According to reports from Afghanistan’s Khaama Press and Pakistan’s Mashaal Radio, the Taliban and Islamic State (ISIS) have declared jihad on each other, furthering an already acrimonious relationship between the two groups.
Nabi Jan Mullahkhil, police chief of Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province, an opium-producing region along the Pakistan border, revealed in an interview that he received documents showing that both groups made the declaration.
This news comes after a brutal terrorist attack on Saturday in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, which killed at least 35 people and wounded over 100 others. The Taliban castigated the incident, with the group’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid stating, “It was an evil act. We strongly condemn it.”
While Afghani President Ashraf Ghani blamed ISIS for the attack and a spokesman pledging allegiance to ISIS claimed responsibility, Maulvi Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost, self-declared leader of ISIS in Afghanistan, said his group was not involved. Both the U.S. and Afghani militaries expressed doubts about ISIS’s guilt, suggesting it was possibly the Taliban.
It is unclear who was behind the attack, but there is evidently a rivalry between ISIS and the Taliban. Last summer when ISIS picked up significant momentum, the Taliban warned of the former’s “extremism” in an attempt to unify the jihad movement. The Taliban views ISIS’s declaration of an official caliphate as premature, divisive, and illegitimate.
Earlier this year, Afghan officials announced that ISIS had moved into southern Afghanistan to recruit and establish a base to further its caliphate. ISIS then said it established itself in Khorasan, a historic name for the region that includes Pakistan, Afghanistan, parts of India, and surrounding countries.
Some Taliban fighters, even commanders, joined ISIS in Afghanistan and Pakistan, threatening the former’s influence. There has also been fighting between both sides, and the Taliban even arrested an ISIS leader. The Taliban and its ally al-Qaeda, however, still maintain a stronger presence in the aforementioned areas than ISIS.
This conflict for political power manifested in the relations between ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the Taliban’s leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar. Mullah Omar is Emir of Afghanistan, and followers in the Taliban and al-Qaeda have referred to him as “Leader of the Faithful,” a title often used for caliphs.
Baghdadi, however, called Mullah Omar a fool and an illiterate warlord who does not deserve spiritual or religious credibility. Conversely, the Taliban has been ordered to not let ISIS’s flag fly in Afghanistan. Both men represent the larger conflict between their groups and the divide in the global jihad movement.
Now that ISIS and the Taliban have declared jihad on one another, there may be an escalation of violence between both sides. ISIS has a history of going into new territories and assassinating its Islamic opposition, with Syria and Libya as two examples. In both countries, ISIS expanded and killed rival Sunni jihadists in an attempt to gain control.
Furthermore, if the competition between ISIS and al-Qaeda serves as a model, both groups may attempt to outdo one another through terrorism. There is evidence, for example, of the Taliban carrying out more beheadings recently, perhaps in an attempt to match ISIS’s notoriety.
While a Taliban-ISIS conflict may seem desirable as a way for both groups to destroy each other, ISIS expansion will only lead to more chaos. Furthermore, such a fight would not eliminate the basic problem that both groups exist in the first place. It is also possible that they will occasionally work together to fight the West, their common enemy, despite their differences, like al-Qaeda and ISIS did with the attack on Charlie Hebdo.
Ultimately, clashes between jihadists do not substitute for the international community actively confronting these groups to root out their ideology and ability to continue fighting.
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