The Taliban have never existed as a homogenous entity whether they be Afghans or Pakistani. They have always been a melange of groups that come together under a single flag to fight a common cause, but inevitably given the highly tribalised nature of the Taliban, tensions and conflicts arise. They have arisen in Pakistan, sometimes leading to open conflict and substantial casualties, and there have been similar rifts in Afghanistan as well.
Now there is a new player in the world of extremism — Islamic State, IS or Da’ish in Arabic. The Afghan Taliban had sent cautionary words to the IS, saying that it should not expand into what it saw as its back garden, and there was a risk it could divide the ‘Mujahideen’, which may weaken their ability to fight foreign invaders. And thus it has happened — a faction of the Afghan Taliban have reached out to IS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. They wished to assure him that they were not opposed to IS activities in Afghanistan and the stage looks to be set for, at the very least, a clash of ideologies, if not of arms.
The IS has expansionist visions, and Pakistan and Afghanistan are high on the agenda when it comes to bringing to reality the caliphate that the IS seeks to establish. A senior US commander in Afghanistan has confirmed that Taliban allied to the IS have had contact with the IS headquarters in Syria. The province of Nangarhar has in recent weeks seen fighting between the IS-supporting Taliban and those still loyal to Mullah Omar. There have even been calls by IS supporters in Afghanistan for the killing of Mullah Omar, as there must only be ‘one flag’ in Afghanistan, namely that of the IS. The Afghan Taliban will fight hard to keep what they have in both territorial and material terms. They are at least a match for the Afghan National Army and would be a formidable foe were they ever to have to confront the IS militarily. A war of extremes? Possibly.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 1st, 2015.
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