Indian intelligence agencies have sounded an alarm following reports of the growing presence of the ultra-conservative Islamist terrorist group Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan’s Farah and Nangarhar provinces. The intelligence agencies feel the IS attempts to establish a presence in the region pose a long-term threat to South Asia.
While Farah province borders Iran, Nangarhar province borders Pakistan. Intelligence reports indicate no less than six clashes between IS and Taliban fighters in the two provinces since April 18.
The presence of the IS in the Af-Pak region came to the fore after the group claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a bank in Jalalabad in Nangarhar province on April 18, which left 15 dead and scores wounded.
“The Indian concern is that Nangarhar province sits on the mouth of the Khyber pass, which has been the route to enter into the Indus Valley and the Gangetic plains. Also, Farah province shares borders with Shia Iran. If IS manages to spread in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, then India faces a serious security threat,” said a senior official.
Besides India, Afghanistan’s neighbours including China and Russia have taken note of the clashes between the IS and Taliban in Afghanistan. The issue is likely to be discussed when leaders meet under the umbrella of BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) at Ufa on July 9 and 10.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will also discuss the spread of the IS during his bilateral visits to five Central Asian Republics between July 6-13, which will be interspersed with his visit to the BRICS and SCO summits.
While only 16 Indian youth are known to have joined the IS in Iraq and Syria, more than 4,000 youth have joined the extremist group from Central Asian Republics, particularly Uzbekistan.
Intelligence reports say even the Pakistan Army is concerned about the spread of the IS in Afghanistan and beyond. There is a strong possibility that the issue would figure in talks between Modi and Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of the SCO summit.
Intelligence reports indicate that the IS has named the Af-Pak region as the Islamic State of Khorasan and appointed Hafiz Saeed Khan, a former Pakistan Taliban commander, as its head. His deputy, Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim, was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).