In an attempt to illustrate the differences among competing groups of Islamic radicals, the Taliban this week condemned a recent execution by ISIS militants wherein Afghan prisoners were killed using explosives. Citing the prisoners’ allegiance to the Taliban as the reason for their executions, ISIS has been infiltrating Afghanistan during a contentious transition period within the Afghan government. As ISIS continues to dominate international headlines, disaffected Taliban followers have been looking to join the group in growing numbers.
The rise of ISIS in Afghanistan comes as former Taliban fighters increasingly turn to the radical group. Following the announcement of the death of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, a large rift within the group was exposed. This rift became more apparent when Pakistan helped install their new leader, Mullah Mansoor, who many in the Taliban criticize as being too closely aligned with Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI.
ISIS is now the Taliban’s number one threat, and the recent condemnation of the executions was made to portray the Taliban as fighting an Islamic war and portray ISIS and its tactics as un-Islamic. ISIS has frequently made the news with their brutal methods of execution, using professionally shot videos depicting graphic executions by drowning, fire, and beheading, among other methods.
Yet even without the recent rise of ISIS, the Taliban was showing signs of internal stress. The announcement of Omar’s death only helped bring it to the surface, and in the process derailed peace talks with the Afghan government. Dead for more than two years at the time of the revelation, the former Taliban leader was often little more than a ghost to his followers, but senior Taliban commanders would often use his name to unite warring factions.
There is a powerful attraction for jihadists to ISIS, with both their rapid success in Iraq and Syria over the past year, and their stated objective for the creation of an Islamic state. The condemnation of the recent executions appears to be an attempt by the Taliban to regain some attention on the world stage. As Taliban followers continue to flee the group amid their recent turmoil, that appears to be increasingly improbable.