On December 2, multiple gunmen attacked Pakistani Chargé d’Affaires Ubaid-ur-Rehman Nizamani in Kabul. Nizamani was walking inside the embassy compound when militants in a nearby building fired upon him. The assassination attempt ultimately failed; however, one of the accompanying bodyguards was reportedly shot in the chest and both legs.
The Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack targeting “the Murtadd Pakistani Ambassador and his Guards,” saying two “Khilafah soldiers” shot at them using medium-range weapons and sniper rifles. Days later, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid announced the arrest of “a foreign country national and a member of Daesh [the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State]” allegedly involved in the shooting.
Islamic State Khorasan’s Grievances With and War Against Pakistan
The Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) is a transnational network that largely grew out of Pakistan and violently expanded its operational footprint into Afghanistan. The group is now Afghan-centric but remains active in parts of Pakistan. ISKP’s wars against the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban governments are comprised of interconnected kinetic insurgent campaigns and media warfare efforts.
In the propaganda space, much of the group’s energy has been directed at attacking the Taliban since they returned to power in August 2021, yet the group has remained highly bellicose in its efforts to malign Islamabad too. ISKP views the Taliban as a kind of vector for Pakistan to spread its influence, accusing the new government of “working hard to implement the Pakistani version of Islam designed by ISI and CIA in US intelligence headquarters of Qatar.”
Just days after the attack on Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul, ISKP’s Al-Azaim Foundation for Media Production released a video entirely focused on criticizing and threatening the Pakistani government for its moral corruption, religious degradation, domestic policies, and foreign relations. Notably, the 18-minute video, titled “To the Muslims in the Land of Muhammad bin Qasim,” is in English and aimed at a broad international audience.
The production is significant as it is the first time ISKP released an English language video focused primarily on Pakistan. It provides a succinct summation of the core anti-Pakistan propaganda narratives the group has developed over the past few years. Additionally, the video is, in part, a gesture recognizing the valuable contributions of ISKP’s Pakistani contingent and the movement’s supporters. The central thrust of the video is that the Pakistani “regime” and its security forces are persecuting, killing, imprisoning, and displacing countless “Muslim brothers and sisters.”
ISKP accuses the Pakistani state of lining its pockets and being derelict on India and the Kashmir issue; it also portrays the government as a historical “puppet” of the British Empire and now the great power enemies of Islam — the United States, China, and Russia. The narrator scorns Pakistan as a nefarious state selling its people out to the U.S. and China while being liberal and tolerant of Christians, Jews, Hindus, and “other deviant sects … to the extent that they are inching towards legitimizing homosexuality.” Furthermore, ISKP criticizes the state for abandoning Islam and instead embracing “nationalism, patriotism, and secularism.”
In the aftermath of 9/11, the Islamic State says, the U.S.-led War on Terror provided a “pretense” for Pakistan to intensify its own “war on Islam.” The group even goes so far as to suggest the current trajectory of government policy will produce a level of oppression comparable to that of the “Chinese tyrants cracking down on Islam and the Muslims.” Evidence presented of such preparations being made includes Islamabad’s growing ties with Beijing, the Belt and Road Initiative, and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). For an alternate glimpse of the coming future, ISKP points to the examples of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, where “Islam is now treated as a crime,” also calling these countries “slaves” of Russia.
The video concludes with a call for Muslims in Pakistan to join IS in its fight against the government, as the only way to prevent the described hellscape of a future is by toppling the state and establishing Shariah. ISKP presents itself as the true militant vanguard of Islam and denounces Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and the Afghan Taliban as Pakistan-controlled. The glaring omission here is the Pakistani Taliban – a network from which founding members of ISKP came, one they are generally less critical of and try to recruit from.
The very end of the production celebrates ISKP martyrs who conducted notable attacks against sectarian and military targets in Pakistan, implying that Pakistani Muslims should follow these men as examples.
ISKP Attacks on Pakistani and International Targets in and from Afghanistan
As evidenced by ISKP’s recent attack on the Pakistani embassy, the group’s war with Islamabad transcends borders and has periodically spilled into Afghanistan. Embassies, consulates, and diplomatic missions are highly desired targets for ISKP, as they tend to generate lots of international media attention.
In January 2016, the Islamic State claimed a suicide bombing against the Pakistani consulate in the city of Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan. IS said three militants wearing suicide vests detonated explosives and killed “several Pakistani intelligence officers” as well as dozens of other people.
During 2021, there were multiple attacks on diplomatic targets in Jalalabad, including the July assassination of a Pakistani consulate member and a series of bombings near the Indian consulate that killed several Taliban. And shortly after the August 26, 2021, Kabul airport suicide bombing that caused mass casualties, two Pakistani nationals were reportedly arrested in possession of an explosive device at the Turkmenistan embassy in Kabul.
More recently, on September 5, 2022, an ISKP suicide bomber hit the Russian embassy, killing two Russian embassy staff and at least six others.
In the wake of the Russian embassy bombing, the Islamic State published an editorial in its official al-Naba weekly newsletter titled “The Emirate of Embassies!” in which it criticized the Taliban’s ties with countries perceived as enemies of Islam, including the hosting of their diplomats. The article described embassies and consulates as “nests of spies and coordination centers of their war on Islam” and doubled down, vowing to continue targeting them.
Notably, IS pointed out that after the attack on the Russian embassy, “anxiety dominated the statements of the Taliban leaders” and they “feared that their relationship with Russia would deteriorate.” The author(s) boasts about their bombing of U.S. forces at the Kabul airport, indicating that striking such international targets and sabotaging the Taliban’s relations with foreign nations is a strategy they will continue pursuing.
On a branch level, the ISKP’s Al Azaim Foundation for Media Production amplified the al-Naba editorial by releasing an image criticizing the Taliban for pursuing relations with India, China, and Iran.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed last week’s attack on Pakistan’s embassy was intended “to create distrust between the two brotherly countries.” This is actually a fairly accurate assessment given ISKP’s clearly stated strategy of hitting international targets to undermine the foreign relations of the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and hamper its moves in the international political arena.
Just as shaking external confidence in the Taliban’s ability to secure its borders was an aim of the rocket attacks on Uzbekistan in April and Tajikistan in May, the operations against the Russian and Pakistani embassies were aimed at exposing the Taliban’s inability to even protect foreign diplomats in the nation’s own capital city. Two successful attacks against embassies in Kabul in relatively short succession is extremely humiliating.
As a transnational organization, ISKP’s attack on Pakistan’s embassy inside Taliban territory is a way to harm its two primary battlefield enemies at once. The Islamic State has pledged to continue aggressively targeting diplomatic missions and other foreign interests. The Taliban are facing a dire humanitarian crisis and deep economic woes, and these attacks are purposed to sow further doubt. Knowing the challenges faced by the Taliban government, ISKP has threatened to attack humanitarian organizations and foreign commercial interests in Afghanistan. This is of course designed to generate a chilling effect and deter outside help that may strengthen the Taliban’s position.
ISKP is likely to continue attacking interests on Afghan soil belonging to a range of countries and possibly new targets such as China and Iran. ISKP’s strategy of guerrilla tactics and urban terrorism is reflected in the recently released photos pledging allegiance to the new IS leader. ISKP published photos of small cells scattered throughout the region – this allows for tighter operational security and enables a strategy of hit-and-run tactics, assassinations, ambushes, and suicide bombings. This approach also has its limitations, and using these cells to hit embassies or foreign nationals gives ISKP the most bang for its buck in creating problems for the Taliban and drawing media attention to the Islamic State and its mission.