Islamic State's expanding terror footprint, Taliban's growing ambitions make peace in Afghanistan elusive

With the Taliban entering into a 'peace deal' with the US, the Islamic State -Khorasan Province (ISKP) may be seeking to fill the void

FP Staff November 03, 2020 14:43:07 IST
Islamic State's expanding terror footprint, Taliban's growing ambitions make peace in Afghanistan elusive

Security forces outside the Kabul University. AP

When the United States and the Taliban appeared to have reached an agreement for peace in Afghanistan, people in the war-torn country danced and waved the national flag in celebration. However, nine months on, peace continues to be elusive in Afghanistan, as Monday's terrorist attack on the Kabul University, which claimed at least 19 lives, showed.

The attack was claimed by the Islamic State, while the Taliban denied its involvement.

Barely a week ago, the Afghan capital was rocked by a suicide bombing at an education centre, which left at least 18 people dead.

Islamic State's expanding footprint Afghanistan

With the Taliban entering into a historic deal with the US, the Islamic State -Khorasan Province (ISKP) may be seeking to fill the void. (The Islamic State -Khorasan Province is a branch of the larger Islamic State terrorist network based in southern and eastern Afghanistan.) As noted in an article in The Diplomat, the ISKP may attract many Taliban and foreign fighters into its fold amid negotiations between the US and the Taliban. The reasons for many fighters to join the Islamic State could be many — from ideology to employment, and from the illicit terror-linked economy to personal or tribal enmity.

The Islamic State-Khorasan Province has also forged links with other terror groups in the Af-Pak region such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. This can be seen from the arrest of a Pakistani national Abu Hilal linked with ISKP. A DNA report quoted a statement by Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security as saying that Abu Hilal was also in charge of contact with the other groups including Lashkar-e Taiba, Haqqani Network, etc.

An article in US-based think tank Rand notes, "ISKP in Afghanistan is strongest in the strategically important provinces of Nangarhar and Kunar. However, it still retains the capability to conduct spectacular attacks with near impunity in the Afghan capital, as demonstrated by the deadly attack on a Kabul maternity ward in May."

In the attack on the maternity ward, 14 people were killed, including two newborn babies and their mothers.

Taliban views 'peace deal' as victory

Moments after the Taliban struck the 'peace deal' with the US, members of the outfit cheered, whooped and shouted, 'God is great,' as noted in an article by NBC News. The cheering was viewed as a sign that the outfit saw the deal as a victory and as an end to its pariah status.

At the time, Anas Haqqani, a senior member of the Haqqani network, considered to be the most formidable of the Taliban’s fighting forces, was quoted as saying, "Even if we don’t say that the U.S. is defeated in Afghanistan, it is an open secret now that they are defeated."

Indeed, despite the peace deal, the Taliban has continued to clash with Afghan security forces. In September, on the eve of the inauguration of talks in Doha, the Taliban had carried out 18 attacks against government forces and installations across the country, a spokesperson for the Afghan defence ministry was reported to have said.

The Taliban was also suspected to be behind a suicide car bombing in October that killed at least 13 people and wounded around 120 others in Afghanistan's western Ghor province. Reacting to the attack, the US' special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad noted, "Violence has stalked Afghans for far too long. It has robbed far too many Afghans of their loved ones."

The Taliban, on its part, had issued a statement over the US airstrikes targeting Helmand province, and warned that "all responsibility and consequences from the continuation of such actions shall fall squarely on the shoulders of the American side".

The insurgent group is, indeed, attempting to strike a hard bargain in the ongoing negotiations. An article in Deccan Herald noted that there has been an "eagerness to ignore the largely unreciprocated concessions that were made to get the Taliban to come to the table." In fact, even the Taliban's refusal to acknowledge the Afghan government as its principal interlocutor was reportedly overlooked.

With the Islamic State gaining ground and the Taliban unwilling to uphold the peace deal, peace in Afghanistan has become the biggest casualty.

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