At least 77 people, including children, have been killed in a wave of attacks across Afghanistan this week. At least one – and probably most – of the attacks were carried out by ISIS Khorasan (ISIS-K), the affiliate of the Islamic State mainly active in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The devastating attacks further destabilize a nation already in economic freefall and raise doubts that the Taliban can protect the Afghan people – especially minorities – from violence and terror.
The attacks began Tuesday with double bombings at Abdul Rahim Shaheed High School and near the Mumtaz Education Center, both in the capital Kabul. At least six people were killed and 17 injured at Abdul Rahim Shaheed High School in the predominantly Shia and Hazara district of Dasht-e-Barchi. Al Jazeera reported on Tuesday. While no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks, ISIS-K is known to target Dasht-e-Barchi in the past. Government workers in Kunduz province were also targeted this week – an attack for which ISIS-K took credit†
The attacks continued on Thursday, with a bomb attack on a Shia mosque in Mazar-e-Sharif, northern Afghanistan. At least 31 people were killed and many more were injured in the attack, for which ISIS-K took credit on Friday. Pamela Constable reported Friday in the Washington Post† The Associated Press estimated the number of deaths to be much lower, at 12, in a Saturday report† In a statement Friday claiming responsibility for the attack, ISIS-K said the bomb was in a bag left at Seh Doken Mosque; it exploded when the mosque was filled with worshippers. “When the mosque was filled with prayers, the explosives were detonated remotely,” the ISIS-K statement claimed, also claiming 100 worshipers were injured. Around the same time, the New York Times reported Friday that ISIS-K attacked a bus in Kunduz province, killing four and injuring 18.
After the Taliban government announced it had arrested the ‘mastermind’ of the bombing of Mazar-e-Sharif in Balkh province on Friday, an explosion at a mosque in Kunduz province left at least 30 dead and a mine detonated near a market in Kabul. ending the already devastating week with even more destruction.
It is unclear whether ISIS-K is behind all the attacks, but this week’s attacks indicate that the Taliban either do not have as much control over the security situation in Afghanistan as the leadership had indicated it would after US and NATO forces had left the country in August, or is not particularly interested in providing protection to minorities. It doesn’t help that the country is facing destabilization as a result of economic sanctions against Taliban leaders, coupled with the Taliban’s persecution of women, journalists, human rights workers and other groups. But the passivity of the Taliban is a strong message.
However, that is probably the intent, Faiz Zaland, an academic and political analyst in Kabul, told the Washington Post† “These attackers are trying to build a momentum of uncertainty to show that even with the Taliban in power, they cannot be stopped,” he said. “They herald a spring and summer of destruction.”
Both the Taliban and ISIS-K have attacked minorities
Both the Taliban and ISIS-K are considered Sunni extremist groups, which adhere to a strict interpretation of the sect’s ideology that views Shia Muslims as apostates or infidels. Although the Taliban has historically targeted the Shiites in Afghanistan, the group agreed in the run-up to the takeover that minorities would be protected under a new Taliban government.
The Hazara, an ethnic minority mainly practicing Shia Islam, has historically been marginalized, with few opportunities for education or work. They are from Afghanistan third largest ethnic group, behind Pashtuns and Tajiks.
But even before the Taliban took over the Afghan government for the second time last August, there were a number of attacks on Shiites, especially Hazaras. Last May eg. a vicious attack on a girls school At least 90 people have been killed in a predominantly Hazara area of Kabul; the Taliban denied responsibility for the bombing. But even before the Taliban came back to power, minority groups received no protection from the government† protection that — despite a history of targeting Shia minorities during the first period of rule in the 1990s – the Taliban said they would care, especially after a number of attacks on Hazara communities by ISIS-K.
While the Taliban said it would not hinder Shia worship and will protect all ethnic groups, the group is responsible for the killing dozens by Hazara in the past eight months, as well as massive forced displacements of Hazara people.
The Taliban government not only directly threatens the Hazara people, but is also unable or unwilling to protect them and other minorities from the attacks of other groups, namely ISIS-K, Asfandyar Mir, a senior expert with the US Institute of Peace targeting extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan, cafemadrid told via email. “When pressured on issues of the rights and economic well-being of the Afghan people, the Taliban do so by touting their ability to provide security to all Afghans, including minorities,” he said. “Yet under the Taliban, vulnerable minorities – in particular the Hazara – remain one of the main targets of violence. This is a source of enormous uncertainty and raises questions about the Taliban’s ability to provide security in general and against minorities in particular.”
Although the Taliban have launched some sort of crackdown on ISIS-K since coming to power, Mir said, “the range of ISIS-K violence — from parts of the north to Kabul to eastern border regions — suggests months of Taliban crackdown on ISIS-K and alleged sympathizers of the group has been unable to meaningfully control the group’s underground activities in most parts of the country where it was based and operational before the Taliban takeover to limit it.”
This crackdown — in which the Taliban framed innocent people as ISIS-K members and engaged in targeted repression against the Salafist communities from which many ISIS-K recruits come — may have backfired, pushing people toward ISIS-K, said Mir. And with no real political alternative to the Taliban, ISIS-K may be the only viable option for many Afghans to fit in or exercise a sense of power.
The ultimate goal is to erode the legitimacy of the Taliban as it is today
Mir told cafemadrid in a separate telephone interview on Saturday that, in his opinion, the attack on the Kunduz Mosque was also likely the work of ISIS-K because of the Sufi-oriented practice of Sunni Islam — the end result being further destabilization. This follows ISIS-K taking responsibility for the mosque attack in Mazar-e-Sharif, indicating that such tragedies have only increased since the terror attacks subsided over the winter.
Mir told cafemadrid that this was likely a “deliberate decision” on the part of the ISIS-K leadership, as they felt the new government was ignoring its security vulnerabilities. In addition, “spring is traditionally the season of struggle” in Afghanistan, Mir said; The attacks of the past week can be read as an announcement of that, and an indication that more violence is only on the way.
“ISIS-K will likely go after two sets of targets: one set is made up of minorities, [that] includes Shias, includes Hazara Shias, and then the ‘wrong’ kind of Sunnis,” such as those who worship at Khanaqa-e-Malawi Sekandar Sufi mosque and madrassa in Kunduz Friday. The other, Mir said, are high-profile Taliban officials, particularly in the eastern provinces of Kunar and Nangarhar, where ISIS-K’s support base is located. “To make an important point, I have a feeling ISIS-K will try to target someone high in the Taliban,” he said, citing the Taliban’s poor leadership and its inability to even target its own officials. to protect, put forward.
Those attacks, if indeed carried out, would further ISIS-K’s possible goal of founding a branch of the ISIS Caliphate in Afghanistan — though that’s hard to imagine at the moment, given that they didn’t control any important territory after the US withdrawal. “The group also wants to overthrow the Pakistani government, [and] punishment the Iranian government for being a vanguard of Shiites,” he said, hence recently attacks and threats in Pakistan†
But ISIS-K’s end goal “is hard to pin down,” Mir said. “A closer reading of their material also suggests that ISIS-K is obsessed with punishing civilians and those they consider non-believers in mass attacks for their alleged apostasy — almost as an end in itself.”
However, the fact remains that they are engaged in an ideological struggle with the Taliban, and when it comes to using terror to create further instability, chaos, doubt and violence to make the Taliban government illegitimate, the attacks on civilians of the past week certainly have that effect – whether they were all committed by ISIS-K†