Rajat Sharma

Islamic State (K): The Pak Connection

rajat-sir On Saturday, the United States carried out a drone strike in Nangarhar province and claimed that it had killed a ‘planner’ of Islamic State (Khorasan group) that carried out the deadly blasts near Kabul airport on Thursday. 182 people including 13 American soldiers were killed in the Kabul blasts. “The unmanned airstrike occurred in Nangarhar province of Afghanistan. Initial indications are that we killed the target”, said an officer of US Central Command.

The US State Department on Friday announced that American troops will leave the Kabul airport after August 31. “We are departing by August 31. Upon that date, we are delivering – we’re essentially giving the airport back to the Afghan people”, said the State Department spokesperson. It means, from September 1, the entire Kabul airport will come under Taliban control. Already, Taliban has taken over most parts of Kabul airport and are ready to take full control.

On the other hand, thousands of Afghans are still waiting for evacuation, the possibility of which has diminished sharply. The White House has claimed that 1,09,200 people have been evacuated from Kabul since August 14, a day before Taliban occupied Kabul. Nearly 4,500 people were evacuated on Friday after the twin blasts took place.

People the world over want to know why Islamic State (K) carried out this bloodbath near Kabul airport. IS(K) operates from Pakistan and it has close links with the Haqqani terror network. The question is: What IS(K) gained from these bomb attacks? Was it because it wanted to register its presence in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover? Or, were there bigger forces working to target the US, Taliban and the common Afghans by carrying out these attacks?

The scenes outside Kabul airport are disheartening. On Thursday evening, there were bodies of victims strewn around, and 24 hours later, hundreds of bags, belongings and papers belonging to the victims were still lying scattered. The drain outside the airport wall was still reddish with blood that oozed out from the bodies of victims.

In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’, we showed a video of the huge crowd that was waiting outside the airport, many of them standing inside the ditch with their legs in drain water. Most of them, with children, were trying hard to enter the airport. The deadly blast shook the area, and the scene was filled with parts of bodies of victims blown up, and blood splashed all around.

Despite the blasts, there were more Afghans, in thousands, who returned to the site, making last-ditch efforts to enter the airport, even though the US troops had closed all gates by welding them. In the midst of chaos and despondency, the question that still remains is: Now that the US troops have gone, and Afghanistan has been occupied by Taliban, and since there is a peace deal between the US and Taliban, which are the forces that want to target them? Taliban leadership will never want their image in public to be tarnished if such terror attacks take place in their presence. There were 28 Taliban guards who died in the blasts.

The terror outfit Islamic State (Khorasan) released the photograph of their suicide bomber Abdul Rahman al-Logari, a Kabul University student, wearing an explosive belt, and his face covered with black cloth, with only his eyes showing. He waded through the crowd of Afghans outside the airport, and waited till his turn came for physical frisking by a US soldier. He detonated the explosive during frisking, and caused mayhem.

The leader of the Northern Alliance and former Afghan vice-president Amrullah Saleh let the cat out of the bag, about IS(K)’s intentions. He tweeted: “ISIS or DAESH in Afg is fake. The sleeping suicide cells of Talbn & Haqani group are sold 4 specific targets & d sellers let DAESH take responsibility. Thus Pakistani ISI & d Taliban are responsible 4 the ongoing carnage in the name of ISIS. Condemnation has lost meaning here.”

In another tweet, Saleh wrote: “Every evidence we have in hand shows that IS-K cells have their roots in Talibs & Haqqani network particularly the ones operating in Kabul. Talibs denying links with ISIS is identical/similar to denial of Pak on Quetta Shura. Talibs hv leanred vry well from the master.”

Amrullah Saleh has been a critic of Pakistan and his reactions were expected on similar lines. But, it is a fact that Islamic State (Khorasan) is a product of the terror factory thriving in Pakistan.

The chief of IS(K) Shahab al-Muhajir has connections with Haqqani terror outfit. Another top commander Aslam Farooqi is a Pakistani national who lives in Orakzai area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Before joining IS(K), he worked for Lashkar-e-Toiba and Tehrike-Taliban Pakistan. When he was arrested by Afghan defence forces from Nangarhar province, he admitted that he used to work for Sirajuddin Haqqani network in Kabul and Jalalabad. He told his Afghan interrogators that IS(K) has its base in Rawalpindi, where the General Headquarters of Pakistan army and ISI is based. Farooqi was sent to Bagram air base jail, but after Taliban occupied Kabul, he was released from jail along with other prisoners.

Khakilur Rahman Haqqani, one of the top commanders of Haqqani network, maintains regular contacts with IS(K) leaders. It was on his instructions that IS(K) used to carry out suicide attacks in Kabul during Ashraf Ghani’s regime. In 2015, under international pressure, when Pakistan was forced to ban Haqqani network, the IS(K) cropped up as a substitute. This outfit has carried out more than 100 suicide attacks till now, targeting Afghan civilians and NATO troops. In 2016, the commander of NATO forces Gen. John Nicholson had told an interviewer that 70 per cent of those working for IS(K) belonged to Pakistan. It was Pakistan who use to provide men and weapons to IS(K).

Islamic State (Khorasan) was born in 2015 with its base in Nangarhar and Kunar provinces of Afghanistan. In Persian, the word ‘Khorasan’ means land of the rising sun, and Islamic jihadists believe this area encompasses Iran, South Turkmenistan and north Afghanistan. Initially, there were no differences of opinion between IS(K) and Taliban, but after the leaders of Taliban began sitting at negotiation tables with the US, the gulf between the two widened. IS(K) blamed Taliban for quitting war and ‘jihad’, and for bowing before Western powers. The IS(K) then started attacks on Taliban too along with attacks on US and Afghan army.

I want to remind readers that in 2017, the US army detonated the ‘mother of all bombs’ GBU-43B massive ordnance air blast killing hundreds of IS(K) fighters in Nangarhar province. This is said to be the most powerful non-nuclear bomb in the US arsenal. It destroyed an entire ISIS cave complex inside Afghanistan. The air strike broke the back of IS(K), but it resurrected on Thursday when it carried out the twin bomb blasts in Kabul.

Thursday’s attacks has brought about changes in equations. Taliban leaders now believe that the US has started suspecting its hand behind the attacks, and they are at pains giving clarifications. The IS(K) statement claiming responsibility has helped matters, but in the process, its links with Pakistani spy agency ISI are being unravelled. India has already expressed concerns about the proliferation of IS(K) activity inside Pakistan. On its part, Pakistan is trying to put its best foot forward and posing itself as a big friend of Taliban. The Pakistani PM Imran Khan has gone to the extent of describing the capture of Kabul has “breaking the shackles of slavery” by Taliban.

Pakistan wants to maintain links with both Taliban and IS(K). Any major suicidal bombing or terror attack in South Asia has its roots in Pakistan, directly or indirectly. There are both state actors and non-state actors involved. The sites for Thursday’s blasts were selected very carefully. Both the attacks were meant to target Americans, Taliban and common Afghans. India has to wait and watch.

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