On Thursday, Saeed Khosty, spokesman for the Taliban regime's Interior Ministry, told the media that IS-K (Islamic State Khorasan Province) was "not as much of a threat" in Afghanistan as reports suggest.
Khosty, instead, tried to shift focus to the Taliban's claims that they have "driven out" IS-K fighters from the east of Kabul, reportedly a stronghold of the terrorist group. Khostry said that "Talking about ISIS threats in Afghanistan is like propaganda for ISIS. This is making people confused, but the level and skills of the ISIS-K threat are not at that high level."
He perhaps sounded very much like our politicians decades back who claimed "Bangla Bhai (A Jihadi terrorist later executed in 2007) was a creation of media" during the peak of the violence wrought by the JMB in Bangladesh in the early 2000s.
However, Khosty's denial didn't survive a day as IS-K, on the very next day during Friday prayers, carried out a suicide bomb attack on a mosque in Kunduz that killed at least 50 people.
This has been the deadliest IS assault ever since the US forces left Kabul. But this was not the only attack. Just a week ago, the IS-K attacked a mosque in Kabul and killed a couple of people. Along with the airport attack while US forces were leaving Kabul, the IS-K has claimed responsibility for the deaths of a couple of hundreds of people under Taliban watch in Afghanistan.
Why then does the Taliban deny the true extent of the IS-K's existence? Why this careful attempt to hide the ferocity of the presence of this terrorist group?
The answer lies in the exposure of the Taliban's vulnerability to a group that follows almost an identical method of disrupting power, as the Taliban did for the last 20 years.
The people of Afghanistan, despite the Taliban's authoritarian system, hoped for stability as the most disruptive force took charge of security. It works as a form of bartered support for the Taliban's unprecedented grip over all of Afghanistan. This bargaining chip of the Taliban with Afghan people risks falling flat with increasing IS-K clout.
Besides, the Taliban has more at stake to fear as many among its ranks are reportedly filled by IS-K members in secret. The IS-K is reportedly taking on the Taliban inside and out. This poses an enormous risk for the Taliban as the discipline and trust of its entire force may break down.
The Taliban had conducted thousands of suicide bombings in the name of religion although Muslim scholars around the world denounced them as prohibited in Islam. So, the Taliban at the helm doesn't have the religious ground to protest the IS-K's terrorist bombings. Despite ideological differences like the Taliban subscribing to a puritanical version of the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam and the IS being an austere version of the Wahhabi/Salafi branch of Sunni Islam, both Taliban and IS are on the same page on suicide attacks. Both are responsible for murdering thousands of innocent men and women in suicide bombings.
And when it comes to asymmetric warfare, one that the Taliban fought for years, it is hard for a power to face off challenges as terrorists often have an abundance of time, and they always focus on causing maximum damage with limited resources.
To add to the Taliban's misery in their fight against the IS-K, they have failed to keep their promise to build an inclusive government in Afghanistan. They neither honoured their promise on women rights nor included other political entities in their interim government. Instead of inclusiveness, the group is reportedly infighting for greater share of power within its ranks.
Consequently, the Taliban risks losing support from sympathisers among the Afghan people. Also, with dissenting leaders and women not involved in the interim government, they do not have the necessary political support to face off such a difficult challenge. Moreover, since their own ranks are reportedly filled with the IS-K members, the group may witness chaos inside out.
Unless they truly change their behaviour, as they promised during the negotiations and the early days of the Kabul takeover, this will remain only the Taliban's fight, where its hardliners will continue to join terrorist groups like the Al Qaeda and the IS-K in pursuit of a stricter version of "sharia".
The only other option for the Taliban could be to appease its hardliners by adopting IS-style "sharia", which will also eventually deprive them of a stable government in absence of international support.
The Taliban has a long war ahead. There is no more Kabul-style blitzkrieg saving them. The polarisation of power they created instead of the inclusiveness they promised can only prolong the misery of the Afghan people as they become easy prey of terrorist groups like IS-K and Al Qaeda.