The Islamic State’s (IS) greater war strategy against the Taliban in Afghanistan includes a kinetic militant component geared to inflict violence on state and civilian targets paired with a media campaign purposed to delegitimize the Taliban as a governing body and discredit it as a religious authority. Regarding the latter, IS and its Afghanistan-based branch—the Islamic State Khurasan Province (ISKP)—are crafting narratives about the Taliban’s governing failures and criticizing their policies. One such emergent theme is the Taliban’s acceptance of foreign aid from states deemed by IS as enemies of Islam, with Uzbekistan being the latest example.
There has been an increased amount of attention paid to Uzbekistan in IS circles as of late, especially since the ISKP rocket attack targeting the Uzbek locality of Termez on April 18th. An Uzbek-language audio statement released under the umbrella of al-Azaim, ISKP’s official branch media network, alleged the US is conspiring with Tashkent to spread democracy in the Khurasan through the railway project set to run from Uzbekistan to the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif through Kabul to Pakistan’s Peshawar. The speaker vowed that the Islamic State would violently resist and ultimately prevent this plan from being implemented.
The notion of Uzbekistan actively asserting religiously corrosive influence in Afghanistan surfaced once again on April 30th in a statement published by the ISKP-aligned Uzbek-language Tawhid News outlet. The group denounced the Uzbekistan government’s provision of humanitarian aid to its “Taliban allies,” detailing how the “apostates who enslave their people and spread blasphemy are supporting the Taliban under the pretext of helping the Afghans.” Further, Tawhid News claims Tashkent is protecting the Taliban to use them as a proxy to fight against the Islamic State in Afghanistan.
Speaking on the strategic purpose behind the IS movement’s creeping emphasis on foreign humanitarian assistance to the new Afghan rulers, Jonathan Schroden, Director of CNA's Countering Threats and Challenges Program, told Militant Wire:
By focusing on foreign aid to the Taliban, ISKP seeks to highlight the Taliban’s shortcomings as a government. Pointing out the Taliban’s dependencies on foreign entities—especially ones that ISKP claims are “apostate” governments—serves as a complementary line of narrative to others that ISKP advances against the Taliban: that the latter are unable to secure Afghans from attack (including recent attacks from the Pakistani Air Force), unable to provide sufficient jobs and economic opportunities, and unable to provide necessary comforts of daily life (e.g., regular electricity). Foreign aid from “apostate” governments is one more failure of the Taliban to be a self-sustaining, “pure” Islamic government to which ISKP can point in its efforts to undermine Taliban legitimacy.
The core narratives on the topic are not entirely new, as the Taliban has been chided by ISKP supporters in the past for accepting aid from other states in the region. In late December 2021, for instance, there was a surge in this kind of rhetoric throughout pro-ISKP Telegram channels when news broke about the Chinese sending humanitarian aid from Xinjiang to Afghanistan by train. The Taliban was criticized for pursuing friendly relations with and “begging” for help from a country that oppresses Uyghur Muslims in “East Turkistan.”