Stakeholders of violence in Afghanistan

These attacks are not some snapshots in time


Imran Jan May 14, 2020
PHOTO: REUTERS

Two major terrorist attacks happened in Afghanistan on Tuesday morning. One targeted a maternity hospital in Kabul killing 13, including two newborn babies, and the other a funeral in Nangarhar, which killed at least 24. Let us have some facts and deductions for an informed opinion.

The Taliban have refused responsibility for both the attacks and have condemned them. Attacking a hospital and a funeral could either be a work of faulty intelligence when done from air or it otherwise smells of desperation and lunacy. For the last few months, especially in the wake of the peace deal between the United States and Taliban and the official recognition of Ashraf Ghani’s presidency held in abeyance, desperation has been his middle name. Lunacy? Well these terrorist attacks smells of ISIS.

Kabul is not a Taliban stronghold. The area where the hospital was attacked is a predominantly Shia community. In the same area, there was a suicide attack on a peaceful demonstration in 2016 that killed almost 100 people. The minority Shia Hazara people were the target. Then in 2018, a wrestling club was attacked killing 20. In 2019, a suicide attack at a wedding hall killed 63 Shias. All three attacks were by ISIS. As for the attack on the funeral in Nangarhar, ISIS already claimed responsibility.

In August 2019, in this very space I had written about the converging interests of ISIS and India in Afghanistan. The aim of the attacks this week is to weaken Taliban’s guarantee that they would not allow their soil to be used by foreign terrorist groups. It could potentially derail the peace deal between the US and Taliban because that is the main quid pro quo the Americans have from the Taliban in exchange for US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

It is quite flabbergasting to see that Ghani has quickly announced resuming attacks on Taliban despite the fact that not only have the Taliban denied involvement, Afghan officials have not provided the perpetrators’ identities either. But none of that matters if the purpose is not to punish the perpetrators but rather to hijack American withdrawal plans. This is an example of the spoilers Zalmay Khalilzad had alluded to. Ghani tried to kill peace and earn recognition for his presidency by refusing to release the Taliban prisoners agreed to between the Americans and the Taliban.

ISIS is vital to furthering Indian agenda in Afghanistan. The attacks draw attention to ‘what-about-ISIS?’ in Afghanistan and could potentially further weaken the Taliban’s word by hinting at possible turf wars between the Taliban and ISIS-Afghanistan, which will challenge Taliban’s ability to keep tabs on terrorist group.

I had also pointed out that India would support ISIS even if the US withdrawal becomes unavoidable because ISIS would be important shock troops for India after Ghani becomes history. And this week’s attacks are a strong testament to their value as shock troops.

Just a day before the attacks, General Abdul Jalil Bakhtawar had defected to the Taliban. He was the police chief of Farah province, making him one of the most influential men in the region. He defected after fighting deadly battles against the group for years because after giving his services to his country, which included his son’s death in the war, he was cheated by the Kabul regime led by Ghani. After being declared the winner in the election to parliament by the Independent Election Commission (IEC) of Afghanistan, he was declared a loser later on, thanks to Ghani’s shenanigans.

These attacks are not some snapshots in time. They represent a pattern. One that smells of desperation. Mothers and newborn babies were killed in this heinous act of cowardly terror. The enablers of ISIS-Afghanistan are the enemies of the Afghan people, enemies of the American people, and enemies of peace. They must be stopped.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 14th, 2020.

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