(Reuters) – Splits within the Taliban, and doubts over whether its elusive leader is even alive, are driving a growing number of militant commanders in Afghanistan and Pakistan towards Islamic State (IS) for inspiration.
Security and intelligence sources believe there are no operational links yet between IS and South Asia, and that the region is not a priority for a group that occupies areas of Syria and Iraq and is focused on the Arab world.
But regional leaders worry that a new ultra-violent movement bent on toppling governments and establishing strict Islamic rule could be born from the stubborn Taliban insurgency that carries out frequent attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In Afghanistan, one militant commander said many have turned to IS, or Daish as it is also known, because they are frustrated at the lack of leadership by Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Afghan Taliban chief who has not been seen in public for years.
“Look, we have been fighting for years but we don’t have an inch of land in our possession in Afghanistan,” said the senior commander, who spoke from the Afghan province of Kunar.
“On the other hand, Daish, within limited time, captured vast areas in Iraq and Syria and established Sharia. This is what is being discussed all the time in our circles.”
“We have serious doubts about whether he (Omar) is alive at all … Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is visible and is leading his people,” the commander said, referring to the IS leader.
He is one of several disgruntled militant leaders who belong to the so-called Khorasan chapter, an umbrella IS group covering Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and other South Asian countries.