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USIP paper “Bourgeois Jihad” – ISKP in Afghanistan

June 9, 2020

Summary: ISKP is not predominantly a foreign set of jihadists but contains many young recruits from Kabul and nearby provinces.  They seek a pure version of Islam that the Taliban do not offer.  ISKP is an attractive radicalisation option for Afghan youth disenchanted by a war-torn, socially fragmented country, dominated by corrupt elites and western values.

The United States Institute of Peace has published a fascinating paper by Borhan Osman looking at the phenomenon of Islamic State (ISKP – Islamic State in Khorasan Province) operating in Afghanistan.  A major problem with many areas of the conflict in Afghanistan remains the difficulty of getting access to accurate and reliable information.  This applies in particular to the insurgent groups active, including the Taliban, ISKP, Haqqani Network, Al Qaeda, TTP and a host of others.  This USIP report is based on sixty-five interviews with current and former members of ISKP.

The report provides some fascinating insights, dismantles a few myths and fills in some “question mark” gaps:

  • ISKP recruits are not generally foreign imports, rather they come from young rural and urban Afghans
  • Many of these recruits are middle-class and educated.  They are not automatically Pushtun, some are Tajiks
  • Most operations take place in Kabul, Nangarhar and Kunar – Nangarhar and Achin district/Mohmand valley have important symbolic resonance for ISKP fighters fighting jihad – further targeting of Hazara/Shia is likely
  • ISKP has aspirations to control eastern and northern Afghanistan, these have been tempered somewhat after defeats in late 2019
  • The attraction to join ISKP’s Salafi jihad for young Afghans is the attraction of a “pure Islam” that even the Taliban do not offer.
  • Key contributors to radicalisation of ISKP recruits include:
    • The fragmentation of Afghanistan’s societal, religious and cultural norms after four decades of conflict
    • the corruption of existing government elites
    • the arrival of Western values after 2001
    • the post-2001 opening up of Afghanistan to ideas from around the world, including interpretations of Islam from the Middle East
One Comment leave one →
  1. June 9, 2020 4:36 pm

    Interesting. I wonder what their “pure Islam” looks like?

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