Why are the Taliban rejecting ISIS advances in Afghanistan?

Amid an ongoing war between the Taliban and the Afghan government, the insurgent group has made it clear that it will reject any Islamic State attempts to establish itself in Afghanistan.

Rahmatullah Naikzad/AP/File
Taliban militants stand beside burnt trucks, background left, on a main highway in Ghazni, Afghanistan, west of Kabul, in 2009.

The Taliban recently announced that it would not be open to allowing Islamic State (IS) operations in Afghanistan.

The Taliban, a fundamentalist Islamic group currently at war with Afghanistan’s government, said that it would prevent IS from establishing itself in the central Asian republic, while ridiculing the militant group.

“We’ve used all reasonable chances and options for peace efforts, but apparently those people are not rational, and reconciliation and talks with them is not possible," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said via email, according to Bloomberg. Mujahed called IS “a scruffy and uncouth production of nations in the Middle East” made up of “well-known robbers and kidnappers” that does not belong in the Afghan community.

Islamic State, which maintains the majority of its activity to the west in Iraq and Syria, has seen its influence in Afghanistan grow since 2014, according to a December report by the Congressional Research Service. The analysis concluded that the country’s spreading IS establishment had allied itself with splintered Taliban factions and other militant groups throughout Afghanistan, and that the affiliate began receiving financial support from the core IS group in Iraq and Syria.

Top US officials estimate that 1,000 to 3,000 fighters are associated with IS operations in Afghanistan, possibly with the goal of expanding to territory in the north or moving into the eastern province of Nangarhar’s capital city, Jalalabad.

The US recently destroyed an IS-linked radio station in Nangarhar with airstrikes, killing 21 militants associated with the Afghanistan branch of the jihadist organization in the process. The station was reportedly set up last year after months of fighting in Nangarhar between the Taliban and the IS faction there, with the two groups being “bitterly divided over leadership and strategy.” Nangarhar also borders Pakistan, where sheltered pockets of the Taliban remain.

Although the Taliban are currently engaged in a war against the Afghan government, both sides see a need to prevent IS from gaining a firm foothold in the country.

“Daesh [IS] has really no connection with Afghanistan and does not belong to Afghanistan,” the Taliban’s Mujahed said, per Bloomberg. “If a strong central system and an Islamic administration is built up, the advances of Daesh and their recognition and embracement by our society is really not possible.”

Afghanistan’s chief executive officer Abdullah Abdullah agreed on keeping IS from the country.

“If there is one lesson in dealing with these terrorist radical groups, they are against the interest of every state,” he said said. “It’s only a matter of time before they turn against those countries which have turned a blind eye toward them.”

The rise of an IS-related group in Afghanistan comes as Taliban forces and the Afghan government expect peace talks to commence between the two sides within six months, even after efforts for discussions for peace collapsed last year.

“If there is any lesson from protracted wars, at one stage the sides will get together and talk rather than fight endlessly,” Abdullah said, according to Bloomberg, adding that he hopes the Taliban can “fight for their cause politically rather than militarily in a democratic environment.”

For its part, the United States will maintain its 9,800-troop presence in Afghanistan at least through 2016 with the support of Abdullah to combat the Taliban insurgency. US Gen. John F. Campbell referenced the strides the Taliban made over the past year in taking territory and sparking violence in a statement to a congressional committee Tuesday.

“Afghanistan is at an inflection point,” Bloomberg reported Campbell saying. “If we do not make deliberate, measured adjustments, 2016 is at risk of being no better and possibly worse than 2015.”

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