As if some other element were needed in the political drama that Afghanistan is experiencing, the Islamic State in the Khorasan Province, also known as EI-Khorasan (EI-K) and translated into Spanish as Khorasan, claimed responsibility for the attack at the airport gates. in Kabul on Thursday in which at least 170 people died, according to local health authorities.
“ISIS-K terrorists are not going to win.” Those were the words of the President of the United States. ISIS-K is how the branch of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Afghanistan is known. Formed in 2014, on the border with Pakistan by Taliban separatist fighters, it has been limiting ground in recent years but without losing its influence.
The Security Council report The United Nations, with information from the United States intelligence services, had already warned about the presence of this jihadist group. “The group has reinforced its positions in and around Kabul, where it carries out most of its attacks,” it warned last month.
Khorasan is a historical region that formerly included parts of Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan. A century ago it became part of Iran and less time ago it was divided into three provinces.
Both ISIS-K and the Taliban have in common that they are Islamic fundamentalist groups. Far from being allies, they maintain a continuous rivalry. Although from outside the extremist vision they do not seem to be more than two sides of the same coin.
These armed groups fight for control of a similar part of the territory but also for its people, they want to add new combatants and incorporate the disenchanted from the opposite side. Ultimately, they dispute the leadership within jihadism in Afghanistan.
While ISIS-K rivals the Taliban, Al-Qaeda operates under the protection of this group. The Taliban have been maintaining, since the agreements with the United States in 2020, that they do not operate with Al-Qaeda although there are certain indications that show that this separation has not been serious.
Specialists point out that the real rivalry is between Al-Qaeda and ISIS-K rather than with the Taliban movement. “Both compete with for supremacy in the world jihadist ideology. This means, for the idea of imposing an Islamic domination over those territories that were once dominated by Islam,” Ezequiel Kopel, a journalist specialized in Media, explains to elDiario.es. East and author of the book ‘Middle East. Common place’.
The Afghan branch of the Islamic State has strong roots in northeastern Afghanistan, but is present in at least 15 Afghan provinces. It operates in the southern provinces of the country Kandahar, Helmand and Nimruz and kept sleeping cells in Kabul, according to data from the UN report.
Historically ISIS-K has criticized any cooperation between the Taliban and the United States, including talks to withdraw foreign troops. These attacks were aimed at areas controlled by soldiers sent by the United States.
First, the Afghan branch of the Islamic State has been losing a lot of control of late compared to the Taliban.
During 2020, ISIS-K lost not only land, leadership and fighters but financial resources. In any case, it has managed to retain dominance in key areas such as the Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nangarhar in addition to deploying part of its power to different important cities such as Kabul.
Second, unlike the Taliban whose interest is limited to Afghanistan, in the case of ISIS-K it goes further and does not adhere to the existing internationally recognized borders.
Third, the Taliban would be for ISIS-K a more “moderate” branch of Islamic jihadism. The US troop withdrawal agreement is seen as a betrayal by the Islamic State operating in Afghanistan.
“ISIS-K came to define the Taliban as apostates, that is, they abandoned the Islamic religion to sit down and talk with the United States. That is why I usually say that ISIS-K is Al-Qaeda on steroids,” Kopel explains.
The attack came after Joe Biden’s speech in which he assured that his country had fulfilled its mission in ending the threat from Al-Qaeda. But if one thing has become clear, it is that maintaining a dialogue with the Taliban in Afghanistan is not the same as saying that the threat of international terrorism is under control.