The Future of Security : Afghanistan

On 18 Aug 2019, a suicide bombing claimed the lives of 63 people at a wedding party in Kabul and left 180 injured. Would this breach in security affect the status quo of the current peace negotiations in Afghanistan?

Background

The bombing took place in the backdrop of ongoing talks between the US and Taliban. The two parties have been trying to negotiate a deal for the exit of US troops from Afghanistan.  

The attack took place in the Shia district of Kabul and was claimed by the Islamic State, a Sunni majority terror group. The Taliban, also majorly Sunni, have been in conflict with the IS for years on ideological grounds and in a competition to seize space. The Shia Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks have been rallying forces preparing for a civil war post-US withdrawal, similar to the Soviet withdrawal of 1989. 

In 2014, after the core fighters of the group swept across Iraq and Syria, they appeared in Afghanistan, carving out a self-styled caliphate. They called themselves the Khorasan Province, a name given to parts of central Iran and Afghanistan in the Middle Ages.

Analysis

The suicide bombing by IS in Kabul has been condemned by the Taliban. While the ISIS was limited to West Asia for years, this resurgence of the group in Afghanistan shows a shift of strategy in their operations. Nonetheless, President Ghani has opined that at some level Taliban is culpable. The attack has given critics of the US-Taliban peace talks further credence in their arguments that the Taliban, simply put,  cannot be trusted to ensure a peaceful, violence-free Afghanistan.

Ghani’s government has not been a part of the peace talks as the Taliban have refused to deal with an administration they claim is a US puppet. The upcoming presidential elections in Afghanistan scheduled for September 28th have been denounced by the Taliban as a sham. They insist that focus should be given solely to the talks with the US over withdrawal of troops. The Taliban has asked Afghans to avoid campaign rallies, polls and political gatherings, warning that these areas will be targeted by them. 

The Taliban’s willingness to resort to violence has instilled further doubt in the minds of the critics regarding the potential success of US withdrawal. President Trump, having stated that immense progress is being made with the Taliban, is persisting on troop withdrawal before the 2020 US presidential elections.

The suicide attack has been labelled as the most lethal that Kabul has seen in 2019. It has highlighted concerns among Afghans and policy analysts over Trump’s rush to secure an early deal and its impact on overall security situation. With the withdrawal of US forces, the Shia minority of Afghanistan will be more vulnerable to violence perpetuated by Sunni groups like the Taliban/ IS and their affiliates. 

Even amidst the talks, Taliban has continued to launch massive and violent attacks of its own. They claimed responsibility for at least 1500 civilian casualties in July itself. Further, Taliban leaders have made it clear that they hold no sway over Islamic State operations. The IS is a much smaller group than the Taliban and is comprised of Pakistani and ex-Taliban Sunni operatives. 

The latest round of discussions in Doha ended without the completion of the deal. The White House has nonetheless decided to move ahead with reducing diplomats and troops in Afghanistan. With the 2020 elections inching closer, Trump is eager to show progress. 

UN Secretary Antonia Gutteres reported that IS has been left with about $300 million, following the loss of its caliphate "with none of the financial demands of controlling territory and population." He warned that the halt in IS-directed international attacks "may be temporary" and said Afghanistan remains the best-established conflict zone among those attracting foreign extremist fighters from within the region.

India Watch  

Over the past decade, India has been a strategic partner of Afghanistan and has invested heavily in the development projects. India considers Afghanistan as a key ally in maintaining regional stability and also to counter the expansion of China.

Assessment

  • Not all Taliban members are in favour of the deal with the US. There is a possibility of Taliban fighters defecting to the Islamic State if the deal is signed.
  • The agreement between the Taliban and the US does not mention the Islamic State, who number between 2500-5000 fighters. The potential of conflict involving the IS following the US exit is therefore high.
  • Since 2018, the ISIS has shown a paradigm shift in its targets. It has likely lost its grip on Syria and Iraq and is now keen to make its presence felt in Central and Southern Asia. Experts believe that India, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Afghanistan and other nations in Central and South Asia could well be the next targets of the Islamic State.
  • The proclaimed hatred of IS towards Shias, represented by the Hamzas, Tajiks and Uzbeks, and the inability of the Taliban or the Kabul Government to control them, is indicative of high chances of bloodshed and turmoil post the US exit from Afghanistan.
  • The refusal of the Taliban to negotiate ceasefire and peace agreements with the Afghan government until the US withdraws its troops is another red flag.  A power vacuum is inevitable and without a ceasefire agreement in place, chances of violence breaking out, are high. 
  • The deal does not have any clause that ensures protection from violence or rights violations carried out by the Taliban. Failure to extract this from the deal will result in thousands of Afghans being left under the complete authority and mercy of the radical group after the US withdraws.

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Image Courtesy: defense.gov

 

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