By Salman Bashir
THE twin suicide attacks on Kabul airport by Daesh’s South Asia chapter on August 26 is a gruesome reminder of the challenges Afghanistan faces in the post US withdrawal phase. The loss of precious lives and injury to hundreds of innocent persons is heart-wrenching and demonstrates the cold0blooded callousness of the perpetrators.
The Taliban have been apparently cooperating with the US in the evacuation operations from Kabul airport. They were providing outer perimeter security. Some reports indicate that they even warned the US of possible terrorist strikes in advance. Yet, the suicide bombers were able to penetrate the area. Daesh-Khorasan acknowledged responsibility for these attacks. Irrespective of the convoluted and conflicted antecedents of this global terrorist organization that was somehow foisted upon Afghanistan, the bloody resurfacing of this band of brutal mercenaries brings to the fore the counter-terrorism challenge for Kabul’s incoming authorities as well for the international community.
These and like minded and linked militant groups also pose an immediate threat to neighbouring countries and the world. President Biden has said the US will relentlessly pursue those that masterminded these attacks. The US has over the horizon capabilities to take down these terror centers. It will continue to require the close cooperation of regional states in terms of intelligence to monitor and eliminate terrorism that emanates from individuals and groups in Afghanistan. It is apparent that there is a convergence of interests between the US, Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan and the Central Asian states in collectively dealing with the terrorist threat. The important new element is that Taliban authorities have an equal or greater stake in seeking the elimination of these terror groups.
The Taliban ought to ensure strict discipline within their ranks in meeting this terrorist challenge and ensure that some disgruntled individuals do not join the likes of Daesh. They will probably need support of the international community and extend requisite cooperation as well. No single entity or group in Afghanistan can do it alone. All patriotic Afghans will have coalesce around an agreed inclusive government to save Afghanistan from any further destruction and fragmentation. It is a matter of serious concern that spoilers in the region are trying to use militant groups to foment civil war and unrest in the name of ‘national resistance’.
It is important that the US and other major powers clearly identify the spoilers and use whatever means are necessary to oblige them to desist. There is widespread skepticism about the Taliban in the West. President Biden has said that he does not ‘trust’ the Taliban. But here the question is not of ‘trust’ but convergence of interests. It is perhaps premature to suggest that ironically, the Taliban may prove to be valuable assets for the US in the long run in countering terrorism. But it is worth exploring such a possibility.
Western analysts have seen the Taliban as a source of problems and they are not inclined to take a different view. Yet, if Afghanistan is to see peace and not become a safe haven for terrorists, what is the alternative? Definitely, overturning the Taliban will oblige supporting terror groups to unleash counter-Taliban strikes. This is not an option. Therefore, trust or no trust, the international community must now pursue a rational approach to issues relating to international terrorism and to the imperative need for stability and peace in Afghanistan.
For their part, the Taliban should continue to extend their utmost cooperation to the US during ongoing evacuations. They need to ensure that as per their declared general amnesty, no Afghan is harmed in any way. Human rights of all Afghans including minorities and women need to be safeguarded with utmost care and vigilance. Any trespasser from within their ranks needs to be punished. All foreigners desiring to leave Afghanistan must be facilitated.
The demobilization of armed militias is necessary. The safety and security of everyone needs to be ensured. This is the foremost task of the incoming administration. Regional states and especially immediate neighbors must extend full cooperation. The Shanghai Cooperation framework as well as the Troika Plus should closely monitor the situation and assist in establishing a new normal in Afghanistan. A war-torn Afghanistan presents huge challenges of restoring unity, stability and development. It must not become a new staging ground for geopolitical games and revenge.
(Salman Bashir is a Pakistani diplomat who served as Foreign Secretary of Pakistan and as High Commissioner of Pakistan to India.