WHILE the devastation caused by the militant Islamic State group in the Middle East is all too obvious, IS has also begun to leave its bloody footprint in Afghanistan. A grim reminder of this came recently when the terrorist outfit claimed responsibility for a gruesome bombing targeting an educational centre in Kabul. At least 40 people were killed in the atrocity, most of them students studying for their exams, in a predominantly Shia neighbourhood. IS has been involved in several sectarian attacks in Afghanistan in the recent past. While there are numerous violent actors in that country, the presence of a jihadist, overtly sectarian player such as IS spells greater trouble for the region, including Pakistan. What is needed is a coordinated strategy involving all major regional actors, Kabul, the Americans in Afghanistan, as well as the Afghan Taliban, to address the threat.
According to the Russians, there are some 10,000 IS militants in Afghanistan; many of them have reportedly come from Syria and Iraq. The Russian anxiety is understandable, as the IS presence in Central Asia is a security challenge to Moscow. While a peace deal between the Kabul government and the Afghan Taliban may be far off, coordination is needed to prevent IS from establishing a firm foothold in Afghanistan. If the outfit were to find sanctuary as it did in Syria and Iraq, the consequences for this region would be devastating. Cooperation is needed between Kabul, the Afghan Taliban and the Americans who run the show in Afghanistan. Moreover, a successful strategy cannot be implemented without the involvement of regional states such as Pakistan, Iran, China, Russia and the Central Asian states. The mistake that was made in the Middle East — allowing IS to transform from a small-time terrorist outfit to a hydra-headed terror group — must not be repeated in Afghanistan. While the Afghan Taliban may have no love lost for the Kabul government, they must realise that if IS were allowed to flourish, the so-called caliphate would have no qualms about wiping out the Taliban as well. And the US-led Nato force in Afghanistan also needs to do more to dislodge IS. Considering the firepower and resources at its disposal, and the length of time it has spent in Afghanistan, it must take greater responsibility to root it out. IS is a vicious movement that shows no mercy; it must not be allowed to succeed in its aims.
Published in Dawn, August 19th, 2018