Both sides have long lines of suicide bombers ready to die for their respective causes but experts say the Taliban will prevail as Daesh's ideology is not rooted in broader Afghan society.
Daesh-K or the so-called Islamic State recently claimed responsibility for a powerful blast outside Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport that killed at least 95 and wounded 150 others.
Daesh-K announced the establishment of its branch in Khorasan, covering parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, in January 2015. It was the first major militant group to challenge the authority of the Taliban’s leader and even warn them to pledge allegiance to the group.
Since then, Daesh-K carried out complex and small-scale attacks in major cities of Afghanistan and fought the Taliban, government and US/NATO forces in some provinces.
Daesh-K can still pose a threat to the Taliban’s rule in the country.
“There is a potential for this threat to escalate as the group is attempting to present itself as a viable alternative to those Taliban commanders and fighters who might become disillusioned with their leadership,” said Ibraheem Bahiss, a consultant at the International Crisis Group covering the insurgency in Afghanistan.
Some of the Taliban’s commanders will most likely abandon the group and may join Daesh-K because of the compromises that the Taliban leadership will need to make to establish a government with international recognition - and one that can guarantee a return of international aid.
For Taliban field commanders and fighters, it's important to hold on to the guiding principles of the Taliban's military struggle than strike deals with rivals that some could perceive as a compromise.
Daesh-K is, however, at a disadvantage because in much of Afghanistan the Hanafi ideology is far more dominant than any other school of Islamic thought and they also lack social roots in the broader Afghan society.
“Daesh-K is primarily a Salafist movement and Salafism is a minority in terms of its following in Afghanistan,” Bahiss added.
A generational clash
Dad Mohammad Nawak, a university lecturer and analyst in Kabul who has been closely following developments in recent years, believes that Daesh-K lost its social and cultural support because of the way they treated people in the eastern Nangarhar province and other areas.
“I know people who wrote in Daesh-K’s support because they shared the same mazhab (school of thought), Salafism, but later became less connected with the group.”
At least in Nangarhar, Daesh-K disrupted the traditional norms of the society that led to mushrooming disgust toward the group amongst several communites. “Daesh-K forced widowed women and young girls in Shinwari district of Nangarhar to marry their fighters,” Nawak said.
Facing an enemy in the form of the Taliban, which espouses the causes of justice and freedom by taking inspiration from the Quran, Daesh's global ambition of establishing a caliphate worldwide is likely to hit a major roadblock in Afghanistan. The Taliban has a clear goal of forming an Islamic system in Afghanistan. And they don't want anyone to meddle with their long-standing political dream.
Like Daesh, the Taliban can easily muster dozens of suicide bombers for their own cause.
The concept of martyrdom, or Shahada, is directly associated with Jihad in Islam. In fact, seeking martyrdom for peace and justice is considered the highest sacrifice for achieving one’s goal. Both Daesh-K and Taliban fighters consider their fight as a jihad and that if they die for their cause, they become martyrs.
The concept, Bahiss emphasised, does play an important role in the ideology and struggle of different movements depending on the truth of their claim to martyrdom.
“Taliban and Daesh are equally convinced that their fighters have become martyrs.”
This makes the Taliban an even more difficult opposition for Daesh-K.
In Nawak’s opinion, the Taliban are now better positioned because the group has accomplished so much and controls all of Afghanistan. The Taliban are forming a government and will rule the country following the collapse of the previous government on 15 August 2021 as President Ghani and his allies fled the country.
The idea of achieving 'martyrdom' is engraved in the hearts of Taliban fighters, which gave the armed group a major advantage over its adversaries in the past two decades of war.
The Taliban's elite fighting force, the Badri 313 Unit, is full of men who desire to die on the battlefield. The unit is named after the Battle of Badr led by Prophet Mohammad in 624 AD. The prophet's army of 313 men prevailed over 1,000 rivals.
“The first thing for becoming a member of the Badri 313 Unit is to be a martyrdom seeker,” Suhaib Saeed, a member of the unit, told TRT World. “We all want to be martyrs in the way of Allah.”
“While the Taliban were fighting on several fronts: the government forces, armed uprising, foreign troops, the group could still defeat Daesh militants in Nangarhar, Jawzjan and Zabul,” Nawak said.
“Now that they captured the country and people willingly surrendered to them and supported their development, Daesh will have no place in society.”
In 2015 and 2016, the Taliban’s special forces, then known as the Red Unit, were very effective in cracking down on Daesh-K militants in several provinces.
For now, regional experts say the Taliban might be able to degrade the networks of Daesh-K to some degree and ensure the terror group cannot carry out attacks across major cities. It will however take a while to completely eliminate the ideology of Daesh in Afghanistan.
"Perhaps, the latter (erasing the Daesh ideology) is going to be a generational clash," Bahiss said.