KABUL, Lawmakers in an eastern Afghan province reeling from atrocities and attacks by the Islamic State (IS) are worried over the ultra-radical group’s strength for more than a year in the face of a relentless Afghan military operation.
Lawmakers in Nangarhar’s provincial council and those representing it in the central parliament say they are concerned over the presence of IS in some of Nangarhar’s districts along its border with neighboring Pakistan.
Zabihullah Zmaray, a member of Nangarhar’s provincial council, called on Afghan security forces to do everything they can to rid his province of the IS presence.
Zmaray said IS still controls remote parts of three districts in the mountainous province.
“Our compatriots are like slaves in Daesh-controlled parts of Deh Bala, Achin, and Kot districts,” he said, referring to IS by its Arabic acronym, Daesh. “It is unacceptable that they are trying to regulate and micromanage the lives of our people while committing grave atrocities against them.”
An IS affiliate first emerged in Nangarhar in late 2014, soon after the Islamist group overran large parts of Syria and Iraq. By summer 2015, IS had established control or was present in nine out of Nangarhar’s 22 districts.
The group’s rise in Nangarhar was marked by extreme violence. It targeted civilians, rival Islamist militant factions, and security forces.
The IS atrocities forced hundreds of thousands of civilians to abandon their homes and prompted the government to support a local uprising, mobilize a ground offensive, and call in NATO air strikes.
The Taliban also targeted IS. In many cases, their rivalry proved effective in forcing IS out of some Nangarhar regions.
By June, the IS presence had shrunk to remote regions of just three districts. But IS fighters are returning to valleys and villages as Afghan forces leave them.
Lawmaker Lailuma Hakimi represents Nangarhar in the Afghan Parliament. She says Kabul’s failure in doing away with the IS presence will turn it into a major threat in eastern Afghanistan.
“Civilians are abandoning their villages and communities to move to cities because of IS’s atrocities,” she said. “An [illegal] Daesh radio station continues to spew hatred. The government needs to stop them soon.”
Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri, however, does not see the IS presence in Nangarhar as a major strategic threat.
“Our ground forces are busy mopping up operations in several Nangarhar districts while our Air Force conducts sorties against IS militants,” Waziri said.
Late last month, an influential Afghan lawmaker warned that faced with relentless offensives against its key bastions in Syria and Iraq, IS wants to establish a foothold in Afghanistan.
“Daesh is now trying to establish itself in Afghanistan by building robust bases in the eastern and northwestern provinces,” Haji Zahir Qadir, a Nangarhar lawmaker, told the Afghan Parliament on October 29.
Last year, Qadir led the anti-IS uprising in Nangarhar. He now sees IS fighters as trying to establish an IS caliphate in Afghanistan. The IS branch in Pakistan and Afghanistan has branded itself as the Khorasan Province, borrowing from an ancient geographic region that includes parts of today’s Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia.
“If IS captures the mountains of Tora Bora [in Nangarhar] then no one can prevent them from establishing the Khorasan Province here,” Qadir warned.
Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on reporting by Ebadullah Hananzi and Frishta Nida from Kabul, Afghanistan.