Devastating attacks carried out by the anti-Taliban IS-K group at a military hospital in Kabul on Tuesday, which claimed scores of lives, destroy all hopes of South Asia’s security worries ending any time soon. The political and security issues in Afghanistan have always had grave implications for the region and the recent bloodletting is set to underscore this fact as Afghanistan tries to normalize its internal situation in the aftermath of the US troop withdrawal.
The Taliban has been trying to put a brave face on its aggravating security concerns in the wake of mounting challenges posed to its authority by the breakaway IS-K or the Islamic State of Khorasan Province, but it is plain to see that the Taliban rival would continue to pose a grave threat to the internal stability of Afghanistan. Compared to the Taliban it is numerically small but it is often quoted as saying that ‘the Taliban is not Islamic enough ‘. That is, the Islamic fundamentalism projected by the Taliban falls way short of IS-K expectations. Accordingly, the latter could be expected to be increasingly fierce in its opposition to the Taliban.
If the atrocities committed in the name of religion by the Taliban were not enough, we now have the IS-K which is claiming to be hugely disappointed by the Taliban’s bloody excesses and inhumane indulgences. It is aiming at outdoing the Taliban in these gory feats and it staggers the imagination to think of what the IS-K would be doing by way of ‘governing ‘Afghanistan if the opportunity to do so comes its way.
Meanwhile, the Taliban could be said to be hoist on its own petard. It is under the watchful eyes of the West and its lending agencies and would be compelled to go through the motions of meeting the latter’s governing criteria, such as, introducing a measure of the Rule of Law and inclusive governance. On the other hand, it is exceptionally obliged to please its hardline constituency at home and abroad by not straying from the fundamentalist path. The latter pressing obligation will be compounded by the fact that the IS-K would be watching its every move and bringing pressure on it through its extremism to deliver a brand of internal rule that would be every inch ultra-fundamentalist. How would the Taliban resolve this dilemma of the first magnitude? This is the question.
While the Taliban could be expected to be embroiled in these domestic governance dilemmas in the foreseeable future, the IS-K would be exacting greater propaganda mileage than it by showcasing its brand of extremism to a wider international audience of impressionable followers. The IS-K is not just content with occupying the prime seats of power in Afghanistan; it is quoted as aiming at establishing a Global Islamic Caliphate, which would resonate strongly with particularly less-educated and unexposed minds.
However, with these appeals the IS-K is bound to win recruits in increasing numbers from a wide range of countries with religious fundamentalist sympathizers. Besides some Central Asian countries in the immediate neighbourhood of Afghanistan, China is being cited by some sections of the international media as possessing some potential IS-K followers.
However, commentators are not wrong in saying that it is a “rejuvenated ‘’ IS-K that the world is seeing in action at present. As it is, the group is striking with seeming impunity in Afghanistan and its success rate is beginning to be noticeable. The group is said to have launched 77 attacks in the first four months of 2021, whereas 21 attacks were conducted during the same period last year.
To be sure, the world is bound to firm up its defenses against the IS-K and other outfits of its kind to ensure strict containment of their terror operations but it is going to be a world that would be riddled with major security worries. The stabbing to death of British Conservative MP Sir David Amess in mid-October by a terrorist and the knifing of scores of people in a Norwegian town around the same time prove the point.
While South and South-West Asia would be saddled with the most overwhelming of these terror-linked concerns, the rest of the world would not be free of them either. Although states are bound to favour strong arm law-and- order measures to battle the terror question, it will increasingly prove to be a matter of winning hearts and minds. If the increasing number of terror strikes in the West alone are anything to go by, the perpetrators of terror are gaining ground in the battle to win minds or the consciousness of humans. That is, their propaganda or brainwashing is seemingly highly effective.
This calls for equally effective countermeasures of the same kind by the world’s democracies, wherein the human consciousness would be made to strongly inculcate values that are at the heart of the democratic way of life. The propaganda of terrorists would be anti-life, while the conscientizing of humans by democracies would be basically pro-life. This sums up the task at hand for the world’s democracies.
While the West would have its work cut out in this context, it is South and South West Asia that would need to watch out most as the internal conflict in Afghanistan aggravates. Acting in a conciliatory and accommodating fashion towards the perpetrators of religion and ethnicity- based terror, without encouraging them to accept and adopt democracy and its core values, is one of the most fatal mistakes that states could commit in this connection. The Taliban could be considered a test case. If it accepts the principles of democracy and all that this decision entails it could be admitted to the democratic fold. If not, the Taliban regime would need to be ostracized.
However, getting all the external actors concerned to see the issues from the above viewpoint is bound to prove problematic. The US could be said to have effected a timely withdrawal from Afghanistan in its interests. It has shifted its focus to South East Asia. That leaves a power vacuum in South West Asia and it is being filled by China primarily and to a lesser extent by Russia. If these powers could influence the Taliban into ushering in an inclusive government, for instance, that would help considerably in bringing a measure of stability to Afghanistan. But given their policy proclivities, China and Russia are unlikely to play this constructive role. Afghanistan’s agonies are bound to continue.