Brief n.20, March 2022

Following the collapse of the American-backed government in Afghanistan and the Taliban's rise to power, the AfPak region entered into a period of resetting the jihadist infrastructure, established over the past 20-25 years. This reset involves both traditional players in the Afghan jihadist « market », as well as new actors who want to take advantage of the current political situation in Afghanistan.

The New Model of Jihad

Regime change in Afghanistan in August 2021 set a unique precedent in South and Central Asia: for the first time a jihadist group with the status of an international terrorist organization had taken control of a state with a population of almost 40 million people. This victory and events that preceded it, had enabled the Taliban to position itself as a universal model of «victorious jihad» capable of defeating the only superpower — the United States. In the fall of 2021, the Taliban propaganda machine started to advance a new thesis according to which there are now only two «superpowers» left in the world - the United States and the Taliban, or the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan that defeated the United States.

The victory of the Taliban rehabilitated jihad as the only effective instrument of protecting the interests of the Ummah. Previously, the efficiency of jihad had been put into question by the failures of various jihadist projects, in particular the defeat of the Islamic State. The successful «Taliban-style jihad» is based on a combination of a protracted guerilla warfare and simultaneous negotiating with the enemy. Negotiations against the background of gorilla fighting that led to the 2020 Doha deal between the US and the Taliban serves as an illustration of this model. As the Taliban's victory demonstrated, «jihad for the sake of jihad» (the Islamic State model) and «negotiating without tough and consistent jihad» (various jihadist groups in Syria and a number of other countries, as well as the Gulbaddin Hekmatyar’s Islamic Party of Afghanistan project) are unable to attain victory.

The success of the Taliban has provoked several reactions in the regional jihadist community. The first reaction was to join and to emulate. Already in the summer of 2021, thousands of fighters from various armed groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan began to join the Taliban, while religious and political activists of various jihadist projects began to promote the thesis that the experience and jihadist model of the Taliban should be used outside Afghanistan – in Central Asia and elsewhere.

The second reaction was to appropriate and further develop the Taliban ideas and practices. The Islamic State - Vilayat Khorasan and similar Salafi groups in various parts of Afghanistan are trying to recruit new supporters not only using financial means, but through spreading the idea of the Islamic Emirate as an intermediate stage of the global «caliphate» - the final goal of jihad.

Given the ineffectiveness of the Taliban government in Kabul and disappointment with the Taliban leadership of certain field commanders and rank-and-file Taliban fighters in Northern Afghanistan, the IS recruitment campaign seems promising. Some experts estimate that the number of Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan has recently doubled and this is not the limit.

The third reaction is the desire to use the Taliban's Islamic Emirate to provide strategic depth for other jihadist groups. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and other Pakistani jihadist projects, as well as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, are strengthening their infrastructure in various parts of Afghanistan. Afghanistan becomes a home-base for terrorists operating outside Afghanistan, particularly in the Kashmir region. In this regard, we should note the transfer to Afghan territory of practically all suicide bombing training centers that were previously located in Pakistan, as well as the widespread practice of issuing Afghan civilian passports to foreign fighters from Al-Qaeda and other international terrorist groups, including those from the Central Asian states.

The New Hijra

In this context, it would be important to assess the possible rise of new hijra, that is a campaign of mass relocation of Muslims from other countries to Afghanistan. So far, the official Taliban authorities in Kabul have not shown any desire to encourage Muslims from other countries to make a new hijra to Afghanistan. Moreover, new rules for obtaining an entry visa to Afghanistan, defined by the Taliban, make the process somewhat complicated.1 However, there are signs that the Taliban is probing the possibility of a new hijra. Russian-speaking Taliban propagandists, including supporters of the terrorist group Katiba Imam al-Bukhari, are making a case for all «good Muslims» to move to Afghanistan. Obviously, the main obstacle for the Muslims to move to the Islamic Emirate is a difficult socio-economic situation in Afghanistan, collapsing standards of living, as well as the insufficient level of control the Taliban exercises over the country. Under such conditions, the mass movement of the new muhajirs coming from other countries, will inevitably lead to a sharp deterioration of the political situation and the rise of new threats to the Taliban government. Some of these new muhajirs could join the Islamic State and other Salafi groups in Afghanistan. At the same time, a hijra to Afghanistan is important for the Taliban regime, because, in the long run, it will serve as a proof that the Taliban project is attractive to the Islamic world.

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is now ready to transform itself into a unique international «jihad academy». The increased interest in the Taliban experience by Muslim radicals all over the world, inspires the dissemination of this experience in the form of training international Jihadist fighters, something that implies a direct threat of exporting Taliban “terrorist technology”, its “technicians” and “engineers” outside Afghanistan.

Suicide Bombers

The Taliban, and above all the Haqqani network leaders, dominant in the current Kabul government, are particularly interested in organizing istishhad 3 operations with suicide bombers. The Taliban propaganda came up with the formula “The highest expression of Islam is jihad; the highest expression of jihad is istishhad”. Emulating the Taliban practices of “victorious jihad” by the Salafi groups may lead to the rise of istishhad practices and the popularization of a shahid status among radical Islamists. In this regard, it is worth noting the attempts by some Taliban commanders associated with the Pakistani security services in Badakhshan Province of Afghanistan, to organize not only the training of Tadjik Islamists in Isishkhad practices, but also to "export" trained suicide bombers abroad. The price of one such ready-to-use istishhadi fighter in January 2022 was around $5,000.

Pakistan's intelligence services have been actively involved in the reset of jihadist projects in the AfPak region, using them to promote their influence in the region, expand them into Central Asia, as well as to set the stage for a possible aggravation of the military and political situation in the Kashmir region. Today, however, there are no guarantees that Pakistani security services will be able, at least in the medium term, to keep jihadists under their control. Since the fall of 2021, terrorist groups like Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Islamic State and others had increased their operations in Pakistan, leading to significant casualties among the Pakistani security forces.

The threat of increasing destabilization of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and especially Balochistan provinces in the coming months seems very likely. Paramilitary forces such as the Balochistan Liberation Army and the Pakistani Taliban have already begun to use the border areas of Afghanistan as their “strategic rear” against the Pakistani government forces. The events of late January and early February 2022 in Balochistan demonstrated a very limited ability of Pakistan's security apparatus to prevent major terrorist attacks. In fact, Islamabad is losing control over a large number of the jihadist groups in the region which in the past it used to advance its military and political goals in Afghanistan, the Kashmir region, and to control nationalist Pashtun and Baloch groups. The jihadist network in the AfPak region is becoming increasingly independent of its traditional operators, and this cannot but lead to increased political turbulence in the South and Central Asian region in the very near future.


  1. The new procedure for entry to Afghanistan, approved by the Taliban, requires a three-months waiting period.
  2. In this regard, it is worth noting the informal contacts between the leaders of the Taliban and the Palestinian Hamas movement, which have intensified since August 2021.
  3. The Arabic word for «martyrdom».