THAT a suicide bomber belonging to the self-styled Islamic State group managed to target a senior Taliban cleric in Kabul should send alarm bells ringing, specifically regarding the terrorist outfit’s reach and capabilities. Rahimullah Haqqani, the cleric in question — who is not a part of the powerful Haqqani Network — was targeted in a suicide blast inside his madressah. The late Haqqani was a staunch critic of IS and, by the Taliban’s standards at least, relatively liberal as he advocated for the cause of girls’ education. Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers have lamented the targeting of the senior cleric, blaming “a cowardly enemy” for the hit and calling the killing “a huge loss for the Islamic Emirate”. Reportedly, Haqqani had also been targeted earlier by IS, including an attack in Pakistan in 2020. If IS militants can strike someone so high in the current Afghan hierarchy, they are capable of striking anywhere, and Afghanistan’s de facto rulers need to come up with a plan of action to root out the terrorist group from their soil.
The warning signs regarding IS’s existence in Afghanistan had been present even before the Taliban took Kabul last year. The terrorist group has staged regular attacks, targeting Afghanistan’s Shia community, as well as the country’s tiny Sikh minority. Earlier this month, the Taliban claimed to have neutralised an IS cell that was apparently planning to carry out attacks during Muharram-related activities. The fact is that the Khorasan chapter of the terrorist franchise is one of its deadliest and most well-organised units. While IS’s reign of terror in its erstwhile Middle Eastern heartland may be over, it has found fertile ground to regroup in Afghanistan. As per a recent UN report, IS seeks to use Afghanistan as a launching pad to revive its vision of a ‘great caliphate’. Needless to say, any progress on this front would spell trouble for neighbouring states, as well as the international community. Primarily, the Afghan Taliban need to do more to liberate all their territory from IS control. Regional states — which face a direct threat from the IS presence — should also help the Taliban achieve this goal while the US and Western states need to chip in if they are serious about counterterrorism efforts. The Taliban may be difficult partners, but IS poses a much bigger threat to regional security, which is why Afghanistan’s rulers, as well as foreign states, must work together to neutralise the outfit.
Published in Dawn, August 13th, 2022