IS in Afghanistan

Updated 20 Aug 2019


BACK-TO-BACK acts of terrorism in Afghanistan once again highlight the treacherous road that lies ahead in the war-wracked country’s quest for peace. Multiple bombings struck markets and public squares in Jalalabad on Monday, causing dozens of casualties. No one had claimed responsibility until the time of writing. On Saturday, a suicide bomber found his way into a wedding hall in Kabul packed with guests, mainly from the Shia Hazara community. In an instant, a joyous occasion became the scene of carnage: over 60 people were killed and more than 180 injured. The Afghan Taliban, who are in the midst of negotiating an agreement with the US, denounced the attack, which was claimed by the militant Islamic State group. In the chronology of horror unleashed by IS, any place where men, women and children can be found going about their daily lives — markets, educational institutes, hospitals, mosques, etc — constitutes a legitimate target.

Aside from the fact that bringing an end to this protracted war is desirable in itself, the urgency of doing so is compounded by IS ambitions in Afghanistan which are aided by a situation where various power centres remain in a state of flux. The extremist group, relieved of the financial demands involved in administering and defending its so-called caliphate in Syria and Iraq, sees Afghanistan as a potential base to attract foreign fighters. It has even managed to attract some Taliban elements who were unhappy with their leadership’s talks with the US or were drawn to IS’s more extreme, transnational ideology. Facilitated by assets of around $300m it is believed to still possess, IS now has a presence in four eastern provinces: Nangarhar, Nuristan, Kunar and Laghman. The region comprises rugged terrain with high-altitude posts from where, as the US troops found when fighting the Taliban forces, it is fiendishly difficult to dislodge combatants. For Pakistan, this constitutes a menacing development, as three of the four provinces where IS has found a foothold are contiguous with its western border. This country has already experienced the outcome of a nexus between the terror outfit and its homegrown violent extremists. When militancy was at its peak in Pakistan, groups such as the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi as well as several TTP factions had pledged allegiance to IS and jointly carried out several attacks. It is critical that the situation on the ground not allow old links to be revived and facilitate a resurgence of militancy.

Published in Dawn, August 20th, 2019