United States and other NATO countries must send more troops to Afghanistan so that Islamic State is not able to shift headquarters to the country, writes Jai Kumar Verma for South Asia Monitor
By Jai Kumar Verma
The Sunni Salafi organization, Islamic State ('Daesh' in Arabic), has been defeated in Iraq and Syria and, according to unconfirmed reports, its Emir, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was killed in the massive bombings by troops led by the United States as well as Russian forces. Islamic State (IS), declared a terrorist organization by the United Nations, European Union and several other countries, has overt and covert followers in several developed countries both Muslim and non-Muslim.
Disconcerted, disillusioned and misguided Muslims from all over the world take inspiration from radical Islamic literature loaded by IS on the internet. IS also needs a place to make its headquarters from where its leaders and ideologues can lure new recruits. Afghanistan is an ideal place for IS as it is already radicalized, several terrorist outfits are operating in the country and it has difficult terrain where the law of the land is not effective.
IS considers Shias not true Muslims. It believes Shias should be exterminated even before non-Muslims. There was little sectarian violence in Afghanistan and the Afghan Taliban, though Sunni, did not target Shias. However, since IS began strengthening its hold in the country it enhanced attacks on Shias, including bomb blasts in Shia mosques, to enhance the gulf between the communities.
IS wants to establish itself in Afghanistan by creating a sectarian divide and devastating law and order. On August 1, IS suicide bombers carried out bomb blasts in a Shia mosque in Heart, killing 29 persons and injuring more than 64 people. More than 1700 civilians were killed in 2017 in Afghanistan, reflecting the poor law and order situation there. On July 31, IS bombers attacked the Iraqi embassy in Kabul to avenge the IS defeat in Mosul and gave a clear warning to Afghan forces that IS has support in the country and it will try to set up base in Afghanistan after being forced to leave Iraq and Syria.
Nine Afghan provinces including Nangarhar, Kunar, Ghor, Jawzjan have an IS presence. Afghan defence ministry officials admit IS fighters have latest weapons and more foreign fighters have joined them after defeat in Iraq and Syria. Intelligence sources also claim that more than 7000 terrorists, inclusive of Taliban, IS and some splinter groups are active in Afghanistan. The terrorists are from Afghanistan and countries including Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Bangladesh and a small number from India.
There are reports that terrorists from several West Asian countries, who were fighting in Iraq and Syria, are reaching Afghanistan through Iran and Pakistan. These battle hardened terrorists are very dangerous and can easily recruit new terrorists from Afghanistan and Pakistan, where youth are already radicalized.
Russia organized a conference in Moscow in May attended by representatives of Russia, China and Pakistan. Afghanistan was not invited. The US, which still has about 8400 troops in Afghanistan, and India, an important stake-holder in the country, were not invited. All three invitees to the conference support the Taliban. The Afghan government was not even properly briefed about the conference.
The security situation is deteriorating. Over 500 Afghan soldiers are killed every month while civilian casualties are much higher. Illegal opium trade has crossed all previous records and is worth over USD 3 billion.
Earlier, Afghan Taliban was fighting IS but now both have joined hands and carry out terrorist activities together.
The creation of Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP) was a significant development, attracting Muslims from across the world. Terrorists of diverse outfits especially of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Lashkar-e-Toiba (L-e-T), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (L-e-J), Ahl-e-Sunnat Wai Jamaat (ASWJ), Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Pakistani and Afghan Taliban have shifted their allegiance to IS. After the formation of ISKP, leaflets and pamphlets were distributed in local languages, radical material about ISKP was loaded on internet to lure Afghans, Pakistanis, Iranians, Russians, Indians, Bangladeshis, Europeans and West Asians to join the outfit. It is a dangerous phenomenon and it must be countered by all democratic forces as the Afghan government is not going to be able to defeat IS. Afghan National Security Defence Forces (ANSDF) lack resources, requisite training, modern weapons, latest communication equipment and efficient leadership to counter the global terrorist outfit. ANSDF must galvanize intelligence organisations so that they produce actionable intelligence.
IS is a dangerous phenomenon and all world powers must work together to wipe out IS from the whole world including Afghanistan. United States and other NATO countries must send more troops to Afghanistan so that IS is not able to shift headquarters to the country.
US led forces should not leave Afghanistan as IS will become more powerful and will be a great danger not only to the region but to the whole world. The US should also adopt stringent measures against Pakistan for sheltering, funding and training Afghan Taliban, including the Haqqani network.
Senator John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, suggested some measures to strengthen the ANSDF; providing air support, and uniformity between civil and military establishments. These should be implemented in letter and spirit.
(Jai Kumar Verma is a Delhi-based strategic analyst and a retired intelligence officer. He can be contacted at email@example.com)