WHILE Kabul may have fallen to the Afghan Taliban with little violence, Thursday’s devastating suicide blast outside the Afghan capital’s airport serves as a harbinger of what lies ahead should the local chapter of the self-styled Islamic State group have the freedom to operate in a security vacuum.

The IS’s Khorasan affiliate has claimed credit for the atrocity, which targeted families waiting outside the airport to be processed in order to leave Afghanistan. At the time of writing the death toll was at least 100, including over a dozen American troops, Taliban fighters and non-combatants. There had been intelligence reports of an impending attack, while the mass exodus to flee Taliban-ruled Afghanistan amidst the hasty Western withdrawal meant that a disaster was only a matter of time. IS was waiting to exploit the situation, and it has done so in a most brutal way.

However, gruesome as the airport bombing was, it offers an opportunity for all Afghan forces to disregard their differences and join forces — aided by the international community — against the IS threat. The world has seen in Iraq and Syria the brutal violence the self-styled caliphate is capable of. The threat of IS in Afghanistan has also been highlighted in these columns previously. Therefore, ignoring the threat will help create a regional security nightmare.

Read: Amid power vacuum, Kabul's ordinary residents suffer

While the Taliban control most of Afghanistan, those opposed to their rule, primarily in the Panjshir area, have vowed to stick to their guns. In the interest of security, the Taliban and Panjshiri forces must work together to eliminate the IS threat from Afghan soil.

In reaction to the bombing, US President Biden has said he will strike back at IS. But instead of indulging in any gung-ho operations, there should be a unified anti-IS effort in Afghanistan led by the Taliban and other Afghan groups, and aided by foreign forces including Nato as well as Russia and China. Afghans know their country best and it should be left to them to purge it of IS.

However, such an operation does come with risks. After all, the more hard-line members of the Taliban may break ranks with the group’s leadership and join forces with IS, as was the case during the Taliban-US negotiations. Be that as it may, leaving IS to its devices in Afghanistan will help create a new monster. Not only will a rejuvenated IS rampage across Afghanistan, it will pose a grave threat to all major regional states, including Pakistan. Again, mention must be made of Syria and Iraq, where foreign interference and collapse of governance gave the soldiers of the ‘caliphate’ an open playing field. The effects of this folly were felt in the West also, as acts of terrorism increased globally. Therefore, mistakes of the past must not be repeated in Afghanistan, and Afghan forces must lead an internationally supported effort to disable IS in the country.

Published in Dawn, August 28th, 2021

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