Explained: What's ISIS Affiliate Islamic State Khorasan Province And Why Is It Fighting Taliban In Afghanistan?

The regional affiliate of terrorist group ISIS, Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), is lodged in a power tussle with the Taliban in Afghanistan. It has carried out several attacks and killed hundreds since Taliban takeover.

Islamic State militants

The Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) claimed responsibility for the attack on a Chinese hotel in Afghanistan's capital Kabul on Monday. 

Though the ISKP attack did not cause much harm, as only two hotel guests were injured, it was significant as it marked the first major attack on Chinese interests in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

The attack was also the latest in the long line of attacks, including bombings, suspected to have been carried out by ISKP in which dozens have died in recent months. The ISKP is opposed to the Taliban rule in Afghanistan and is therefore lodged in a tussle with it. 

Here we explain what's ISKP and its ideology, why is it fighting the Taliban, and how it exposes Taliban's failure to consolidate its hold on Afghanistan.

What's Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP)?

The Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) is the regional affiliate —kind of a branch— of the global terrorist group ISIS.

In ISIS parlance, ISKP and other similiar groups in other parts of the world are called "wilayah", which means a province. 

In ISIS organisation, the central leadership serves as the head of the global ISIS state that it calls the Caliphate and affiliates like ISKP are its provinces. It's provinces are named after historical regions, not present-day nation states. This is why is's "Khorasan Province" and not "Afghanistan Province" as Khorasan was historically a vast area comprising parts of Iran, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan.

Much like ISIS, ISKP was also formed when offshoots of other terror organisations converged.

Formation of ISIS in Iraq, ISKP in Afghanistan

ISIS was formed in 2005 by Abu Musal al-Zarkawi, who was previously an Al-Qaeda leader in Iraq. He left Al-Qaeda to start ISIS.

"By 2005, Al-Qaeda in Iraq was a potent force...Seeking to grow, Zarqawi merged with the Mujahideen Shura Council (MSC), a network of other jihadi groups, and the newly founded army became the Islamic State in Iraq (ISIS) — the direct precursor to ISIS," notes journalist Benjamin Hall in his book Inside ISIS: The Brutal Rise Of A Terrorist Army.

ISKP was formally formed as an ISIS province 2015 when jihadists from a number of Islamist groups in Afghanistan-Pakistan region converged.

"ISKP emerged in 2014 with the defection of Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP), Al-Qaeda, and Taliban fighters active in Afghanistan and Pakistan....In January 2015, these efforts were formalised when the Islamic State announced the formation of its 'Khorasan' province," notes Catrina Doxsee of Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Ideology of ISKP, differences with Taliban

The ISIS is a Salafist jihadist organisation and ISKP also subscribes to this ideology.

The ISIS stands for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. It's also at times called ISIL — Islamic State of Iraq and Lavent.

The Caliphate is the name of the Islamic kingdoms in early Islamic age by rulers called Caliphs. The ISIS seeks to recreate that with terrorist means.

"ISIL’s stated goal is to solidify and expand its control of territory once ruled by early Muslim caliphs and to govern through implementation of its strict interpretation of sharia. The group’s strength and expansionary agenda pose an increasing threat to US regional allies and US facilities and personnel in the Middle East as well as in the West," notes US National Counterterrorism Center.

While both ISIS —and its affiliate ISKP— and the Taliban believe in a very strict implementation of Islamic law of Sharia, there is a difference between the two organisations, the Taliban is a nationalist organisation with the objective of an Islamic state in Afghanistan called the Emirate. The ISIS, on the other hand, is a globalist organisation with the objective of establishing a global Islamic state called the Caliphate. 

Though there are deeper ideological differences between the Taliban and the ISIS, this is the main difference between the two.

As the Taliban negotiated with the United States, the ISIS rejects Taliban-rule in Afghanistan.

Asfandyar Mir of Wilson Center explains further: "ISIS-K subscribes to the Jihadi-Salafism ideology — and plays up the ‘purity’ of its anti-idolatry credentials. The Taliban, on the other hand, subscribe to an alternative Sunni Islamic sectarian school, the Hanafi madhhab, which ISIS-K regards as deficient. The two groups also differ over the role of nationalism. ISIS-K fiercely rejects it, which runs counter to the Afghan Taliban’s aims of ruling over Afghanistan."

ISKP bloody campaign in Afghanistan

Several hundreds have been killed in ISKP attacks since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. 

While bombings are the most visible ISKP actions, it's also waging quieter ethnic violence in Afghanistan.

Though opposition to Taliban is central to ISKP, it's also committed to the broader ISIS objective of harming non-believers.

"Advocating for mass-casualty attacks against civilians and states, the group [ISKP] intended to topple the Pakistani government, punish the Iranian government for being a 'vanguard' of Shias, and 'purify' Afghanistan — both by dislodging the Afghan Taliban as the main jihadi movement in Afghanistan and punishing minority groups, like the Hazaras," notes Wilson Center's Mir.


The ISIS also has a key difference with another globalist terror group Al-Qaeda. It's scope of enemies is broader.

"Although both groups advocate a violent struggle against the 'far enemy' (the West), the Islamic State also emphasizes fighting the 'near enemy' (apostates in the region). The Islamic State operates under a global offensive jihad to rid its territory of both foreign infidels—nonbelievers of Islam—and apostates and endorses violence against the local community if they object to the adherence to sharia and do not conform to Islamic State dogma. For example, ISKP has launched numerous attacks on members of Afghanistan’s Hazara Shia minority," notes Catrina of CSIS.


At least 700 Hazaras have been killed in ISKP attacks since the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, says Human Rights Watch.

Besides these killings, there have been several high-profile bombings in which ISKP has been suspected to be involved.

Dozens of people have been killed in several attacks in Afghanistan in recent months. Attacks have also taken place inside Kabul's diplomatic enclave.

On December 2, Pakistani envoy in Kabul survived an assassination attempt when gunmen targeted him inside the Pakistan embassy in Kabul.

In September, an explosion at Russian embassy in Kabul killed two people and caused another 15-20 casualties.


"Two members of the diplomatic mission were killed and there are also victims among Afghan citizens," said the Russian Foreign Ministry in a tweet at the time.

Though there have been several other attacks, the attacks at diplomatic missions highlight the Taliban failure to ensure security as embassies are based within diplomatic enclaves in national capital which are supposed to be among the most secure places in the country.

In September, a coaching centre was the site of a bombing in which at least 35 were killed, most of them young students taking preparatory exams.

In September, another attack in a mosque in Herat killed 18 people.


In August, a bomb blast in a mosque in Kabul killed 21 people and injured 33, according to BBC. The mosque's emir was also killed in the blast.

In July, two civilians were killed in a blast in Kabul International Cricket Stadium during a league match. It was said to be a hand grenade attack. Thirteen people were also wounded in the attack.

In June, ISKP took responsibility of an attack on a Sikh gurdwara in Kabul in which two people were killed. 

ISKP a challenge to Taliban

Earlier, the Taliban was lodged in a bloody war with the West-backed Kabul government in Afghanistan. 


Since taking over Kabul in August 2021, the Taliban has had no such war. Ideally, Afghanistan should have been calm as the principal warring faction had won and no challenger was in the field. To be fair, Afghanistan is relatively calm but ISKP is shattering that calmness very frequently. 

Just like the Taliban waged an insurgency against the West-backed Kabul government, the ISKP is waging the insurgency against the Taliban regime. Though the scale of ISKP challenge to the Taliban is nowhere near to the challenge that the Taliban posed to the earlier Kabul government. 

Even if not equal, it's a substantial challenge. It keeps exposing the weak hold of Taliban over Afghanistan and its failure to ensure security.