As the days and weeks pass after the departure of foreign forces from Afghanistan, it is ever clearer that the Afghan Taliban, in all of their fractious iterations, are further from being a homogenous body than they ever were — which makes meaningful dialogue with any Taliban group even more fraught with pitfalls than there already are, notwithstanding the positive beginning that seems to have been made in talks between the group and the Afghan government in Pakistan recently. The Afghan Taliban and supporters of the Islamic State (IS) are at odds, and have been battling each other in Nangarhar province with at least 80 dead, some of those, well-known figures. To further muddy the waters, the leader of the Hizb-e-Islami, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, has now advised his own supporters to take sides with the IS. It will be remembered that the Afghan Taliban recently issued a warning to the IS, telling it to stay out of Afghanistan. A warning that obviously fell on deaf ears.
The Afghan government is sufficiently concerned about the rise of the IS to have raised a force specifically to fight the group. It seems that Afghanistan is tumbling towards its default position of never-ending conflict between different tribes and groups. They are no longer held together by the unifying ‘glue’ that was made of a resolve to fight the foreign invader. With the foreign invader fast disappearing as a target option, a return to internecine warfare seems inevitable. All sides are heavily armed, duplicitous to fault and willing to change sides if there is a strategic advantage to be gained by doing so. It is in that context that the call for his own fighters to support the IS by Hekmatyar has to be seen. Another layer of confusion lies in the call by Hekmatyar for his own troops to stand with the Taliban, so long as they are fighting communists and the remnants of the group led by Ahmed Shah Masood, who was killed by al Qaeda in 2001. Sectarian issues and Iran are also being stirred into the mix and anybody who imagines that peace will come to Afghanistan any time soon in such an environment is living in a fool’s paradise.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2015.
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