The IS-K threat

Published October 11, 2021

LAST Friday, as worshippers gathered for prayers at the Sayyidabad mosque in Kunduz city, a suicide bomber blew himself up, killing some 50 people. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan put the number of those killed and wounded at the Shia-Hazara mosque at over 100. The brutal Islamic State’s Khorasan chapter accepted responsibility for the deadly bombing. In a statement, the UN body described the incident as a “disturbing pattern of violence” that highlighted the “vulnerability of religious minorities” in Afghanistan.

Shia Hazaras, who constitute roughly 9pc of the Afghan population, have long suffered deep-rooted discrimination and persecution. However, attacks against the ethnic-religious group have seen an uptick in recent months. A Kabul school bombing (not claimed by any group) in a largely Hazara locality, just two months before the Taliban took over, left 100 people dead, most of them schoolgirls, signalling a new campaign. That the stridently anti-Shia IS-K has been behind most such attacks is no secret, although the Taliban too are responsible for persecuting and killing Hazaras, prompting calls for investigations from Amnesty International and other world bodies.

Read: 'Wait-and-see approach' on Afghanistan tantamount to world abandoning it: Moeed

What is more disconcerting is the IS-K’s growing ability to carry out attacks in a country ruled by a group that hitherto had sole monopoly over violence in Afghanistan. In IS-K, the Afghan Taliban have a new challenger. It remains to be seen how quickly the Taliban transition from an insurgent guerrilla group to a stabilising force in the country. The Taliban leadership had promised to protect Afghanistan’s minorities. They must now walk the talk. Brushing aside the IS-K as a minor threat that can be addressed later is neither reassuring nor convincing.

Moreover, the claim by IS-K that the Kunduz bombing was carried out by an ethnic Uighur militant should send alarm bells ringing in Beijing in particular. China has long been concerned about the presence of the Eastern Turkmenistan Islamic Movement — a Muslim separatist group campaigning against Chinese rule in the Muslim-majority Xinjiang province. The defection to IS-K of Islamist militants, hitherto allied with the Taliban, should be a matter of concern to Afghanistan’s rulers and others. The IS-K presents a clear and present danger to stability in Afghanistan and security in the broader region and beyond. The Taliban cannot handle the threat on its own. It is time for regional countries to coordinate and collate intelligence gathering to address the threat before it is too late.

Published in Dawn, October 11th, 2021

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