A SERIES of drone strikes in Afghanistan over the past few days have killed large groups of militants belong to the self-styled Islamic State; reportedly, some high-ranking Pakistani fighters formerly associated with the banned TTP were among the casualties. It was reported on Sunday, quoting NDS, the Afghan intelligence agency, that Hafiz Saeed Khan, the head of IS in ‘Khorasan’, as the Pakistan-Afghanistan region has been dubbed by the so-called caliphate, was among 30 fighters killed in Nangarhar province. However, on Monday, IS claimed Saeed was alive and released a purported audio recording of the militant. Such situations are not unusual in war zones; in the past militants have emerged hale and hearty after the reported news of their deaths broke. Only solid proof in the days to come will establish whether Saeed is indeed alive or dead. In another drone strike last week, Shahidullah Shahid was reportedly killed. For long, the militant had been the ‘voice’ of the banned TTP, serving as the terrorist group’s chief spokesman, until he shifted allegiance to IS last year.
The reported drone strikes are perhaps the first clear indication that IS is organising itself in Afghanistan, particularly in Nangarhar, which borders Pakistan. They also indicate that Pakistani militants are trying to convince their Afghan counterparts to adopt a more pan-Islamist stance by joining the ranks of IS. For traditionally, Afghan fighters — from the Mujahideen down to the Taliban — have had a nationalist orientation, taking up arms to drive out foreigners from their country. The timing of the drone strikes is also significant. They came around the time when the Kabul government and the Taliban were talking peace in Murree. This could be another sweetener to push forward the Afghan reconciliation process as both Kabul and the Taliban have a common enemy in the shape of IS. Should IS try and increase its footprint in Afghanistan, it will undoubtedly create problems for the Taliban as the former tries and wins over foot soldiers to fight for the ‘caliphate’. In fact, it has been reported that the Taliban had written to ‘caliph’ Baghdadi basically warning him to stay out of Afghanistan. One thing is for sure: if IS were to consolidate itself in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area, it would create additional problems for the governments in Kabul and Islamabad, which is why it is imperative for both capitals to work closely against this potential threat.
Published in Dawn ,July 14th, 2015