Islamic State in Khorasan Province’s Campaign against Afghan Women

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 19 Issue: 17

(Source: Business World)

Following the Taliban’s rapid takeover of Afghanistan, local and international observers have raised concerns about the future of women in the renamed Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. While the Taliban has a known history of oppressing women, this record is showing signs of change based upon several more recent accommodating statements from the Taliban leadership (Al Jazeera, August 17; Pajhwok News, August 23). The Islamic State’s Khorasan Province (ISKP), in contrast, has emerged as a lethal threat to Afghan women by murdering several women and developing a specific ideology that justifies deliberately targeting women. Now, under a Taliban-led government in Afghanistan, ISKP is likely to continue its campaign against Afghan women as the group considers even their slightest involvement in public affairs to be un-Islamic.

ISKP’s Civilian and Women Targets

ISKP has often justified attacks against civilians as retaliation for the imprisonment of its members and government threats of extraditions. [1] Its propaganda has also repeatedly stated that democracy is an independent religion and system and that whoever embraces it is an apostate. On December 28, 2020, ISKP released a statement that explained that the group does not differentiate between the military and the civilian administration and that sometimes civilians working for the government are more culpable than soldiers, because only the former ensure the proper functioning of the whole system. [2] The ISKP sharia committee member Abu Abdulrahman Moahid, who wrote several statements for the group, has also extensively argued that civilian targets are more important than military ones and should be prioritized. [3]

Women play a central role in ISKP propaganda, both as targets of attacks and as symbols to defend. From the start of 2021 until the present, ISKP has officially claimed the targeted assassinations of six women in Afghanistan, including three journalists, one doctor, and two police members (Jihadology, March 4; Jihadology, March 11; Jihadology, April 8; Twitter/Valle_Riccardo, June 21). One of the first female targets whose death was widely reported in the media was Enikass TV journalist and civil society activist Malala Maiwand, who was shot dead in Jalalabad on December 10, 2020, along with her driver (Tolo News, December 10, 2020). While issue 265 of the Islamic State’s al-Naba newsletter briefly covered the assassination (Jihadology, December 18, 2020), ISKP extensively elaborated on the permissibility of targeting women after the group claimed the assassination of three other Enikass TV female journalists, Mursal Wahidi, Sadia Sadat, and Shahnaz Roafi, on March 2, 2021 (Dawn, March 3).

The day after their assassination, the ISKP news channel, Akhbar Wilayah Khorasan, circulated a message from ISKP spokesman Sultan Aziz Ezzam titled, “We are the People of Action.” He justified the killing of the three female journalists on the basis that the Afghan government had destroyed several ISKP villages, leading to the deaths of women and children. He also stated that women were targeted as a reaction to the Afghan government’s intention to hand over captured foreign ISKP members to their countries of origin. The assassination of Malala Maiwand and the bombing in Kabul of a bus with five doctors from Pul-e-Charkhi prison, which included two women, were also warnings both for the Afghan government and female journalists that they should not work in support of Afghan democracy (The News [Pakistan], December 23, 2020).

Shortly after this, ISKP’s sharia committee released a 33-page long booklet titled “Surely We Will Strengthen You Against Them.” It criticized the role of women in contemporary societies, including those with both non-Muslim majorities and Muslim majorities, and specifically asserted that, based on the case of Malala Maiwand, women who decide to engage in activities that support the democratic system are actively fighting against ISKP militants. Further, such women also engage in apostasy and become legitimate and mandatory targets, with ISKP threatening that other “Malalas” will follow.

The ISKP booklet is particularly hostile towards journalists, arguing that journalism is tantamount to apostasy. Female journalists are described specifically as a tactic employed by the Afghan government in its propaganda war and are considered more dangerous than men for several reasons. These reasons include the fact that women journalists send a message that men and women enjoy equal rights (as enshrined in the Afghan constitution) and help to convince other women to participate in local politics and work as lawyers, journalists, and teachers. According to the booklet, journalism in support of the Afghan republican system represents a greater blasphemy than the blasphemy of a soldier, and being a female journalist is a greater blasphemy than that of being a male journalist.

In addition to the targeting of ‘apostate’ women, ISKP media releases also frequently highlight the purity of their own women and the suffering that they had to endure, ranging from imprisonment to attacks. For example, another 30-page publication released in mid-June 2021 by ISKP’s al-Millat Media noted that ISKP members were killed regardless of whether they were militants or civilians or men or women. It accused the Afghan government of hypocrisy and alleged that it indiscriminately targeted women, and then called on ISKP militants to avenge their “martyred sisters.” [4] The issue of ISKP women being killed by the Afghan government has become a powerful propaganda theme, which ISKP frequently leverages to call for more attacks.

ISKP’s Criticisms of the Taliban’s Policies Toward Women

Now that the Taliban have gained control over almost all of Afghanistan, ISKP will likely continue its attacks on soft targets, possibly including female workers employed in the Taliban administration, media, or any other public field. In two recent statements released by ISKP’s al-Millat Media in mid-August 2021, two ISKP members lashed out against the Taliban and their behavior regarding women. In the first statement, ISKP member Khalid Umar Khaksar criticized the Taliban for their latest visit to China and stated that the Taliban is establishing relations with a country that imprisons Muslim women only because they are wearing the hijab. Khaksar further accused Taliban leaders of disrespecting women in the provinces they control in Afghanistan, and indirectly taking part in China’s genocide of Muslim women in prisons. [5]

The second statement, written by Dr. Umar Afghan, was a message to Taliban militants inviting them to join ISKP. It derided the Taliban as a secular and nationalist group that serves the interests of the U.S., China, Iran, Pakistan, and Russia, and also highlighted the Taliban’s mistreatment of women, including accusations that the Taliban had abandoned Aafia Siddiqui and betrayed other jailed women (Dawn, December 26, 2014). [6] The case of Aafia Siddiqui has also been recently featured in the first ever Urdu-language magazine of Islamic State’s Pakistan Province (ISPP), Yalghar (Terrorism Monitor, June 4).

Given that ISKP considers the Taliban a nationalistic, patriotic, and ethnic movement which will impose an anti-Islamic and secular regime, it is highly possible that ISKP will target women involved with the new Taliban-led Afghan government (Twitter/Valle_Riccardo, August 18). While the Taliban have yet to articulate or enforce new rules for female workers, it seems likely that ISKP militants will exploit the same justifications they formulated for the republican system and apply them to the changed situation in Afghanistan to target women participating in civil society. Issue 300 of al-Naba , which included an editorial dedicated to the mocking of the Taliban victory in Afghanistan, already argued that the Taliban would not apply sharia in Afghanistan (Jihadology, August 19). Therefore, the editorial concluded, both the former Ashraf Ghani government and the current Taliban government under Abdul Ghani Baradar Akhund are equally ‘apostate.’ Moreover, the fact that the Taliban have taken control of Bagram and Pul-e-Charkhi prisons where several ISKP members, including men and women, are located and now face a dark future under the Taliban’s watch may act as a catalyst for a violent ISKP reaction, as the group stresses the purity of (and need to defend) ISKP women (BBC Urdu, August 24).



[1] Two key statements from ISKP spokesman Sultan Aziz Ezzam threatened the Kabul government of retaliation on civilians, first on May 4, second on June 4.

[2] “And, by Allah, I will certainly do something against your idols” [Pashto], Sharia Committee, Akhbar Wilayah Khurasan, January 2021.

[3] A. A. Moahid, “Why Killing Civilians?” [Pashto], Al-Millat Media, July 2021.

[4] “Are you?! Civilians engaged in the implementation of democracy differ from the military”, [Pashto], Unknown, Al Millat Media, June 2021.

[5] K. U. Khaksar, “Damn the ISI government with the name of the Emirate!”, [Pashto], Al-Millat Media, August 2021.

[6] Dr. U. Afghan, “The Taliban are asleep in ignorance and are unaware of the truth!!!”, [Pashto], Al-Millat Media, August 2021.