IN a bloody display of the havoc the self-styled Islamic State group is still capable of spreading, at least 25 people were massacred in an attack on a Sikh temple in Kabul on Wednesday. The attack was claimed by the terrorist group. Afghanistan is of course no stranger to violence, but the killings demonstrate that unless various contenders for power in the country get their act together, IS will exploit the vacuum of leadership to spread its tentacles further in the region. After all, it has been responsible for the savage acts of violence carried out in its Middle Eastern heartland against both Muslims and followers of other faiths, in keeping with its brutal ideology. While the self-proclaimed caliphate has largely been routed in Syria and Iraq — where it initially emerged — it is now trying to establish itself in other ungoverned spaces, and Afghanistan offers a prime location unless a workable peace deal takes effect and all parties abide by it. Pakistan has condemned the attack on the Sikh place of worship, with the Foreign Office stressing that “such despicable attacks have no political, religious or moral justification”.

The fact is that unless there is intra-Afghan understanding and reconciliation — both between the Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah blocs, as well as the Afghan government and the Taliban — IS and other militant groups that do not believe in the political process will be free to spread havoc. That is why a lasting peace agreement between various Afghan factions is essential. Unfortunately, the power struggle playing out currently in Kabul does not offer much hope. While Mr Ghani was declared the winner of last September’s presidential election, his chief rival Mr Abdullah dismissed the results and has proclaimed himself leader of the country. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Kabul this week to try and patch things up between the two factions, but had to fly back to Washington without achieving much. Instead, he announced a cut of $1bn in aid to Afghanistan as ‘punishment’, which is sure to hurt the cash-strapped country. “The United States is disappointed in them and what their conduct means for Afghanistan,” Mr Pompeo told the media. Indeed, unless the Kabul elite achieve some sort of unity, the US peace deal with the Taliban will count for little as Afghan factions battle it out after the Americans leave. Such a situation will only favour IS and their ilk.

Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2020

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