Alalamalislami: More than a year has passed since the official announcement about the presence of Daesh in Afghanistan and the expansion of some activities by this group in the war-wracked country during 2015, which included violent terrorist measures against ordinary people and government forces. In addition, there have been reports about bloody encounters between this terrorist group and the Taliban militants. However, there are still serious questions about the emergence of Daesh and its future outlook in Afghanistan.
By Nozar Shafiei
More than a year has passed since the official announcement about the presence of Daesh in Afghanistan and the expansion of some activities by this group in the war-wracked country during 2015, which included violent terrorist measures against ordinary people and government forces. In addition, there have been reports about bloody encounters between this terrorist group and the Taliban militants. However, there are still serious questions about the emergence of Daesh and its future outlook in Afghanistan.
Perhaps, the most important question in this regard is “what position and importance does Afghanistan’s geography have within the framework of Daesh’s long-term goals and territorial expansion strategy?”
To answer this question, we have to first see what are the nature and goals of Daesh? In other words, what general consensual propositions exist on the nature, the existential cause, and the reason behind survival of Daesh? The following propositions seem plausible in this regard:
1. Daesh is a product of the power void and collapse of the regional order in the Middle East, especially in the security subregion of the Levant. This power void has three political, security and military dimensions and is a result of the weakness of governments, consequences of the Islamic Awakening, and withdrawal of American forces from Iraq and Afghanistan.
2. Daesh takes advantage of historical yearning in the collective mentality of the Salafist community within Sunni Muslims, which seeks the revival of the past caliphate in the modern times, and the group is riding the tide of that mentality.
3. Daesh has banked on a certain psychological damage in the Islamic society or within Muslims. This damage is, in turn, the result of aggression and occupationism as well as humiliation and suppression of the Eastern societies and Muslims in general by colonialist and exploiting powers throughout history, and has a very high potential to incite a sense of revenge and vengeance, especially among the young people in these societies.
4. Daesh is a product of the way that modern terrorism has been managed and countered by the West, topped by the United States, following terrorist attacks in New York on September 11, 2001. In fact, infiltration by Western intelligence and security services into terrorist groups, such as al-Qaeda, and their effort to build new currents with the goal of “managing regional unrest and chaos,” has been part of the new regional strategy of the West, which has been very effective in giving birth to Daesh.
5. Daesh avails itself of two general problems in the region and feeds on them in order to survive. The first problem is existence of ethnic and religious differences, especially between Shias and Sunnis, while the second problem is manufactured nature of nation-states in the region and artificial borders among them. For this reason, Daesh believes that the existing governments in the region are products of the Sykes-Picot Agreement and, as such, considers them as illegitimate.
All told, Daesh is not similar to al-Qaeda, which would suffice to carrying out assassinations and guerrilla warfare in various regions, but expansion of territory and conquering land are among the most fundamental principles of this terrorist group. However, when it comes to territorial expansion, the group follows the following propositions:
1. The self-proclaimed caliphate of Daesh is currently based in geographical expanse of the Middle East and limited to it. Of course, in a map that has been allegedly released by Daesh, the geographical expanse of the group’s caliphate spans to Spain in the west and to India and even China in the east, all of which are considered as parts of the Daesh caliphate.
2. In order to recruit its needed manpower, Daesh was originally dependent on the countries in the Middle East as well as the Western states. However, it has been showing a change in this regard after it turned to such potential sources of manpower as China’s Xinjiang province, Caucasus, Afghanistan and Central Asia.
3. In a gradual, but incessant, manner, Daesh is turning into a long-lasting actor in the region. Part of this process is being carried out through network building and establishing contacts with other Takfiri and even ethnic groups in the region. In this way, Daesh is gradually and incessantly making a web around the Middle East by increasing its contacts with certain groups in Caucasus, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other regions.
4. To promote its final plan, Daesh has offered secondary plans to unite militant forces in Pakistan and Afghanistan, along with the Taliban, as a single army and, at the same time, has been asking al-Qaeda to join its ranks in order to establish a single Islamic caliphate.
According to aforesaid propositions, it seems that Afghanistan has not been defined as a “final goal” for Daesh, but the main goal of Daesh is to turn parts of Afghanistan’s territory into a “center for secondary spread” of the group in which case, next destinations for spread and transfer of Daesh’s activities will be peripheral regions of Afghanistan, that is, eastern border regions of Iran, Central Asia (Russia), and China’s Xinjiang Province. Therefore, spread of the Daesh phenomenon in Afghanistan is possibly not tantamount to extension of their “caliphate” to Afghanistan and the rule of Daesh over Afghanistan, but more probably, this country is going to play the role of a “launch pad” and “passage” in the general strategies of Daesh and its supporters.
In fact, in the Daesh strategy, the realm of the Islamic caliphate is defined within a specific geographical expanse. Daesh in Afghanistan is currently considered as one of the regional and foreign branches of Daesh, whose leadership has pledged fealty to the main leaders of Daesh. Daesh has also claimed that the Greater Khorasan region is the eastern part of its Islamic caliphate. The Greater Khorasan starts from Central Asia and includes parts of China, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and the northern part of India. These regions are the same parts which were considered as the eastern caliphate in history under the rule of Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties. In this regard, Daesh has set its sights on three regions in Afghanistan. The first one of these regions is the northeastern part of Afghanistan, which borders Fergana valley, China’s Xinjiang Province and Central Asia (including such countries as Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan).
The second region includes Afghanistan’s Farah and Helmand regions as well as the southern part of the country, which borders Iran. Therefore, Daesh is trying to be present in Helmand – where 90 percent of Afghanistan’s opium is produced – and consolidate its domination over this region. In fact, domination over this region can ensure a secure source of revenue for Daesh. Therefore, Daesh considers this region as one of its strategic goals.
The third region is the eastern region, which stands between Pakistan’s border regions and Afghanistan’s Khost and Nuristan provinces, which is a mountainous region and is connected to Pakistan’s North Waziristan region. Local groups, the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other groups like Uyghurs, Uzbeks, Tajiks and some subgroups of al-Qaeda are present in this region.