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ISIS or TALIBAN: Who is more powerful?4 min read

September 16, 2015 3 min read

ISIS or TALIBAN: Who is more powerful?4 min read

Reading Time: 3 minutes

In recent times, several Islamic extremist groups have made headlines for the atrocities  they’ve committed. One such prominent group which has posed a severe threat to global security is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Recently, the ISIS beheaded and hung the mutilated body of renowned Syrian archaeologist Khaled Al-Asaad, in the main square of a historic site in Palmyra when he refused to reveal the whereabouts of Palmyra’s treasures.

And while the brutal murders such as a Jordanian Pilot being burnt alive has been condemned by the Taliban, their hands are hardly clean. The Peshawar school massacre which claimed the lives of several children as well as the shooting of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai were carried out by the Taliban, making the world equally fearful of them.

While the Taliban and Al-Qaeda have sworn allegiance to each other, the ISIS is supported by extremist group Boko Haram in Nigeria. According to newspaper reports, the Taliban recently sent a letter to ISIS Chief, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi warning them to keep out of Afghanistan. Despite both the groups’ belief in the implementation of a strict Sharia (Islamic) law, both groups oppose each other and have religious differences too.

What makes them so different from each other?

The Taliban came into existence during the Soviet War and quickly occupied Afghanistan by establishing control over several provinces. They imposed a strict code of conduct that had to be followed by citizens, most of which infringed a woman’s freedom and also tried to eliminate any forms of art such as films, music and paintings.They conducted systematic massacres of civilians.
The ISIS mainly gained prominence during the Syrian Civil War in 2011.  They quickly began establishing control in several parts of Syria and Iraq. In 2014, ISIS proclaimed itself as a worldwide caliphate.

While the Taliban is mostly regionally limited, the ISIS has different goals which is more inclined towards global jihadism. Their aim is to establish a Sunni Islamic State which is led by a caliphate, a person considered as a political or religious successor to Prophet Muhammad. They believe all devout Muslims worldwide must follow the Caliph.

Initially, the Taliban mainly consisted of men attending religious institutions in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The word “talib” literally means students in the language of Pashto people, who inhabit the region. Most of the people who join the Taliban are illiterate and impoverished and mainly join with the objective of fulfilling a sense of duty or re-establishing a strict Sharia law in Afghanistan.

The Taliban continue with traditional methods in recruitment. On the other hand, the ISIS is known to use modern technology and social media as one of their primary ways to recruit jihadists. Recently, the ISIS published a bizarre online “tourist” brochure with the objective of advertising themselves. They depicted swimming, beekeepers at work and a busy sheep farmer’s market in an attempt to lure people to join the ISIS.  As a result of their social propaganda, many people have joined the organisation not because of ideology, but due to various other factors such as a better pay, grievances against the Taliban and crime.

The ISIS is a much richer organization due to various sources of funding. According to Iraqi officials, the ISIS had assets worth $2 billion after they captured the city of Mosul and looted banks. They also receive money from oil smuggling and wealthy sympathizers.

Mullah Omar, the creator of the Taliban was declared dead recently by Afghan officials. However his death still remains a mystery as there were a lot of rumours regarding his death and ill-health in recent times. He apparently died in 2013, but the cause of his death remains uncertain till date. He lost an eye during the war against the Soviets. The ancient Buddha statues in Bamiyan were destroyed on his command.
Reports about the death of ISIS leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi also surfaced this year, stating that he was killed in an air strike. However, Baghdadi broke his silence by releasing an audio clip demanding all Muslims to associate themselves with the “caliph”. His lack of public appearances has earned him the title of “the invisible sheikh”. However, his organization has managed to pull in thousands of new recruits and maintain cash and assets worth millions. It also consists of generals who used to work with former Iraq President Saddam Hussein.

While it may be difficult to say which Islamic extremist group is ultimately the most powerful or poses the greatest threat, they all are equal disruptors of global peace with different strategies and agendas. The challenges of terrorism still remains a crucial issue before world leaders that must be resolved at the earliest.

 Edited by Antara Krishnamurthy