and what matters is the weakening of the group. If the outfit is unable to regroup and its fighters do not take arms again, it would have wholesome effects on the security situation in the country. The US and the Taliban may have been engaged in talks and they may come to a peace deal, however, it has been feared that with the presence of ferocious IS fighters in a large number in Afghanistan, peace would remain a pipe-dream in the country. The presence of a strong Daesh organization in Afghanistan, particularly in Nangarhar province bordering Pakistan, has been a very grave security threat for Islamabad. Pakistan has had taken elaborate steps against Daesh and in the words of previous Army Chief, General Raheel Sharif, Pakistan would not let IS to cast even a shadow on Pakistan, speaks volumes of the commitment and conviction of the country against the group.