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Taliban-Islamic State skirmishes may go into high gear

April 22, 2015, 19:56 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© EPA Archive/ALI ALI

MOSCOW, April 22. /TASS/. Smoldering conflicts among various Islamist groups in Afghanistan may fare up in earnest with some dire consequences to ensue, Russian experts are warning.

The terrorist group calling itself the Islamic State and the radical movement Taliban have declared a holy war against each other, as follows from some documents obtained by Afghanistan’s security services, the chief of the Interior Ministry’s regional department in Afghanistan’s southern Helmend Province, Nabi Jan Mullahil, has said.

The current rifts followed a quarrel between the leader of the Islamic State Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the leader of the Taliban Mullah Mohammed Omar. According to the obtained correspondence Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi slammed Mullah Omar as a "fool" and "incompetent commander" unworthy of political or spiritual trust. The leaders of the Taliban have reportedly urged all of their followers to "resist" the Islamic State and to "prevent it from hoisting its flag over Afghanistan."

These two Islamic groups were at odds several times in the past. There were occasional minor clashes between their militants. For the first time IS emissaries appeared in Afghanistan’s territory last year and dissident militants have been leaving the Taliban’s ranks to defect to the IS ever since.

The Islamic State is a radical group founded in Iraq in 2006. It cropped up as a result of a merger of several extremist groups under the local chapter of Al-Qaeda. In 2013 the group severed relations with Al-Qaeda and joined the civil war in Syria as a self-styled force. In the summer of 2014 the IS established control over large territories of Syria and Iraq and also proclaimed a Caliphate with its capital in Mosul.

The Islamist movement Taliban emerged in Afghanistan in 1994. In 2003 the United Nations declared it as a terrorist organization. According to various estimates, the Islamists control up to 70% of what Afghanistan is today.

The director of the Modern Afghanistan Studies Centre, Omar Nessar, is rather skeptical about some statements by Afghan police. "But it should be noted that the standoff between the Taliban and the Islamic State developed from the very first moment IS envoys appeared in Afghanistan," he told TASS. "The Taliban at once identified the IS as a rival force. Al-Baghdadi declared himself the Caliph, while for the Taliban the sole Caliph is Mullah Omar."

Nevertheless, the expert went on to say, the Talibs preferred to avoid exacerbating the mutual tensions, because the authorities in Kabul are objectively interested in the emasculation of the Taliban through its conflict with the Islamic State.

"Of course, this is a rather risky game, but the Afghan authorities believe that the Islamic State pursues very different aims: first and foremost, the seizure of Central Asia. Afghanistan for it is just a transit country."

At times, he said, one had the impression the conflict between the IS militants and the Talibs was being fuelled artificially. Fakes were many. And the Afghan parliament several days ago discussed a message from one of the governors to the effect the Afghan security service was providing financial assistance to families of IS militants.

The exact number of IS militants in Afghanistan is unclear, Nessar said. Possibly, there may be 500 of them. All in all, there are about 6,000 foreign militants in the country, and many of them may agree to join the IS. The Taliban’s strength is far larger, 15,000-25,000 men.

It should be noted, Nessar said, that the Talibs do not consider themselves a Salafi group. "IS militants are far more radical and vicious. And in certain strata of the Muslim society there is great demand for cruelty. This explains why many have turned away from the Talibs, finding them too soft." In general, Nessar believes, the development of the conflict indicates that sooner or later it may develop into a hot phase.

Reports of conflicts between the Talibs and other radical groups inside Afghanistan arrive with amazing regularity, an adviser to the director of the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, Yelena Suponina, told TASS.

"Earlier, the Taliban was at odds with Al-Qaeda. Now the same is happening in its relations with the local chapters of the Islamic State. The struggle for cash flows from sponsors is the root cause of these conflicts," Suponina said.

Besides, the Talibs consider themselves as locals and wish to control the situation on their own, keeping outsiders away. Such conflicts between radical Islamists happened in Syria and in Iraq, Suponina recalled.

At first sight conflicts between extremists may benefit those whose task is to fight against terrorism, including the Afghan authorities. "But it is far better to avoid making stakes of this sort. Such games may prove too risky," Suponina cautioned.

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