What did ISIS-K try to achieve with its Kunduz suicide attack?
ISIS-K stated it was responsible for a suicide attack last Friday at a Shiite mosque in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz that was allegedly carried out by an ethnic Uyghur. Al Jazeera reported that the group said that “the attack targeted both Shias and the Taliban for their purported willingness to expel Uighurs to meet demands from China.” The Russian Foreign Ministry also released a statement condemning the attack for its attempted destabilization of Afghanistan during this new stage in its history.
The terrorist group therefore quite clearly sought to exacerbate Afghanistan’s sectarian divisions in order to create a wedge for undermining the Taliban’s de facto rule of the country. Considering the faith of those who were targeted, ISIS-K might also have hoped to provoke a reaction from Iran. From their perspective, the ideal one would have been if Tehran expressed concern over the Taliban’s ability to protect the Shiite community. That could have worsened mistrust between the two sides and caused wider regional divisions
ISIS-K’s modus operandi in Afghanistan appears to be the triggering of a sectarian conflict there which could worsen the Taliban’s reputation that they’ve tried so hard to reform over the past year as well as possibly lead to some level of clandestine Iranian involvement in support of its co-religionists. This Hybrid War plan is ambitious but it might not succeed, whether in full or in part. The Taliban cannot be blamed for what happened since it’s impossible to ensure perfect security at any time, let alone in a country as war-torn as Afghanistan.
The terrorists also want to signal that the country’s de facto leaders will have to pay a hefty price for their partnership with China. ISIS-K hates the People’s Republic because of its successful counter-terrorist operations against the so-called “East Turkistan Islamic Movement” (ETIM) separatists. Reports earlier indicated that both groups have ties with one another. The Taliban promised as part of its February 2020 peace deal with the US not to let Afghanistan’s territory be used to threaten any third country.
This includes China, hence why the Taliban turned against the ETIM, which partially provoked ISIS-K’s terrorist attack last Friday. Although the terrorists thought they’d worsen the Taliban’s reputation by making it seem like it’s incapable of ensuring the security of Afghan Shiites, they actually bolstered it with respect to emphasising just how serious the country’s de facto leaders are about keeping their anti-terrorist promises. The ETIM’s ISIS-K partners carried out their suicide attack as a reprisal against the Taliban for wanting to expel the separatists.
Those who might have doubted the Taliban’s anti-terrorist commitments should reconsider their stance. The Taliban is so serious about this that ISIS-K targeted it in response. The international community should provide more support to the group so that it can effectively deal with these terrorist threats. Although no country has yet to officially recognise Afghanistan’s de facto Taliban-led government, they can still share relevant intelligence with it and provide it with much-needed humanitarian support to stave off an impending crisis.
If Afghanistan continues to suffer from poverty and famine, then there might be more increasingly desperate people that ISIS-K, ETIM, and others can recruit to their terrorist causes. There will always be those who support terrorists for whatever their personal reason may be, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that some people join such groups for economic reasons. The international community should therefore do its utmost to ensure that the potential batch of terrorist recruits from Afghanistan remains at the absolute bare minimum.
As for the Taliban, it should double down on its anti-terrorist commitments in order to root out ISIS-K, ETIM, and others wherever they may be in Afghanistan. The world should also realise just how dangerous the ETIM is now that ISIS-K is now carrying out suicide attacks in solidarity with that group. This justifies China’s counter-terrorist measures that the US falsely describes as “genocide”. With these observations in mind, it can be said that ISIS-K’s latest attack actually backfired by further delegitimising its ETIM partners.