Uzbekistan and Tajikistan Calibrate Approaches to the Taliban
On September 11, the grand mufti of Tajikistan, Saidmukarrim Abdulqoddirzoda, issued an edict calling the Taliban a “terrorist group” and declared that the Taliban’s behavior was “far from Islam.” In particular, the grand mufti focused on the Taliban’s treatment of women, including their “not being allowed to leave the house.” Only if the Taliban practiced the “basics of Islam,” according to the grand mufti, could the “whole world” recognize its state (Khovar.tj, September 11).
These comments mirror Tajikistan’s national policy to possibly provide haven for what remains of the anti-Taliban resistance in exile and to continually accuse the Taliban of “oppression” (Terrorism Monitor, September 7). However, Tajikistan’s religious position regarding the Taliban is not uniform. The Omani grand mufti, for example, immediately congratulated the Taliban after its victory and considered it the “fulfillment of God’s sincere promise” (Middle East Eye, August 16). This was despite Oman’s foreign policy being open to “normalizing” relations with Israel (The Arab Weekly, June 26).
In contrast to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan has begun to take a more neutral position regarding the Taliban, with a focus on supporting the Afghan people. Uzbekistan has, for example, offered its town of Termiz, located on the border with Afghanistan, to be used as a logistics hub for humanitarian efforts involving, among other organizations, the World Food Program (EurasiaNet, August 27). At the same time, Uzbekistan has faced pressure from the new Taliban government to return to Afghanistan nearly 600 soldiers who crossed the border in the wake of the Taliban’s conquest of Kabul, including with warplanes and helicopters. While Uzbekistan has refused to allow Afghan civilians to flee to Uzbekistan, which assuages the Taliban, any decision to provide haven to the defector soldiers would antagonize the Taliban (Eurasia Daily Monitor, September 13). Ultimately, Uzbekistan worked with international agencies to find a third-country home for the defector soldiers and sent them to the United Arab Emirates (RFE/RL, September 5; Times of India, September 13).
Meanwhile, whatever approach Tajikistan and Uzbekistan adopt toward the Taliban will require some form of Russian approval. Yet Russia has been more hesitant than other countries to openly embrace the Taliban. China, Russia, Pakistan, Qatar, Iran and Turkey were invited along with Russia to participate in the Taliban’s inauguration ceremony of its new government on September 11, but Russia decided to opt out (TASS, September 6). The Taliban itself ended up canceling the inauguration (Indiatoday.in, September 11). Russia may, therefore, support some of Tajikistan’s or Uzbekistan’s policies that run counter to the Taliban’s demands, at least as a card that Moscow itself can hold against the Taliban to win certain concessions or exert influence on Afghanistan going forward.
Islamic State in Khorasan Province Ramps up Attacks Against the Taliban and Wins Global Support
On September 20, Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP) claimed the roadside bombing of Taliban members in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, through a video released by Islamic State’s (IS) Amaq media agency (Twitter.com/@markito0170, September 20). This was one of seven ISKP claims of attacks against the Taliban in a two-day period and, ironically, indicated the Taliban was facing many of the same types of insurgent attacks that it had inflicted on U.S. and Afghan government soldiers before the Taliban’s conquest of Kabul in August 2021. Besides the Jalalabad bombing, the other strikes occurred in Kabul and Nangarhar, and all involved improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Sensing an opportunity with the rise in ISKP attacks, IS itself appears to be boosting ISKP’s profile by no longer claiming attacks in Pakistan in the name of IS in Pakistan, but rather in ISKP’s name. For example, the assassination of a Pakistani intelligence official in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province would have been claimed as IS in Pakistan previously, but it was most recently claimed as an ISKP strike (Twitter.com/@kashmiriosint, September 22). As more ISKP attacks are claimed in Afghanistan and Pakistani, and as Taliban defectors or other Salafist radicals become disaffected by the Taliban’s apparent “moderation,” ISKP’s credibility as an anti-Taliban front will increase both in South Asia and abroad.
Some trends indicate ISKP is also gaining traction internationally since the Taliban’s conquest of Kabul. Morocco, for example, reported that its Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation arrested four youths who pledged loyalty to IS (Moroccoworldnews.com, September 22). The youths, part of a group called Jamaat al-Tawhid al-Islam, were inspired by ISKP’s Kabul airport attack that killed United States soldiers and dozens of civilians, and they spread pro-IS messages to recruits on social media (Atalayar.com, September 22).
More broadly, IS—though struggling to reclaim any semblance of its “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria—shows no signs of slowing down its global operations in spite of the “setback” of having its rival, the Taliban, succeed in Afghanistan. For example, while the Taliban no longer seeks to attract foreign fighter recruits as part of its campaign to obtain international legitimacy, IS “provinces” continue to recruit globally to accelerate their capabilities. Notably, IS in Central Africa Province’s (ISCAP) Congo branch welcomed a Jordanian IS member, who trained the group in using drones before the Jordanian was arrested in September (Radiookapi.net, September 22).
Likewise, in Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau’s final speech before his death in May, he stated that Arab fighters from IS had visited the group to reconcile Shekau and Islamic State in West Africa Province’s (ISWAP) leadership. ISWAP nevertheless subsequently attempted to capture Shekau before he self-detonated a bomb to kill himself (Telegram, May 22). ISWAP then reincorporated Shekau’s fighters into its own ranks and they pledged loyalty anew to IS (Telegram, June 25).
As for Southeast Asia, Indonesian authorities have expressed concern that the Taliban’s victory and ISKP’s ongoing attacks will inspire recruits in the country and proceeded to arrest 58 Jemaah Islamiya members, from August 12 to 20, on allegations they were planning attacks ahead of Indonesian Independence Day. The Indonesian authorities, however, indicated they were counting on the Taliban to thwart any foreign fighters who would attempt to travel to Afghanistan in the aftermath of the Taliban victory (Nikkei, August 31). ISKP’s resurgence, therefore, coincides with a broader IS continuation of hostilities globally, with ISKP attack as a potential catalyst for increased IS recruitment as well as international attacks in other “provinces” outside of Afghanistan and Pakistan.