On May 11, Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP) channels on Telegram shared a new magazine produced by the group’s media wing, al-Azaim Foundation. In Pashto, the title of the magazine is “Khurasan Ghag”, which is the same title as the English magazine “Voice of Khurasan”, a magazine that has regularly been published by the al-Azaim Foundation since late January (Terrorism Monitor, May 6). While the two magazines share the same name, albeit one in Pahsto and the other in English, the contents are considerably different.
The Pashto version addresses a local and regional audience rather than attempting to build international appeal for ISKP like the English “Voice of Khurasan”. Thus, it delves into different details with several articles. The most important difference between the publications is that the English version has broader reach and mainly represents ISKP propaganda for an international audience, while the Pashto version offers new, original content. In addition, it is the first ISKP magazine to be produced in a local language, similar to Islamic State in Pakistan Province (ISPP)’s “Yalghar”, whose first issue was published in Urdu in June 2021. (Terrorism Monitor, June 6, 2021).
On June 1, the second issue of Khurasan Ghag was also released. It was even more well-articulated than the first issue on May 11. This attests to the prominence of the magazine and the commitment to its development to become among the most relevant magazines of all IS provinces in South Asia.
Looking at Khurasan Ghag’s First Issue
The first issue of Khurasan Ghag was 43-pages long with articles ranging from religious to political topics. Different from Voice of Khurasan and Yalghar, which present stand-alone articles, Khurasan Ghag is divided into five sections: religious, political, literary, historical, and news of claimed attacks. The religious section featured four articles in total, three of which concern Islamic interpretation and faith while the last one was a vvitriolic attack against “polytheists.” This specifically referred to Shias and Taliban, who ISKP officials argue are working together (Twitter.com/RTA Pashto, April 23). The article ended by calling for more attacks against Shias in Khorasan (South/Central Asia).
The political section features only one article, which is mainly dedicated to the great conspiracy theory of the regional alliance against ISKP. While this is an attempt to consolidate rhetoric on the topic for ISKP, the article adds an important point to this narrative by specifically mentioning Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in the regional alliance. Referring to the recent ISKP-claimed rocket attacks, which hit an Uzbek military base in Termez, Uzbekistan, and a Tajik military base bordering the Afghan district of Khwaja Ghar, Takhar, the author promised more attacks against these countries as well as China. According to the article, the oppression of Uighur Muslims will be avenged by ISKP, including against the Taliban, which ISKP decided has become part of Uighurs’ repression (Eurasianet, April 25; Twitter.com/ValleRiccardo, May 7). The author also highlights ISKP’s capability to strike all across Afghanistan and Pakistan, and hints that the group is interested in bringing sectarian warfare to Iran.
Seven articles of different kinds are featured in the literary section. One key article is dedicated to the ISKP militant, Haji Saib Abu Anwar. He was an elderly veteran originally from Usman Khel, Logar province, who was also featured in a 2018 IS central video. (Jihadology, August 11, 2018)
Looking at Khurasan Ghag’s Second Issue
The second issue of Khurasan Ghag was 81 pages, nearly twice as long as the first issue. The structure was nevertheless the same, although it contained more detailed articles, with a focus on ISKP militants and their biographies. The political section was once again entirely dedicated to anti-Taliban propaganda, specifically to the Taliban’s softening attitude toward Shias in Afghanistan. The magazine, for example, quoted Taliban Foreign Minister Maulvi Amir Khan Mottaqi during his meeting with the chairman of the council of Shiite Ulama and other influential figures (Kabul Times, May 9). In addition, the magazine featured a lengthy article on the Taliban’s relations with the United Nations and the latter’s efforts advocate for the international recognition of the Taliban government in exchange for its rejection of Sharia.
The other sections featured an interview with an ISKP militant from Kunar, the story of a group of ISKP militants who fought in Spin Ghar, Nangarhar, and the short biography of an ISKP commander whose group was tasked with field operations and ammunition management. The interview on the ISKAP militant from Kunar provided details on the group and the background of the author, who personally knew one of the three suicide bombers who carried out the 2016 attack on the Pakistani consulate in Jalalabad. (Dawn, January 14, 2016). The author narrated the suffering of ISKP families in Nangarhar’s eastern districts of Achin, Nazyan, and Haska Meyna, as he took part in battle and was among those responsible for executing the Shinwari elders in October 2015 (The Express Tribune, October 19, 2015).
Also in the article, the author recalled the story of a group of militants called the Umar Karwan group in the mountains. They were led by Umar Karwan (Abdul Khaliq), who operated in Haska Meyna and Ishhar Shahi. Before joining ISKP, Umar Karwan was wanted by the Taliban because the former opposed local elections while the latter allowed them. He, therefore, set up his own checkpoints to challenge the local Taliban government, gangs, and warlords and became famous for executing a warlord in the middle of the village’s bazaar. When Islamic State (IS) declared its Caliphate, Umar Karwan joined ISKP and started to fight the U.S and the Taliban. As a result, ISKP emir Hafiz Saeed gifted him his own gun and Umar Karwan hosted former TTP spokesman and ISKP co-founder Sheikh Maqbool and prominent ISKP commanders from Orakzai, Jihadyar and Gul Zaman, in Mamond. Umar Karwan, however, eventually was betrayed by his best friend and succumbed to injuries from a drone strike.
Khurasan Ghag magazine is the latest development in ISKP propaganda, and is now a key media product for IS in South Asia. Together with Voice of Khurasan in English, it testifies to the group’s capability to adapt its narratives for both international and local/regional audiences. It is also a more elaborate version of its English counterpart of the same name, and pays close attention to detailing the current situation between Afghanistan and its neighbours, even exceeding the quality of the second issue of Yalghar, which covered many political and social aspects but was limited to Pakistan. (Militant Wire, December 7, 2021). The efforts employed by ISKP to maintain a high propaganda output – both in quantitative and qualitative terms – attests to the importance the group assigns to its media warfare strategy, which complements its operations.