AS a final peace deal between the Afghan Taliban and the Americans has yet to be clinched, the chaos in Afghanistan — and the ungoverned spaces that are created due to it — has given sanctuary to a new breed of even more violent actors. The US-backed government in Kabul has a tenuous hold on governance, which means areas not under state control are either run by the Taliban, or elements associated with the militant Islamic State group. The brutal killing of a Japanese doctor in the eastern city of Jalalabad, along with five Afghans, shows that unless a comprehensive peace deal is signed soon, territories outside the remit of both Kabul and the Taliban will be used by terrorist groups to wreak havoc. Tetsu Nakamura — the slain doctor and aid worker — had worked to help Afghanistan’s long-suffering people since the 1980s; he was earlier based out of Peshawar and inside Afghanistan itself. The Taliban, who are no strangers to violence, denied any role in the doctor’s killing, saying they do not target those who “contributed to the reconstruction of Afghanistan”. Nangarhar, where Jalalabad is located, has been a hotbed of activity for IS militants, which means elements linked to the terrorist outfit may have been involved in the atrocity.
Last month, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had said his government had “obliterated” IS in Afghanistan, as hundreds of IS militants laid down arms before the state. The Taliban mocked Kabul’s claim, saying it was they who had put IS on the back foot in the region. This series of events illustrates a strange situation in Afghanistan; the Afghan government as well as the Taliban have no love for IS and both claim to be fighting the self-styled caliphate. However, both Kabul and the Talibs are also sworn enemies, with the Taliban looking at Mr Ghani’s government with disdain, labelling them American ‘puppets’. Indeed, considering the circumstances, a peace deal in Afghanistan that brings together all the country’s factions and ethnic groups is the need of the hour. US envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad was recently in Kabul to kick-start peace talks with the Taliban. The Americans, Kabul, as well as the Taliban must realise that the biggest threat to peace in Afghanistan, and indeed, the region is IS. Therefore, instead of working at cross purposes, they need to combine their energies to defeat the group, which is in search of territory after its rout in the Levant.
Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2019