The establishment of the Khorasan chapter of the Islamic State in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region strengthens the Islamic State's image as a phenomenon with global reach. But the new chapter's links to the Islamic State are fragile, and it owes its existence more to the fragmentation of the cross-border Taliban movement than to anything the Islamic State has done. The Khorasan chapter, like other Islamic State affiliates beyond the Syrian-Iraqi battlespace, will be met with local resistance from jihadist forces and al Qaeda who see groups friendly toward the Islamic State as a challenge to their authority.
According to The News International, the largest English-language daily in Pakistan, the Islamic State announced the creation of a Khorasan chapter in a video released Jan. 13. (Khorasan theoretically includes Iran and Central Asia, in addition to Afghanistan and Pakistan, but so far the chapter is only functioning in the latter two countries.) In the video, former Pakistani Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid announced the names of the Islamic State commanders responsible for various parts of Afghanistan and revealed the chapter's new leader, a former Pakistani Taliban figure named Saeed Khan. Lending credibility to the announcement of the group's establishment, Afghan government officials have in recent days told Afghan media of the Islamic State's growing presence in several eastern and southern provinces, saying the group is fighting both Afghan security forces and Taliban militiamen.
In response to those reports, Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi sent an email to the Afghan Islamic Press agency, denouncing the reports as propaganda put forth by Kabul and Western governments. He denied that the Islamic State's black flags were flying in several areas where the Taliban are usually active and said all the "mujahideen" were fighting under the white flag of the Taliban movement, insisting that there was no infighting within the movement.
Despite Ahmadi's claims to the contrary, there is growing evidence that elements from the Pakistani and, to a lesser extent, the Afghan Taliban, have defected. It is understandable that the Pakistani Taliban would fracture; the group has tended toward transnationalism since its inception, and more recently it has suffered significant losses and struggled with internal dissension. As groups aligned with the Islamic State grow in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in large part recruiting from the Taliban movement, we can expect jihadists in the region to fight back to retain their own influence. Eventually an intra-jihadist struggle could emerge far more intense than the one underway in Iraq and Syria, but the Islamic State will not dominate the area as it has dominated the Levant and Mesopotamia.