The attack on a hotel in the heart of the Afghanistan’s capital Kabul on Monday is another indication of the deteriorating security situation in the country — more than a year after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan.
With the world’s attention focused on the Ukraine War, Afghanistan is all but forgotten. Yet terror strikes have continued unabated. Just earlier this month, the Pakistan embassy in Kabul was attacked in a failed attempt to kill the Pakistani head of mission.
The Taliban has failed to keep any of its commitments to the international community, whether it was keeping terrorism in check, education for girls, or forming an inclusive government. Nothing has been done so far. Instead, Afghanistan is gradually slipping into a dark world where public flogging is back, women are not allowed to travel without a male escort, and there is a ban on entry of girls to the gym. All this is reminiscent of the first Taliban rule under Mullah Omar during 1996-2001.
The international community’s worst fears of an unstable Afghanistan from where various terror outfits could launch attacks on neighbouring countries to help Islamic fighters oppose their governments seem to be gradually coming true. Once emboldened, the activities of jihadi fighters could expand to India’s Kashmir Valley, China’s Xinjiang region, and to to Russia’s Chechnya from where militants in the past have carried out major terror attacks in Moscow.
Regional powers like China, the Central Asian countries, Russia, and Iran were all eager to engage with the Taliban on security grounds. They hoped that the Taliban would ensure that Islamic outfits would be kept in check. China has concerns over the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which now calls itself the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP). It’s a Uyghur militant group that China blames for unrest in Xinjiang province, home to ethnic minority Uyghurs.
Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), the name by which the terrorist group ISIS is known in the region, was already in Afghanistan ahead of the Taliban takeover in August last year. The ISKP projects itself as a transnational jihadi group It is opposed to the Taliban and hopes to make major gains in Afghanistan. The ISKP accuses the Taliban of abandoning the jihadi ideology by making peace with the United States and betraying the cause of Muslims. It considers the Taliban as “apostates” much like they consider Shias. It poses a major challenge to the Taliban as well as to regional powers.
ISKP announced its presence soon after the Taliban took power in Kabul. The group was responsible for the suicide attack at Hamid Karzai Airport in Kabul on August 26, 2021, as evacuation of US and foreign troops was taking place. As many as 183 people, including 13 US Marines were killed in the major terror strike. While the United States quickly ordered an attack on the ISKP camp in Afghanistan soon afterwards, the Taliban could do little. Meanwhile, the ISKP continued its attacks across Afghanistan on Shia mosques, girls’ schools, hospitals, and assorted civilian targets. Taliban has so far not succeeded in countering the terror outfits. The group appears to be growing in strength day by day and gaining momentum.
The ISKP has claimed responsibility for the attack on the Kabul hotel frequented mainly by Chinese nationals. For China, which was quickly on the ball in Afghanistan after befriending the Taliban, yesterday’s attack was a reminder of the precarious situation in the country. The ETIM are in Afghanistan and may have now joined hands with the ISKP.
Chinese nationals are also coming under fire in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province where ethnic Balochis are fighting decades of exploitation of their natural resources by “outsiders” without the benefits going to the locals. Gwadar port, which is at the heart of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is located in Balochistan. Chinese engineers and workers have been attacked several times in the province.
As a transnational terror group, the ISKP in Afghanistan has, like Al Qaeda in the past, several foreign fighters in their fold. Ethnic Uyghur, Baloch, and Uzbek jihadi fighters are being trained to carry out terror strikes that could have maximum impact. Suicide bombing was earlier not used by the Central Asian militant outfits. Militants from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), Jamaat-Ansarullah, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) are all in Afghanistan. Both LET and JEM are anti-India jihadi groups. Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are concerned about the IMU and IJU.
Remnants of Al Qaeda are also trying to regroup in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda and the Taliban have close links. The Taliban gave shelter to Osama Bin Laden at great risk and finally had to be bear the brunt of US anger.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is also in Afghanistan and it’s taking aim at Pakistan’s security forces in the border areas. There has been a sharp rise of nearly 51 per cent in terror cases in Pakistan since the Taliban took control in Afghanistan. The blowback to Pakistan is becoming increasingly evident as the Taliban appears reluctant to rein in the TTP.
While the Taliban may not want to act against the TTP, it has been trying to fight the ISKP —apparently with not much success. The group's terror strikes have now spread to northern Afghanistan’s Balkh, Kunduz, Takhar, and Mazar-e-Sharif, where it was not present during Ashraf Ghani’s rule.
Unless the Taliban removes or defangs these terror outfits, Afghanistan risks once again becoming a terror hub and a danger to all of its neighbours.