August 26, 2015
Until now, the media focus has been on the Western Front, where ISIS (The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) attempts to capture further territories of Syria and Iraq. It was only a matter of time that ISIS would begin to look towards the East.
The Caliphate has no concept of borders between the various Muslim nations, especially ones that have been set up by former colonialists. During the initial phase, ISIS fighters made this clear, as they tore down the border between Iraq and Syria, verbally referring to the Sykes-Picot treaty that divided up the Middle East.
On January 26, 2015, renegade Taliban commanders swore their allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and declared that Afghanistan and Pakistan were part of the Islamic State; they proclaimed that the region constituted the Khorasan Province of the Islamic State, which referred to the historical Khorasan that included much of today’s Afghanistan as well as parts of Pakistan, Iran, and Central Asia. In reality, such declaration without power is meaningless, doing nothing more than grabbing media headlines. Likewise, the declaration of al-Baghdadi as the new Caliph went unnoticed by the Islamic World at large.
However, ISIS is slowly gaining ground in Afghanistan. The most high profile defection from the Pakistan Taliban to ISIS was Shahidullah Shahid, a former Taliban media spokesperson, but he was killed by a US drone raid in Afghanistan in July 2015, along with some of his fighters. There are also reports of small number of defections from the Taliban in Afghanistan. Most of these defections are driven by being dissatisfied with the Taliban progress, and the appeal of ISIS by their gains made in Iraq and Syria.
Afghanistan, being a deeply rooted tribal society, is largely fighting for nationalistic reasons cloaked in Islamic heritage, contrary to the ISIS ideology. With their intolerant sectarian outlook, the Hazara Shias and the traditional Sufi followers will automatically be excluded along with most of the moderate Sunni population. Hence, the recruitment drive will be difficult for ISIS; however they will attract some youngsters initially, especially as ISIS has access to greater funds and can offer better training. In the long run, like most of these groups, lacking a solid ideological appeal and a popular powerbase, will eventually fragment and get consumed by infighting.
The key question is – will ISIS bolster the Taliban or pose a challenge to them, introducing another faction to the longstanding problem?
The early signs indicate they will pose a challenge to the Taliban leadership, and a joint alliance, like that which Al-Qaeda had with the Taliban, looks unlikely. The first signs of conflict with the Taliban had already appeared, after ISIS called for unity under their banner. In response, the Taliban had issued a letter to al-Baghdadi,  warning the Islamic State to keep out of Afghanistan. It stated that “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan from a brotherhood point of religion wants your goodness and has no intention of interfering in your affairs. Reciprocally, we hope and expect the same from you.” So far in the small number of clashes that have occurred, the Taliban has had the upper hand. The recent release of the video  showing ISIS fighters executing Afghan prisoners was condemned by the Taliban as un-Islamic.
As for the regional players, Pakistan, which has always had leverage in Afghanistan through the Taliban, will also oppose the ISIS incursion into the region, not to mention that ISIS is also preparing to penetrate Pakistan and destabilise it. Iran being a Shia dominated country is an enemy of ISIS by default, and they are consulting with the Taliban to keep ISIS at bay. India, which houses a large Muslim population base and a turbulent Kashmir, will actively oppose any attempts by the ISIS incursion into the region. However, ISIS may have the ability in the near future to carry out small scale operations through its cells in the Indian subcontinent, which may ignite a bigger conflict involving regions like the already war torn Afghanistan; but while an incursion into Afghanistan is possible, it still remains highly unlikely that ISIS will gain a significant level of support in the nation.