ISIS Khorasan: Presence and Potential in the Afghanistan-Pakistan Region

By Sarah Ashraf

This report highlights the growing significance of the Islamic State in the Khorasan Province, or ISKP. It also assesses the impact the group’s rise is likely to have on the trajectory of violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and in turn, the long term prospects for peace and security in South Asia.

The report makes the following key observations:

  • At a time when the United States and NATO are paying increased attention to Afghanistan, the situation in the country is becoming more complicated, in ways that are likely to make finding a resolution to years of conflict acutely difficult.
  • ISKP emerged by attracting disaffected members of the Pakistani Taliban, known as the TTP. However, it has now bolstered its ranks with former members of the Afghan Taliban. This has enabled it to find greater favour amongst the local Afghan population, despite preaching a message of global jihad.
  • ISKP has demonstrated a far more sophisticated understanding of propaganda than the Afghan Taliban, deploying mobile radio broadcasting and social media to spread its message. In doing so it has gained traction with urban, middle-class youth, who are not conventionally drawn to militancy.
  • Pakistan can play a key role in either compelling or constraining the lure of ISKP. Thus far, the forced repatriation of Afghan refugees, and the ideological kinship demonstrated in radical Islamist quarters of Pakistan, have created a favorable environment for ISKP’s rising influence.
  • The UK and its international partners need to be alert to the staying power of ISKP and its capacity to establish long-lasting terrorist safe-havens, from which it may launch international In addition, policy-makers should pay attention to the capacity of ISKP to project a virulent extremist message into cyberspace, capable of radicalising individuals across the world, and inciting spontaneous acts of violence.

This report analyses the trajectory of contemporary Islamist insurgency in Afghanistan, with the introduction of a South Asian brand of Islamic State (ISKP), which is itself linked with Pakistan-based militant groups. It examines the impact that ISKP and its affiliates are having on the shifting pattern of Islamist conflict in the region. In doing so it draws attention to the dangers of focusing narrowly upon the Afghan Taliban, and argues that the insidious threat posed by ISKP has been underestimated. Broadly, it argues in favour of a reorientation of policy in the region, with implications for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, and the UK’s overall counter-terrorism efforts.

They report serves as a key resource for all those who are looking to explore the prospects for an enduring peace in the region. It provides an in depth analysis of the demographics that lie behind ISKP’s allure, and its various manifestations, especially its virulently sectarian takfiri ideology. It demonstrates that despite ISKP not having acquired a significant footprint within the Afghanistan-Pakistan diaspora, the challenges it presents for counter-terrorism policy-makers are significant due to the ways it may shift the nature and trajectory of violence in South Asia.

Sarah Ashraf, Teaching Associate at the London School of Economics and author of the report, said:

‘While Islamic State struggles to retain salience both in terms of territory and influence in Iraq and Syria, it is opening new fronts in other parts of the globe as part of its ‘baqiya wa tatamaddad’ (remaining and expanding) strategy.

“The emergence of Wilayat-e-Khorasan in South Asia compounds the significant challenges faced by Western policy-makers in deciphering a convoluted militant landscape in the Afghanistan and Pakistan region.

“This report provides key insights into the shifting trajectory of violence and Islamist militancy in this volatile region, by demystifying the emergence of ISKP, it divergent manifestations, and the longer-term implications for counter-terrorism efforts.”

To read the full report, click here.


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