WHILE a number of violent militias and terrorist groups have been active in Afghanistan, the militant Islamic State group is emerging as one of the most savage outfits operating in that war-torn country.
On Sunday, IS claimed responsibility for an attack on a voter registration centre in Kabul’s Dasht-i-Barchi area (the terrorist group had targeted the same area during Nauroz celebrations last month) causing around 60 fatalities and injuring nearly 100. The area is inhabited mostly by members of the Shia Hazara community. In another bombing on Sunday, a roadside bomb exploded near a registration centre in Baghlan province killing six; however, the identity of the perpetrators is still uncertain.
It has been a very difficult year so far for Afghanistan; according to UN figures over 750 people have been killed or maimed in militant attacks between January and March. And while more ‘established’ actors such as the Afghan Taliban have played a major role in this violence (the militia reportedly carried out an attack in January in which over 100 people died), they have been challenged by a rising IS, which has begun to expand its footprint in the region.
Clearly, the rise of IS in Afghanistan must not be taken lightly, for unlike the Afghan Taliban, who are more nationalist, IS is an expansionist pan-Islamic concern, which wants to create a revived ‘caliphate’. While it has suffered heavy defeats in Syria and Iraq, IS appears to have regrouped amidst the lawlessness in Afghanistan. This is a development Afghanistan, Pakistan and other regional states cannot ignore, for if left to its own devices IS can cause major havoc.
Perhaps it is imperative for Islamabad, Kabul and other regional capitals to forge a sustainable counterterrorism plan to root out the group before it replicates what it did in the Levant. This may be difficult to carry out, considering the level of mistrust that currently exists between Pakistan and Afghanistan. However, both states must realise that IS is a threat to their common security.
The mistakes made by the states of the Middle East in allowing the group to grow into a monster must not be repeated here. In this regard, the US-led coalition in Afghanistan must do more to help neutralise IS, while other regional states, such as Russia, China and Iran, can also be brought on board for a broad-based counterterrorism plan. Given a vacuum to operate in, IS will only grow into a potent regional menace.
Published in Dawn, April 24th, 2018