By Sahar Akbarzai, Ehsan Popalzai and Ivana Kottasová, CNN
The Taliban has declared the Islamic State affiliate ISIS-K a corrupt “sect” and forbidden Afghans from contact with it.
“We call out to the nation that the seditious phenomenon called ISIS-K is void of today’s age and a false sect that spreads corruption in our Islamic country. It is forbidden to have any kind of help or relationship with them,” the Taliban said in a resolution on Saturday.
The resolution follows a three-day conference of religious leaders and elders in Kabul, according to Afghanistan’s state-run news agency, Bakthar.
ISIS-K (the k stands for Khorasan, the name of a historical region that covered parts of modern Afghanistan and Pakisan) has been operating in Afghanistan for the last few years.
It is a branch of ISIS — the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria — according to the Wilson Center, a non-partisan policy forum.
It has carried out numerous attacks on Afghan civilians and is thought to be responsible for thousands of deaths since its 2015 formation.
The Taliban’s resolution said that Afghanistan follows an Islamic system of rule and that “armed opposition to this system is considered rebellion and corruption.”
It added that “any kind of opposition to this Islamic ruling system, which is in conflict with Islamic Sharia and national interests, is corruption and illegal action.”
The connection between ISIS-K and its apparent parent group Islamic State is not entirely clear; the affiliates share an ideology and tactics, but the depth of their relationship with regards to organization and command and control has never been entirely established.
US intelligence officials previously told CNN that the ISIS-K membership includes “a small number of veteran jihadists from Syria and other foreign terrorist fighters,” saying that the US had identified 10 to 15 of their top operatives in Afghanistan.
Its earliest members included Pakistani militants who emerged in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province around a decade ago, many of whom had fled Pakistan and defected from other terror groups, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
Counter-terrorism analysts last year estimated its strength at around 1,500-2,000, but that number may have grown.
Calls for recognition
The Kabul gathering of 3,000 attendees — all male, according to state media — concluded on Saturday with a call on the international community to recognize Afghanistan’s Taliban-led government as legitimate.
The United States and other counties have been reluctant to recognize the Taliban following its swift takeover of the country in August 2021, just weeks after the withdrawal of US troops began.
Since then, the Taliban has imposed new restrictions on women, prohibiting them from working in most sectors and requiring them to cover their faces in public and have a male guardian for long-distance travel. Girls have been barred from returning to secondary school.
UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet warned on Friday that “women and girls in Afghanistan were experiencing the most significant and rapid roll-back in the enjoyment of their rights across the board in decades.” The World Bank has frozen projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars over the issue.
An 11-point resolution released at the end of the meeting called for the recognition and the unlocking of foreign aid, while pledging to “take valuable steps in the direction of realizing national interests and people’s welfare and preventing poverty and unemployment,” Bakthar reported.
“We call the United Nations and other international organizations, especially Islamic countries and organizations, to recognize Islamic emirate as a legitimate system, interact positively with it, remove all sanctions from Afghanistan, free the frozen funds of the Afghan nation, and promote the economic development and reconstruction of our nation,” the resolution said, according to Bakhthar.
In the resolution, the Taliban also pledged allegiance to Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, the group’s reclusive supreme leader, whom it referred to as the “leader of the people.”
In a rare speech at the gathering, Akhundzada praised the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan last year as “a source of pride for Afghans but also for Muslims all over the world.”
“Thank God, we are now an independent country. (Foreigners) should not give us their orders, it is our system, and we have our own decisions,” Akhundzada added.
Speaking to the clerics, Akhundzada reaffirmed his commitment to the implementation of Sharia law, Islam’s legal system derived from the Quran, while voicing his opposition to the “way of life of non-believers.”
The Taliban’s harsh interpretation of Sharia law when it was last in power led to scores of violent punishments, including the stoning of alleged adulterers, public executions, and amputations.
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CNN’s Hannah Ritchie contributed reporting.