The Islamic State group in Afghanistan is a “very worrisome” threat to the United States, Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, said. He also added “ISIS in Afghanistan certainly has aspirations to attack the United States.” On 13th of June, a suicide bomber detonated an explosive device near a police vehicle in the capital of eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, killing at least three officers and six civilians. Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attack through its Amaq website.AttahullahKhogyani, spokesman for the provincial governor, said security forces were the target of the attack. Several of the wounded were police officers.It’s the time when, Taliban areholding peace talks with the United States in Qatar, Doha.
The recent attacks on Afghan forces, while peace process is going on between Taliban and the US, might indicate that ISIL is asserting itself as a force that can destabilize Afghanistan, and thus wishes to have a share in the peace deal.However, Taliban see ISIS as a tool for the US, to legitimize and prolong its stay in Afghanistan.
In 2015, IS established its hold in the eastern province of Afghanistan. There are estimated 3000 Islamic state fighters in Afghanistan.In recent months, Islamic State has penetrated in the northern province of Kunduz and the western province of Herat.In Western media it is touted that in Kabul and other major cities, Islamic State recruiters decipher educated youth from universities in their influence. Also, in Western media, ISIS is projected as a threat to American security.
It’sastonishing to find that why Islamic state is reasserting itself, and western media is giving it a substantial coverage, when the US is negotiating a viable withdrawal plan with the Taliban. The latest attack claimed by ISIL is the first in 2019 since November 28, 2018, in which 27 Afghan soldiers were killed.However, Taliban have so far proved themselves as the only challenging force to the US. They have strongly conveyed the US through unceasingly challenging its presence in the past eighteen years, that a total pullout and complete withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan, is the only condition to peace in the region.
Taliban through their revering resilience have been successful in enforcing their demand of complete withdrawal to the US. Recently, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s deputy leader, said his group was “committed for peace” and wanted to “end the occupation” of Afghanistan. During round of peace talks in Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov of Russia also endorsed the Taliban’s stance andcalled for the “total pullout” of foreign forces from Afghanistan.
In such a scenario when Taliban and international players are calling for a total pull out, ISIS is reasserting itself. Taliban are also skeptical of ISIS reassertion, and the US hyper security apprehensions regarding ISIS. Recently, Taliban spokesman, ZabiullahMujahid rejected the Mckenzie’s assertion that now US is vulnerable to ISIS attacks, he also claimed that Taliban had cleared many areas from ISIS influence. He said that “If American generals really fear from Daesh, then why are they avoiding its elimination and creating hurdles against mujahedeen operations? Statements of American generals are opposite of their actions”.
It clearly indicates that the US wishes to prolong its stay in Afghanistan and is using ISIS name, to legitimize its stay in Afghanistan in the eyes of Americans, who are becoming wary of an endless US war in Afghanistan. Interestingly, Julian Assanage, WikiLeaks founder, in an interview with a UK based newspaper, Express,on 29 November, 2016 said that the US was responsible for “paving the way for ISIS.”
There are six American bases in Afghanistan. The US has spent enormously for ‘securing’ its stay in Afghanistan. In 2018, during the peace talks, the US wanted the Taliban to accept at least two US bases, Bagram and Shorabak, which the Taliban refused. It seems that the US will never completely withdraw from Afghanistan. It appears that by keeping its ‘safe’ presence in Afghanistan the US wishes to keep an eye on its current contender China, miscreant Iran and emerging challenger Russia.
The US presence in Afghanistan is likely to benefit the ‘enduring strategic partnership’ of India and the US as well. In such a scenario, the ongoing peace process looks like a water shed.Instead, it appears that Americans intend to negotiate their ‘stay’ in Afghanistan rather than withdrawal. They wish to stay in the region for an indefinite period. However, the Taliban are making their stay miserable in Afghanistan. Even during the round of peace talks of Taliban and the US in Moscow, Taliban killed around 40 people in attacks across Afghanistan on 28th May.
It’s the reason the US wishes to negotiate with the Taliban. If ‘only’ withdrawal was the intention, then it didn’t require any negotiation.It is not clear, that what the US is negotiating now with the Taliban. Nevertheless, it is quite obvious, that the complete U.S troop withdrawal is unlikely in the near future.
Afghanistan has become a major concern for all the neighboring countries including China. China and Pakistan have recently held talks with the Taliban for promoting peace process. China’s Xinjiang province shares a border with Afghanistan. It has also expended China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to Afghanistan.
Analysts believe that power sharing formula has to be devised between Afghan Government and Taliban. But reality seems to be different. It appears that the US wishes to have a ‘safe’ stay in Afghanistan. And for that a power sharing mechanism has to be devised not between Taliban and the Afghan Government, but between Taliban and the US.
Maryam Mastoor is working as a research analyst at Institute of Regional Studies, Islamabad.