The Hazara Shiite Muslim community in Kabul has once again become a victim of terrorism, as a suicide bomber killed dozens of students, mostly young girls, in a private academy on Friday.
The death toll from the Kabul explosion has reached 53, including at least 46 young girls and women, and 106 wounded, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said in a tweet on Monday.
The was carried out in the Dasht-e-Barchi area in western Kabul, where the majority of the Hazara community resides. The powerful bomb attack was one of the deadliest incidents in Afghanistan in recent months.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. However, since assuming power in August 2021, the Taliban government has faced numerous attacks from Islamic State – Khorasan Province (IS-KP), an affiliate of the Islamic State terrorist group active in South Asia and Central Asia, which has targeted the Hazara community in the past as well.
Meanwhile, the influential Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr released a statement holding the Taliban government responsible for the Kabul bombing. The statement also expressed concern for Afghan Shias and “moderate Sunnis” who disagree with Taliban ideology.
Al-Sadr demanded the intervention of the Saudi government in Afghanistan. Since the Taliban retook the country, the ethnic Shiite Muslim Hazara community has been the prime target of IS-KP. The Islamic State affiliate does not consider the Hazara religious minority as Muslims and wants to eliminate them.
Though Taliban officials have said they are providing maximum security to protect the Shiite community, IS-KP has persisted in carrying out deadly strikes against them. After taking control of the country, the Taliban set security issues as a prime goal, but their intelligence forces failed to prevent IS-KP from attempting the genocide of the Hazara community.
IS-KP has continued to attack mosques, educational centers, and Shiite-populated areas, killing and wounding hundreds of people.
The US State Department recently expressed concern about IS-KP’s activities in Afghanistan, saying the group’s escalation of violence could spread and even threaten the United States. To discuss the situation, a special meeting was convened on September 15 in Washington that included special envoys and representatives of the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The participants highlighted the need for the Taliban to take sustained and provable steps against the terrorists, acknowledged its operations against IS-KP, and called on the Taliban to protect at-risk ethnic and religious communities from their attacks.
After declaring its caliphate in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State movement opened a new chapter, IS-KP, operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan since early 2015. Khorasan province historically contains parts of modern-day Iran, Central Asian states, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
IS-KP is primarily an organization of the extremist Salafi school of thought and is engaged in an armed struggle to impose its version of Sharia in Khorasan province.
Muhammad Suhail Shaheen, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan‘s permanent representative to the UN and the head of the Doha Political Office, told The Media Line: “I strongly condemn the terrible attack on the educational center in Kabul. Our enemy shows its nature by committing such brutality. The perpetrators will not escape justice.
“The students who died and were injured in this tragic incident of terrorism were children of the entire Afghan nation. We want to tell our enemies that the Afghan people cannot be divided by the cowardly act.”
Shaheen claimed, “The Islamic Emirate‘s forces have cleared ISIS from Nangarhar and Kunar provinces, where ISIS had established a presence during the past regime under the US-led invasion. Currently, ISIS does not yet have enough strength to confront our forces; they are hiding and public places like mosques, educational institutions, and hospitals are their soft targets. This further reveals their brutal nature.”
Shaheen said further that the Taliban lacked the equipment to fight the ISIS affiliate. “We need the latest tracking equipment,” he said. “If we had these devices, such incidents of terrorism could have been prevented to a great extent.”
Dr. Summer Iqbal Babar, a prominent conflict zone expert, is an assistant professor at the School of Politics and International Relations of Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad. He teaches modern strategy, peace, and conflict resolution.
Babar told The Media Line, “With a financially near-collapsing country, absent global recognition amid worsening humanitarian crisis, IS-KP claimed its attacks further exacerbate the security situation and question Taliban’s capacity to maintain stability in Afghanistan.”
He stressed, “The Taliban are still unable to realize their changed role from being the insurgent group to governing a country, which is entirely different statecraft. To counter terrorism requires an altogether different strategic approach, operational conduct, and tactics.
“With the US pullout, the Taliban came to fill the government void, but it also caused the resurgence of other terrorist groups on the jihadist landscape, and IS-KP, with its foreign fighters, emerged as a more lethal, potent threat to the Taliban.”
Babar added, “The gradual rise in violence, largely committed/claimed by IS-KP, shall haunt the Taliban more vigorously. It may cause defections within the Taliban ranks, which were seen after the killing of al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. The Taliban can’t fight terrorism alone; they require cooperation from neighboring countries, especially Pakistan, by denying sanctuary to any terrorist group. Only this can be a recipe for a stable Afghanistan, more regional stability, and avoiding any human catastrophe,” Babar concluded.
Andy Vermaut, a Brussels-based counter-extremism expert and the president of the World Council for Public Diplomacy and Community Dialogue, told The Media Line, “It is very difficult to avoid IS-KP terror attacks on Afghan soil because the Taliban thoroughly dominate IS-KP.
“Despite the Taliban declaring IS-KP dead and defunct, IS-KP has been responsible for more than 250 terrorist acts in Afghanistan since the Taliban took over,” Vermaut noted. “Islamic State – Khorasan Province has humiliated the government’s security forces in Afghanistan, and it looks like Afghanistan is becoming a haven for terrorist organizations.”
In contrast, Vermaut said, “if the Taliban were dedicated to cooperation with other nations in an organized way to eliminate IS-KP, they would easily terminate the group. The Taliban always saw the Hazara as an enemy in the previous era. Now, in response to numerous attacks against Hazaras, the Taliban have not taken any practical steps except criticizing these attacks.”
An Islamabad-based senior intelligence official told The Media Line, “The Taliban are still in a resurgent mode and unable to adopt the attitude of statehood. They need to realize that there is regional cooperation going on against ISIS under the banner of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and all the member states have agreed to fight terrorism in any form.”
Ali Maisam Nazari, head of foreign relations for the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, told The Media Line, “The Shia community has been continuously targeted by IS-KP, but no effective action of the Taliban against them emerged. The IS-KP attacks deliberately showed the Taliban as weak and incapable of asserting control over the whole of Afghanistan.”
Nazari noted, “The Taliban haven’t been able to bring law and order or to form even a single state institution. As each day passes, their internal divisions also are increasing. All of these are reasons why they have begun to lose control in many provinces.”
He noted, “The Taliban lack the will to fight against ISIS. The Taliban share a common ideology with them, and our intelligence tells us the Taliban’s mid- and low-ranking commanders and fighters are cooperating with ISIS, especially in the north. The Taliban claim they have brought peace and security to the country, but this narrative has been discredited by each such attack.