Fighting likely between the Islamic State and Taliban in South Asia

19 June 2015


The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan released a document on social media condemning the Islamic State and criticising the policies of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.


This public denunciation indicates a growing presence of Islamic State affiliates in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.


There is a greater risk of fighting between rival Taliban- and Islamic State-backed factions in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, as the factions attempt to outdo each other.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) released in May a 91-page rebuttal of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (also known as Caliph Baghdadi), the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, via social media. Although released by the TTP, IHS sources indicate that the document reflects the position of the Afghan Taliban, as well as, most likely, the remnants of core Al Qaeda. The document represents the first public denunciation of the Islamic State by more established South Asia-based Islamic militant groups. It is also a clear indicator that the "establishment" militant groups in South Asia now consider the Islamic State a big enough threat in their region to merit such a public attack.

Since 2014, the Islamic State has been attempting to expand its outreach beyond the Middle East, establishing a presence in Southeast Asia. The Islamic State implemented an extremely successful social media campaign that saw the virtual sidelining of Al Qaeda and Ayman al-Zawahiri. And the group has also benefited from defections of commanders from the TTP, Afghan Taliban, and Kashmiri militant groups. Although it is IHS's assessment that the Islamic State is still not able to bring significant material support for its affiliates in South Asia, nonetheless, the very presence of these affiliates has meant that the Islamic State has been able to publicly establish a foothold in the region.

In India's Kashmir state, authorities have noted several instances in the past few months of Islamic State flags being planted in various cities, while a recent spate of attacks on telecom towers in the state is also most likely to have been committed by an Islamic State affiliate, since more established militant groups have denied these attacks.

In Afghanistan, local authorities reported heavy fighting between the Islamic State and Afghan Taliban factions in Nangarhar province two weeks ago, and the released document confirms that the two factions are now "in a state of war" with each other in eastern Afghanistan.

In Pakistan, several splinter factions of the TTP gave their allegiance to Caliph Baghdadi and have continued to perpetrate attacks against security forces and minority sects. In an attack on the Ismaili community in May, in which 45 people were killed, authorities claim to have found Islamic State leaflets at the scene, while a Karachi-based Islamic State affiliate called Tehreek-e-Khilafat claims to have killed 60 police officers in the past year.

Making a case against the Islamic State

The document released by the TTP goes to great lengths to rebut the accomplishments of the Islamic State and al-Baghdadi, and draws heavily upon references from Islamic history, including the life of the Prophet, to make the argument that al-Baghdadi is unworthy of being a caliph. The Taliban have criticised al-Baghdadi's inflexibility, pointing out that he has opened up too many fronts for himself. They are also critical of his unilateral declaration of a caliphate, emphasising his poor knowledge of Islam makes him unfit to be caliph. The document is also critical of Baghdadi's decision to target Shias, using this as evidence of his lack of statesmanship, pointing to Mullah Omar in contrast, who never ordered the targeting of Shias in Afghanistan. However, it is pertinent to note that religious minorities have been part of the TTP's own target pattern for some time, but the document does not address this contradiction.

Outlook and implications

The now open animosity of South Asian militant groups to the Islamic State is likely to lead to an increase in fighting between supporters of the two groups. In Afghanistan, there is an increased likelihood of fighting between Taliban and Islamic State commanders in the eastern provinces of Khost, Kunar, and Nangarhar. If, as IHS forecasts, the Afghan Taliban do move towards a peace agreement with the Kabul government, Islamic State-affiliated commanders are likely to oppose a peace settlement and will likely try to disrupt any kind of peace process.

(711 words)