Al-Qaida/Taliban-linked media campaign frames the Islamic State Khorasan Province or ISIS-K, which is an affiliate of the ISIS, as a foreign Tajik organization. It is to be noted that Tajikistan is the only one of the five Central Asian nations not to pursue constructive diplomatic ties with the Taliban. Dushanbe was from the very outset critical of the regime in Kabul and remained persistently vocal about the perceived threat of a spillover of unrest.
The implication has been that the Taliban is incapable of securing its frontiers and, even worse that it might be operating in league with the militant elements perpetrating occasional incursions. Sure enough, there has been a series of incidents along the southern Tajik border since August 2021, with perhaps the most notable being a rocket attack in May 2022 that was claimed by ISIS-K.
An article by Lucas Webber (cofounder and editor at militantwire.com) and Riccardo Valle (director of the terrorism research department at the Italian think tank Analytica for Intelligence and Security Studies) posted on Eurasianet’s website notes that a Taliban-aligned propaganda network operating under the brand al-Mersaad, which was launched in February 2022, describes the Tajik government as having created conditions ideal for the success of the ISIS terror group.
This outfit, which has explicitly set itself the goal of weaving the counter-narrative, reportedly positions itself as the “stronghold for ideological struggle against the seditionists (Khawarij)” – a reference to ISIS-K.
The article says content on the agency’s website, meanwhile, hints at a potential affiliation with al-Qaida, which suggests in turn that al-Mersaad may have been conceived as a joint venture between the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida.
The outlet reportedly portrayed ISIS-K as a foreign Tajik organization for whose existence the state of Tajikistan, and President Emomali Rahmon specifically, bear direct and indirect responsibility.
The ISIS-K has a notable Tajik contingent within its ranks. The organization has made a point of focusing its outreach strategy on Central Asians.
A drive to groom Tajik nationals has proven especially successful. Achievements reportedly include an official Tajik-language ISIS-K propaganda wing under its al-Azaim Foundation for Media Production, the development of targeted recruitment and fundraising efforts, the profiling of Tajik martyrs involved in many major attacks as models for other Central Asians to follow, and heightened criticism of and threats directed at President Rahmon.
The article notes that al-Mersaad saw an opportunity to leverage these trends for political gain and to try to pass off the blame for the Taliban’s lack of capacity to eliminate ISIS-K and prevent attacks inside Afghanistan and against its neighbors onto Tajikistan. In the second half of September, the group published a statement titled “Rahmonov [sic], the Motivator of ISIS”, branding him “a communist” and accusing him of creating domestic conditions wherein “Salafi-minded” and “deceived and empty-minded youth of Tajikistan” have “fallen prey to the propaganda of ISIS” and these foreign nationals have launched attacks inside Afghanistan, against its neighbors in Iran, and are abundant in the Taliban’s prisons. It concludes by encouraging Rahmon to cease being a “puppet of imperialism” and to stop sowing “seeds of discord between the brotherly nations of Afghanistan and Tajikistan.”
In late August, al-Mersaad reportedly published its most comprehensive video entirely focused on Tajikistan’s nationals who are members of ISIS-K and who have been either captured or have carried out operations in Afghanistan in the recent past.
“As al-Mersaad also reports on the Taliban’s General Directorate of Intelligence (GDI) counter-terrorism operations against ISIS-K, it has frequently provided details on the composition of ISIS-K cells, pointing out the ethnicities and nationalities of their members,” says the article. “Hence, for instance, on August 14, al-Mersaad reported the killing of two prominent ISIS-K members in Kabul, of Uzbek and Tajik nationalities, who were responsible for the planning operations and managing provinces. Similarly, on the same day, al-Mersaad reported also the arrest of an ISIS-K cell in Balkh province, where a Tajik citizen was also held.”
According to some sources, ISIS-K nearly doubled in size to more than 4,000 fighters last year during the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021.
ISIS-K is active in South Asia and Central Asia. ISIS-K has been active in Afghanistan and its area of operations includes Pakistan, Tajikistan and India where they claimed attacks, as well as Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Bangladesh and China where individuals have pledged allegiance to it. The ISIS-K and Taliban consider each other enemies
The group was created in January 2015 by disaffected Taliban in eastern Afghanistan, although its membership includes individuals from various countries notably Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and Myanmar.
Experts note that ISIS-K managed to become arguably the most brutal terrorist group in Afghanistan.
Source: Asia Plus