New Delhi: The dreaded terror group Islamic State, or ISIS, has sent a loud message to the world through the Kabul wedding blast, raising hard questions on the credibility of the US-led quadripartite peace talks which is in its concluding phase now.
On Sunday, the ISIS claimed responsibility for bombing a wedding reception in Kabul that left 63 people dead a night before, in what turned out to be one of Afghanistan’s worst terror attacks in the recent past.
The claim led Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to vow to “eliminate” ISIS bases across the country during the country’s 100th Independence Day celebrations Monday.
In a speech to his nation, Ghani stated a “firm commitment to fight against Daesh (Islamic State group) and other terrorist networks until they are utterly smashed”.
“We will take revenge for every civilian drop of blood… Our struggle will continue against (ISIS), we will take revenge and will root them out,” said Ghani.
The Taliban, which is a part of the peace talks, questioned the failure of the US in pre-empting Saturday’s attack. In a strongly-worded statement, it said “leave Afghanistan to the Afghans”.
With anger mounting in Afghanistan over the latest ISIS attack, ThePrint tracks the group’s rise and objectives in the conflict-besieged country.
Rise of ISIS in Afghanistan
In a report to the Congress, the US Department of Defence in June said the US efforts against ISIS-K in Afghanistan are part of the global endeavour to defeat ISIS.
ISIS-K — Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province — is a wing of the terror group that has become active in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the last five years.
“ISIS-K poses a threat not only to Afghanistan, but also to the West, which it continuously seeks to target for terrorist activity. In addition to the internal threats, powerful regional actors surround Afghanistan. These powers have varied interests in the political, military, and economic future of Afghanistan,” the report said.
It added that the ISIS-K maintains the capability “to conduct mass casualty attacks with the intent to weaken public support for the Afghan Government and the Taliban”. The group continues to “evade, counter, and recover from sustained CT (counter-terrorism) and combat pressure to maintain its territorial safe-haven in eastern Afghanistan, from which it plans attacks and spreads its ideology to displace al-Qa’ida and the Taliban as the predominant regional militant group”, the report said.
Titled Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan, the report noted that ISIS-K remains limited to South and Central Asia.
It also highlighted that the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region remains a sanctuary for various groups, including the Taliban and its component “Haqqani Network (HQN), al-Qa’ida core (AQ), al-Qa’ida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT), Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), ISIS-K, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU)”.
Terrorist sanctuaries on both sides of the border present security challenges for Afghanistan and Pakistan and pose a threat to regional security and stability.
The ISIS in Afghanistan is mainly located near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. It has grown from a modicum of mid-level Taliban commanders about five years ago, reported The Guardian Monday.
“If the Taliban stop fighting the US and the Afghan government, ISIS will aim to take over the role of the main opposition force in the country, gathering to its banners all the malcontents and rejectionists any deal would inevitably create. They would also seek to attract the support of the Taliban’s erstwhile supporters, inside and outside Afghanistan,” the report claimed.
The Afghan peace talks
The ISIS is slowly building up the momentum in Afghanistan as the year-long US-led peace talks near a conclusion. Although it is clear that the talks will not be concluded by the 1-September deadline set by the Trump administration, it is nevertheless progressing fast.
In the aftermath of the Saturday bombings, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said the Afghan Peace Process has to be “accelerated” including intra-Afghan negotiations.
“Success here will put Afghans in a much stronger position to defeat ISIS,” Khalilzad said in a tweet.
We must accelerate the #AfghanPeaceProcess including intra-Afghan negotiations. Success here will put Afghans in a much stronger position to defeat ISIS.
— U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad (@US4AfghanPeace) August 18, 2019
In an interview to The New York Times, Abdul Rahim Muslimdost, an Islamist cleric from Pakistan, who has been jailed in Pakistan and in the American detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, claimed to have played a role in establishing the ISIS network in Afghanistan.
According to Muslimdost, “If there is a settlement with the Taliban, and they become part of the government, Pakistan has the replacement for them ready already. They will continue this war in Afghanistan in the name of the Islamic State.”
Pakistan is the fourth end in the quadripartite talks.
The main objective of ISIS in Afghanistan now is to disrupt the peace talks to prevent Taliban from entering the corridors of power in Kabul. Besides, its ultimate aim continues to be claiming of territories in Afghanistan and establish the Islamic Caliphate.
However, some Taliban factions also owe allegiance to ISIS-K.
The United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan documented 2,640 war-related civilian deaths and 5,379 injuries in the first nine months of 2017, a slight decrease over the same period in 2016. The Taliban and groups claiming allegiance to ISIS-K were responsible for two-thirds of these, the Human Rights Watch said in a report.
ISIS in south Asia
Despite the US’ chest-thumping claims of defeating the ISIS about six months ago, the group raised its ugly head during the Easter Bombings in Sri Lanka in April that killed more than 250 people.
The Sri Lankan police Criminal Investigation Department (CID) claimed that the terrorists behind the 21 April attacks who hailed from the group National Thowheeth Jamath (NTJ) had no links to ISIS, but the probe revealed that the terrorists did follow ISIS’s ideology.
The NTJ itself claimed in a video that it pledged alliance to ISIS supremo Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. After a span of almost five years, Baghdadi appeared in a video days after the attack to claim that the bombings were carried out as a revenge for the fall of the Syrian town of Baghuz and that the group is fighting a “battle of attrition”.
Now, the Baghdadi-led group has firmly set its sights on Afghanistan.