Taliban express concern over factional divides as ISIS make significant gains

Leading Taliban officials have released a statement expressing their concerns over disputes between rival jihadist factions in Syria, after the recent declaration made by ISIS (who now wish to be known as the Islamic State) on June 29th that the territory under their control in Iraq and Syria is now an Islamic caliphate, under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

In a statement posted on the Afghan Taliban website and translated by the Search for International Terrorist Entities (SITE) Group, the statement calls for a common shura (consultation) to be made between the various leaders of the jihadi groups, along with scholars and other experts in Syria in order to resolve the disputes. The statement also declared that Muslims should seek to achieve mercy and compassion with one another and to avoid extremism, as a growing culture of distrust between rival groups continues to cause further uncertainty over which direction the conflict will take.

Although ISIS is not mentioned specifically, it is clear that the Taliban are becoming increasingly concerned by the group’s recent statements of intent and advances in the region. With further gains for ISIS in Iraq ongoing, including the recent acquisition of local government buildings and police stations in Dhuluiyah, just 70km outside of Baghdad, there are murmurings that the Taliban now see this declaration as an a threat to their position.

Exactly how ISIS has been able to gain support from previous Al-Qaeda allies is a hot topic of discussion amongst experts in the region. Links have been made to how the Taliban in Afghanistan were able to accumulate support in the late 1980s and early 1990s have been made with ISIS of today, with financial wealth, strong organisation and the establishment of training camps in the region being the leading contributing factors. The fact that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is seen more as a battlefield and military tactician as opposed to an Islamic theologian like Ayman al-Zawahiri of Al-Qaeda has also been seen as a key motivator for young jihadists to join the ISIS cause. Brutal tactics including executions and crucifixions that have become widespread and seen across social media have also established a culture of fear to fight against ISIS, as well as influencing Western jihadists to join the cause.

In the past, ISIS, particularly in Iraq, struggled to make significant gains due to their strict interpretation and implementation of Islamic law that alienated local tribal groups. Now however, it appears with their skilled usage of social media and their pragmatic approach to capitalising on civil divisions, they have been able to engage with local populations and achieve far greater success. Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO of New America Foundation, attributed their success in Syria due to their anti-government stance, along with Al-Nusra, an affiliate group of Al-Qaeda. This de facto allegiance between the two is a further cause for concern and long-term stability in the region.

There have also been significant developments along the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan regarding the rise of ISIS. Other recent developments have seen divisions between the Pakistani Taliban over their stance towards the Islamic State group. A sub-group named Tahreek-e-Kilafat (The Caliphate Movement) has reportedly declared their allegiance to ISIS, with Islamic State flags being hoisted in stronghold areas close to the Afghan border. Younger members of the group have reportedly become increasingly supportive of the techniques and ideology of ISIS, and it is believed that other smaller factions across the border have announced their support for the caliphate.

Other Pakistani Taliban commanders have however expressed concerns over the possibility of angering Al-Qaeda by declaring support for the Islamic State, since Al-Qaeda is seen as the only major long-term ally against NATO troops in the region and is regarded as a rival to ISIS. Given Al-Qaeda’s history of dominance in the region over recent decades, a shift of support could lead to a major security threat to the region and a larger increase in tensions between the two groups. Pakistani military analyst Muhammad Amir Ranir has said that the defection of support from Al-Qaeda to the Islamic State by some groups has come as a surprise, but expects other factions to be inspired by their recent progress and will soon follow suit. With over 200 minor militant groups said to be located along the Afghan/Pakistani border, there is plenty of scope for ISIS to spread their ideology and attempt to gain further support. Given their control across key areas in the region allowing the transportation of weapons, jihadists and other supplies, there is an increasing uncertainty amongst military figures in the region over the potential impact this may cause in Iraq and Syria.

 By David Ahluwalia

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Categories: Middle East

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