ISLAMABAD - The Islamic State Khurasan (ISK) commonly known in Afghanistan as ‘Daesh’ is trying to establish its footprint in the war-ravaged country, prompting Russia to evolve a regional action plan to tackle the looming threat.

Moscow has launched a diplomatic initiative by hosting a 13-nation conference on Afghanistan early next month to garner the support of key neighbouring countries of Afghanistan to evolve a common action plan to put a stop to the potential threat from the ISK.

The Russian diplomatic initiative comes at a time when thousands of fugitives from various Central Asian Republics (CARs), who cannot return to their home countries, were believed to have been returning Afghanistan from Syria and Iraq to remake the war-ravaged country as their safe heaven.

The Russian diplomatic initiative also runs parallel to the quadrilateral mechanism comprising Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United Sates and China to help resolve the lingering Afghan conflict for a lasting regional peace and stability.

According to security sources, nearly 7,000 Russians, Central Asians, Afghans and Chinese associated with Al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban fled into Afghanistan in 2015-2016 to escape Pakistan’s military operation Zarb-e-Azb and declared their allegiance to the ISK. Later, they joined the ISIL fighters in Syria and Iraq before started returning to Afghanistan.

“Since a large number of Russian, Central Asians and Chinese returning to Afghanistan from Syria and Iraq cannot go back to their home countries have caused alarms among neighbouring countries to evolve a common action plan,” sources said.

Daesh is believed to have been successful in establishing its operational bases in Afghanistan’s three provinces including Nangarhar, Kunar and Nooristan which border with Pakistan.

According to the sources who cited intelligence reports, a number of Al-Qaeda remnants associated with the Afghan Taliban who have been using North Waziristan Agency, a strategic region on Pak- Afghan border, sneaked into Afghanistan under the garb of Pakistani tribesmen to protest the military operation Zarb-e-Azb. From there, they managed to go to Syria and Iraq.

On the other hand, Commander of US forces in Afghanistan General John F Campbell told the Senate Armed Services Committee last month that Islamic State militants continue to “conduct brutal attacks against civilians, and directly compete with the Taliban for resources to establish a foothold in the country.” But he said the US forces have had considerable success in “degrading their capabilities” and blunting their growth.

On February 12, 2015, he told the Committee that “The possible rise of Daesh or ISIL  is a new development. Thus far, we think the presence of Daesh in Afghanistan represents more of a rebranding of a few marginalised Taliban. But we are still taking this potential threat, with its dangerous rhetoric and ideology, very, very seriously.”

According to him, a few Taliban rebranded them as ISIL. This was most likely an attempt to attract media attention, solicit greater resources, and increase recruitment. The Taliban networks are well established, and significant ideological and cultural differences exist between the movements. The Taliban have declared that they will not allow ISIL in Afghanistan.

Reports said that a small minority within Afghan Taliban had joined the ISIL fighters in Syria in 2015-2016 after they escaped Zarb-e-Azb were believed have been facilitating the return of Russians, Central Asians and Chinese to Afghanistan.

According to Russian estimates, some 5,000 to 7,000 Russians and Central Asians had joined the ISIL forces in Syria alone.Pakistan launched decisive military operation Zarb-e-Azb in 2014, reclaimed its territory and re-established its writ in FATA and border regions with Afghanistan.

Since then, Pakistan is deploying more than 200,000 troops on Pak-Afghan border and has lately started fencing its border with Afghanistan in order to prevent cross-border movement of terrorists.

Pakistan has been requesting matching steps from Afghanistan and had shared a list of 76 key leaders of the defunct Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, who fled military operations and using Afghan soil as a safe heaven. Islamabad believes that some hostile intelligence agencies were helping these terrorists in order to destabilise Pakistan.