London: Islamic State militants have executed three fighters accused of defecting to the Taliban as a brutal turf war escalates between the rival organizations in Afghanistan.
The killings come days after the Taliban sent a letter to IS warning them to stay out of the country, saying there was room for only “one flag, one leadership” in their fight to re-establish strict Islamist rule, a Daily Mail report said.
One video posted on pro-IS accounts shows a line of armed fighters standing behind two kneeling men who are shot dead by one of the militants with a handgun.
In a separate execution, pictures appeared to show another alleged defector being beheaded.
The groups declared war against each other in April after the Afghan Taliban branded IS’s self-declared caliphate illegitimate and refused to declare allegiance to its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
IS responded by launching recruitment drives deep into Taliban territory, allowing them to expand rapidly — even reportedly replacing the Taliban as the dominant controlling force in one district.
The warning letter from the Taliban came amid heavy fighting this week in eastern Afghanistan between the Taliban and breakaway factions who now swear allegiance to IS, which in the past year seized large swathes of Iraq and Syria.
The entry of IS, while its numbers remain small, has complicated Afghanistan’s already escalating war following the withdrawal of most foreign troops at the end of last year.
The letter addressed to Al-Baghdadi said the Taliban “based on religious brotherhood asks for your goodwill and doesn’t want to see interference in its affairs”.
The Taliban have fought to topple Afghanistan’s Western-backed government since the US-sponsored military intervention that toppled their own five-year rule in 2001.
The letter to Al-Baghdadi, signed by Taliban political committee chief Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, shows the insurgents also were worried.
“Jihad against American invaders and their slaves in Afghanistan must be under one flag, one leadership and one command,” it said.
The letter also appeared intended to dissuade other Taliban fighters considering switching sides.
Besides Arabic, it was written in Dari, Pashto and Urdu languages that are spoken in Afghanistan and Pakistan and was distributed by an official Taliban spokesperson.
The grass-roots call for peace by some residents that began as a sit-in in Afghanistan’s restive Helmand province is gathering momentum and spreading to other provinces of the country.
A car bomb explosion March 23 in the nation’s southern region, near a packed sports stadium in the provincial capital of Lashkargah, killed at least 14 people and wounded dozens more.
The attack occurred while a wrestling match was underway. The Taliban did not officially claim responsibility, but Afghan officials assigned blame to the insurgent group, saying it typically denies responsibility for attacks that kill large number of civilians.
Initially, it was viewed as just another routine terror assault that killed civilians, and it would have remained so had it not been for the residents of Helmand province, who decided they had to act.
A group of young local men began a sit-in at the capital of the province and demanded an end to violence. Later, women joined the sit-in and urged the warring sides to end the vicious cycle of violence that has been tearing through the nation.
“Stop making us widows and making us cry over the death of our children,” a woman said at the rally in Helmand last month.
The initial anti-war sit-in turned into a hunger strike after the Taliban rejected the protesters’ pleas for peace and instead warned them not to go near Taliban territory. The insurgent group instead instructed locals to conduct their protest at a nearby Afghan and NATO military base.
The strike continued for three days before religious clerics intervened and encouraged protesters to eat.
“Religious clerics considered the hunger strike to be against Islam, and they asked us to end it, promising they would go to the Taliban and discuss our demands with them,” Bacha Khan, a protester in Helmand, told VOA.
The hunger strike did end. The sit-in, however, continues, gaining momentum and rapidly expanding to other provinces.
Iqbal Khyber, an activist from Helmand and a key member of the sit-in, told VOA demands for peace would not end.
“Our sit-in will continue until we see at least two days of cease-fire between warring sides. Our long march began in Kandahar province [in southern Afghanistan] today [April 5]. We will put up the peace sit-in tents in every corner of the country,” Khyber told VOA.
“Preparations for putting peace sit-in tents in Kabul, Zabul, Paktia, Khost, Bamyan, Balkh, Kunduz, Badakhshan and Farah are already underway. We will not stop until our demand for peace is met,” he added.
Demonstrations have begun in western Herat and central Bamyan provinces, where dozens of protesters got together and expressed their solidarity with the Helmand peace sit-in.
“The call for peace is the voice of all Afghans and it cannot be attributed to a specific tribe, group or party,” Faqir Ahmad, a protester at a Herat peace sit-in tent, told VOA.
At a gathering in central Bamyan province, activists announced their backing of the Helmand sit-in.
“Today we pronounce our support for the peace and advocacy movement of our brothers in Helmand,” Ismail Zaki, a civil society activist in Bamyan, told VOA.
While at an international conference in Kabul in late February, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered unconditional peace talks with the Afghan Taliban. He advocated for the peace movement across the country.
“I welcome the campaign in Helmand and other provinces where women, elders and youth have gathered to seek peace and raise their voices against war and violence. And I hope this peaceful national movement will be strengthened and supported by the people in large numbers,” Ghani said in a Dari tweet on Wednesday.
زه په هلمند او د هېواد په نورو سیمو کې د جنګ او تاوتریخوالي په ضد د ولسي اعتراضونو چې خویندې، سپین ږیري او ځوانان په کې شامل دي او د سولې او امنیت غوښتنې لپاره یې غږ پورته کړی دی هرکلی کوم. او هیله لرم دغه سوله غوښتونکی ولسي غږ ورځ تر بلې پياوړی او د خلکو له پراخ ملاتړه برخمن شي.
The Afghan High Peace Council (HPC), a government body tasked with talking to the insurgents, also praised the initiative of Helmand residents.
“I call on Tahrek-e-Taliban, the commanders of the Taliban, the people who are living in Taliban-controlled areas, let’s end the war and embrace peace,” Karim Khalili, chairman of the HPC, told a gathering on Wednesday in southern Kandahar province.
While the Taliban initially rejected the local plea for peace, the insurgent group has since softened its stance.
A Taliban official requesting anonymity told VOA that his group is looking forward to meeting and talking with the protesters.
“It is a totally new subject for us. We are studying it and we will meet with these people and listen to their demands and will try to find out why they are making such demands from the Taliban alone,” the insurgent official told VOA.
That meeting apparently happened. According to the organizers of the sit-in, local Taliban groups in Helmand have supported their call for peace.
“Local Taliban delegations visited us, extended their support and expressed their frustration of war,” Khyber, a sit-in organizer, told VOA. VOA