Comprehensive view on IS’s Khorasan province and future perspective

By Pramod Raj Sedhain.

 

After series of failed attempts to gain control of the ground and high-profile attacks, Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) has started carrying out horrific atrocity on civilians. Extreme violence over innocent civilians ISKP’s growing brutal tactic. It’s been crystal clear how this IS ultra-brutal group has been carrying out murderous death cult. Despite continued struggle for existence, ISKP has been able to infiltrate the cities and make gruesome attacks on civilian targets.

ISKP recent attacks in Afghan’s Kabul was suicide blast at Baqir ul-Uloom mosque on 21 November, suicide attacks in Pakistan’s Shah Noorani Shrine in the hub town of Balochistan on 12 November, mass civilian execution in Ghor province on 4 November, deadly suicide bombing in Quetta hospital on 8 August are some of the examples of the group’s indiscriminate violence. Some of these terrorist acts show that ISKP terror threats are prevalent and still remain in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Underestimation or ignorance on the part of Afghan and Pakistan governments over IS paved the way for the rise and consolidation of IS. Self-proclaimed caliphate’s have certainly some key ambitions to establish regional franchise in South Asia. Strategic geographical location, easy borders to inflict various nations, factional rivalries within brutal Pakistani terrorist groups, possible sympathetic population, overshadowing rival global terrorist al-Qaeda has key factors of priority to establish new province in the region.

IS initially succeeded in attracting and enticing Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) fighters – – flustered group who were declined capabilities and rival factionalism. Pakistan army offensive in North Waziristan “Operation Zarb-e-Azb” forced TTP fighters to flee into Afghanistan which was an easy opportunity to attract in new powerful global network.

Many TTP commanders were dissatisfied with the new leadership after the U.S. drone strike killed group’s charismatic leader Hakimullah Mehsud in 2013. For the most sophisticated and wealthy terrorist group Islamic State (IS), which was trying to expand its network globally, this was a good opportunity. They were also able to recruit some Afghan Taliban fighters as well al-Qaida operatives.

IS had been considering its franchise in South Asia with high priority since 2014 but they officially announced on January 2015. IS central spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani announced the Khorasan province. Former Pakistani Taliban’s commander Hafiz Saeed Khan led the group. ISKP emerged from Nangarhar province inciting brutal attack on civilians, rival Taliban insurgents and Afghan security forces.

Clandestine collaboration with Afghan-based other terrorist networks including Fidayee Karwan, Sia Pushan, Quetta Shura, Tora Bora Jihadi group, Gul Buddin Hekmatyar group, among others expanded their network without much difficulty.   These terrorist groups had financial, logistic and manpower crisis which they later gained from new branded group ISKP for existence.

IS’s secret collaboration with Pakistan-based groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Ahle-Sunnat-Wal-Jamaat, TTP Jamaat Al Ahrar, Tehreek-i-Khilafat, Sawt-al-Ummah etc. led to easy recruits as well as running hidden networks of finance, manpower and logistic from Durand Line. They were able to expand their terror networks in Federally Administered Tribal Agencies of Balochistan and Punjab relatively in a very short period of time. The group’s center’s vast expertise on technology has been an inspiration to provide them with the leverage against other rival terrorist organizations.

Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) leader Usman Ghazi announced the support to Islamic State on September 2014 and IMU’s spiritual leader Sheikh Muhammad Ali sworn allegiance to the group on July 2015 and pledged alliance with IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. IMU further supported the strength of the ISKP position. Such support boosted their aim to spread across Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asian nations. Royal United Service Institute has estimated that about 7,000-8,500 fighters are currently affiliated with the group in 2016. The U.N report on September 2015 assessed ISKP presence in 25 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.

The emergence of ISKP quickly transformed jihadist landscape in Afghan-Pak boarders. ISKP established itself as the most capable group to attract foreign fighters in new brand through effective recruitments, sectarian attacks, strong wealth, well resources, brutal tactic, smuggling, terrorizing strategy, kidnapping, effective propaganda campaigns through multiple media outlets, radio stations while aggressively promoting the group before U.S. pinpoint drone strike. ISKP established new base in Afghanistan that overshadowed the global terrorist network al-Qaeda and multiple pressure for local insurgent group Taliban. The group aggressively tried to unite all Pakistani, Afghan and Central Asian groups under its umbrella, which eventually failed after multiple interventions.

Growing ISKP vulnerabilities in Afghanistan alarmed the U.S. intelligence community which has been closely tracking the group’s activities since the beginning. The U.S. started to target strikes to deny ISKP foothold in the country. U.S. started hunting down their leadership, enhancing efforts to control the ISK flow of militants, funding and logistics. Series of killings on senior ISK leaders Hafiz Saeed Khan, Saad Emarati, Mullah Anas, Sheikh Gul Zaman al-Fateh, Shahidullah Shahid, Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim are the examples of successful U.S. covert war against ISKP group.

Is has been rapidly losing its ability and ground but has still posed the strength of destructive terrorist attacks. IS has limited presence in very small areas in Afghanistan and has been unable to gain long-term foothold on the ground. IS influence has been declining after most of their senior commanders were killed in battles while most of key posts replaced by other low-profile fighters. ISKP is no longer an attractive group for new recruits due to its declining operational and organizational capabilities followed by lack of senior leaders and locations, funding, logistic and wining sentiments.

We can expect that this frustrated ISKP group will be able to recruit poor people for heinous terror attacks in a short period of time but it will not be able to hold its influence on the ground. The question of how the group’s future will be determined as how local forces can destroy ISKP recruiting tools and finance. Some of the Pakistan-based brutal terrorist groups are still in collaboration with ISKP, which is currently their network’s lifeline.

ISKP has been rapidly losing the ground, facing series of setbacks, weekend networks, and lack of well organized operational capacity to carry out attack on hard targets. ISKP foreign fighters’ countries cannot survive without local support but Afghan tribal groups have been serious about ISKP’s activities threatening their tradition. ISKP strategy, structure and resources are now crumbling.

This worrisome ISKP phenomenon will continue at least for a short period of time but doesn’t need wide-ranging fear for a longer time. Assessments can be made how this group’s morale has been declining and that it will no longer be capable of carrying out operational measures because of financial crisis, lack of tribal, ethnic and other friendly ties with locals like Taliban and al Qaeda. ISKP will not be able maintain day-to-day operations in future after its collapse at the central level.

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