Is the Islamic State (IS, also commonly known as ISIS) obsessed with the Taliban? And if so, why? A new issue of the group’s self-published magazine, Dabiq, offers some hints as to why this is the case. Dabiq’s pages are filled with refutations of the Taliban’s ideology.
Thomas Joscelyn, in the Long Wars Journal, describes how the hostility that ISIS bears toward the Taliban stems from the fact that the Taliban draws its legitimacy not from a universal Islamic creed, but from a narrow ethnic and nationalistic base. In other words, while ISIS fights to establish a Caliphate encompassing the entire ummah (Muslim community), the Taliban merely seeks to establish an Afghan state that they claim is ruled ruled by Islamic Law. However, in an interview with the ISIS Wali (custodian) of Khorasan, a self-declared ISIS province that includes Afghanistan, the group denies that the Taliban even rule by Islamic Law at all:
Does the nationalist Taliban movement have areas of consolidation in Khurāsān? And do they rule them by Allah’s law?
The Wālī: The nationalist Taliban movement only has control of some regions of “Afghanistan,” nowhere else. As for ruling them by Allah’s law, then it does not do that. Rather, they rule by tribal customs and judge affairs in accordance with the desires and traditions of the people, traditions opposing the Islamic Sharī’ah.
Ironically, the Taliban claimed to rule by Islamic law and made much of sweeping away the tribal traditions it claimed were practiced by Afghan warlords. The 13th issue of Dabiq frequently uses the adjective “nationalist” to describe the Taliban, brandishing it as an insult. Despite its characterization of its mission as universal, this is evidence that ISIS retains a reputation of advancing Arab interests and the unlikeliness of it gaining much ground in South, Southeast, or Central Asia, despite the spread of Islamist activities in those regions.
The list of the Islamic States’ grievances against the “nationalist” Taliban are long, and most of it involves criticizing its alliances towards groups that ISIS also loathes, such as Shias and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. ISIS reserves the greatest loathing for the Shia, whom it labels as the Rafidah, or rejectors, a term considered incredibly derogatory. The 13th issue of Dabiq dedicates dozens of pages to attacking and explaining the necessity of killing Shia, going through the history of how Persia became Shia before concluding:
Initiated by a sly Jew, [the Shia] are an apostate sect drowning in worship of the dead, cursing the best companions and wives of the Prophet , spreading doubt on the very basis of the religion (the Qur’ān and the Sunnah), defaming the very honor of the Prophet , and preferring their “twelve” imāms to the prophets and even to Allah! …Thus, the Rāfidah are mushrik [polytheist] apostates who must be killed wherever they are to be found, until no Rāfidī walks on the face of earth, even if the jihād claimants despise such…
Not surprisingly, then, the Taliban are roundly condemned for believing otherwise, and the Taliban have historically not have had the best relations with the Shia minorities in Afghanistan or with the state of Iran. Afghanistan’s Taliban government nearly went to war with Iran in 1998. Dabiq attacked the Taliban for “considering the Rāfidah to be their brothers and publicly denouncing those who target the Rāfidah:”
Abdullāh al-Wazīr, the official correspondent of the nationalist Taliban media committee, said, “The Shī’ah are Muslims … Everyone who says there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger is a Muslim. The sects are many and Allah will decide between them on Judgment Day.
Dabiq goes on to criticize the “nationalist Taliban” for “defend[ing] the Rāfidī state of Iran – both its government and public,” and “condemn[ing] attacks [in Afghanistan] against their Rāfidī brothers.” ISIS also condemned the Taliban’s alliance with Pakistan, whose forces are referred to as “armies of apostasy” because they are allied with “Crusaders.” Thus, the Dabiq argument concludes:
the war between us and the Taliban carries on…the jihād against the Pakistani and Afghan armies of apostasy is continuing and is proceeding with force, by Allah’s grace, power, and strength. The mujāhidīn bravely carry on in fighting the armies of both apostate governments and their forces who have betrayed Allah, His Messenger, and the Muslims…It is upon every Muslim who wants to support the Sharī’ah to hasten in making hijrah [migration] to this wilāyah [Khorasan] or to one of the other wilāyāt of the Khilāfah, for it is their land, the land of Islam.
Though this may seem like petty factional infighting to outsiders, it cannot but be a good thing that the Islamist terror groups of much of the eastern part of the Islamic world are at odds with each other. This prevents the strengthening or consolidation of extremist ideology in Afghanistan and Pakistan since Islamist extremism discredits itself with such infighting. Moreover, it makes it possible for the Taliban to have cause to reign in their its excesses and continue to speak with the Afghan government. Additionally, Pakistan’s intelligence services may be incentivized to refrain from further entrenching extremism in the country’s northwestern regions, especially after some Islamist groups there allied with ISIS.
Finally, ISIS will have a difficult time gaining a foothold in Khorasan and subsequently other parts of Central and South Asia. In a strange way, they have brought together groups and nations as disparate as the United States, Iran, and the Taliban in the fight against them. They may be entrenched in Iraq and Syria for a while, but they certainly won’t be growing in Afghanistan and Pakistan, given the enemies they have made there with their hate for the “nationalism” of the Taliban in those countries.