Kabul attacks embarrassment for Taliban

Kabul attacks embarrassment for Taliban

Kabul attacks are an embarrassment for the Taliban and unsettled the plans of countries supporting it, such as China, Russia and Pakistan

Taliban fighters walk at the main entrance gate of Kabul airport in Kabul on August 28, 2021. Credit: AFP Photo

The responsibility of the two suicide bombings at Kabul airport on August 26, which resulted in the death of 13 US marines, over 100 Afghan soldiers, several Taliban and injuries to a large number of persons, has been claimed by the Islamic State Khorasan (ISK), a regional affiliate of the Islamic State (IS). That these attacks occurred despite a prior warning by the US agencies indicate diminution in the US intelligence and military capabilities and tenuous control of the Taliban fighters on the ground in Kabul, despite manning numerous checkpoints.

The US, Canada, UK, Germany, India and many other countries have condemned these terrorist acts. US President Joe Biden has vowed to hunt down the culprits and ordered drone strikes on IS's targets. There has been severe criticism of Biden's policies by both the Democrats and Republicans and by the US allies for impetuously withdrawing the US troops, closing down the Bagram airbase and reducing the US to a supplicant before the Taliban. Despite this criticism, Biden has stuck to his August 31 deadline for the US withdrawal even though the USA may not be able to evacuate everyone that it wants.

Also read: 'World has abandoned Afghanistan's new generation'

The ISK was set up in 2014 by the IS comprising Pakistani militants and fighters from the "Khorasan", a historical region comprising Central and South Asia (including Central Asian countries, parts of China, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh) and other countries. It managed to seek the support of certain Taliban elements who were unhappy with their leadership's talks with the US or were attracted to the IS's more extreme transnational ideology, which calls for the establishment of a global caliphate through a war that would kill or enslave all those who do not adhere to its extremist interpretation of Islam. The IS is opposed to the Taliban, and other Pakistan supported terror groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed as the latter have an Afghanistan based agenda or regional agenda dictated by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The ISK has accused the Taliban of abandoning jihad for a negotiated peace settlement with the US.

The ISK's strength, according to some US researchers, was about 5,000 in 2018. But many of them were killed in subsequent bombings by the US and fighting with the Taliban. Now their number is reduced to about 2,000, mainly in the provinces of Nangarhar, Nuristan, Kunar and Laghman bordering Western Pakistan. Their ranks swelled after the Taliban broke open the Pul-e-Charkhi prison in Kabul last week releasing many IS and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)militants. The current leader of the ISK is Shahab al-Muhajir.

There are reports that the Taliban's Haqqani Network and other Pakistan based terror groups have aided some IS attacks in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region between 2019-21. Beyond numerous bombings and massacres from 2016-18, the ISK failed to hold any territory in the region and now operates through covert cells near cities and prefers to carry out high profile attacks on soft targets such as Kabul airport.

The Kabul attacks have been a major embarrassment for the Taliban though it is trying to save face by saying that these took place in the US-controlled areas. These will upset the calculations and plans of many countries supporting it, such as China, Russia and Pakistan. They demonstrate that the control of the Taliban in Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan is nebulous, and despite its promises, it is yet to control the various terror groups such as the IS, TTP, Al-Qaeda, East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) proliferating on the Afghan soil.

Until it takes some firm action, China and Russia may be reluctant to recognise a Taliban government immediately. China is already unhappy with Pakistan for not being able to control the escalating attacks against its personnel in Pakistan. Given that the Taliban's priority is setting up its government, it is unlikely to immediately take effective action quickly against the IS militants.

Pakistani leaders were asking the US and European countries to engage the Taliban diplomatically and provide financial and other assistance; this is unlikely until the Taliban can show definite progress in establishing an inclusive government and respecting its people's human rights.

Many Americans, the US's allies and partners and Afghan people are angry at President Biden's botched withdrawal of the US troops. They ask why the US and its allies did not withdraw their personnel and military equipment before withdrawing troops. China and Russia are taking jibes at the US fickleness and its unreliability as a security partner.

President Biden withdrew the US troops on the premise that Afghanistan won't become a terror haven for the US. His promise carries little meaning now as jihadists in Afghanistan have already started attacking the US. Its global standing has weakened, and many people are questioning whether the USA should have left Afghanistan in this irresponsible and humiliating manner.

(Yogesh Gupta is a Former Ambassador.)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

 

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