Afghanistan: The next chapter | Daily News

Afghanistan: The next chapter

As the world gets ready to mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in the US, a couple of developments elsewhere is worth analysing. The US has completely pulled out of Afghanistan, which they went into almost immediately after the events of 9/11 with the aim of decimating the al-Qaeda terrorist group and capturing its leader Osama bin Laden. But the US pull-out exactly 20 years later, almost on the cusp of the 9/11 anniversary, could have far greater ramifications for the region and even the entire world, if recent developments in Afghanistan are anything to go by.

The Taliban in Afghanistan have named a new Government led by hardliners as the group pledges to implement strict Islamic rule over the country of roughly 40 million. The new Cabinet of the freshly restored Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan contains no women and no positions for opposition members or ethnic or religious minorities. Muhammad Hassan Akhund, Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister before the 2001 US invasion, has been named as the Prime Minister. 

This was in sharp contrast to the group’s earlier exhortations that it has “changed” over the course of a generation, with the younger members having more moderate views. The Taliban were also acutely aware that they need the financial aid and the goodwill of the international community to run the country, which is now facing a financial and humanitarian crisis.  

Yet, it seems that hardliners in the Taliban have won the day, at least for the time being. Perhaps the biggest shock of all is the controversial appointment of Sirajuddin Haqqani as Interior Minister, in charge of Police and Security. Haqqani is the leader of the Haqqani Network, known to have links to al-Qaeda and is on the FBI’s Most Wanted list as a designated global terrorist. Haqqani has deployed violent tactics as a deputy to the Afghan Taliban, including using death squads for executions and releasing videos of mass beheadings. He also pioneered the use of suicide bombers in Afghanistan. High-profile attacks include the suicide bombing at Kabul’s Serena Hotel in 2008 and a 20-hour siege of the US Embassy compound in Kabul in 2011 that left 16 Afghans dead. 

The Taliban received a bit of credit after it was proven that they had nothing to do with the recent Kabul Airport blasts which killed nearly 200 people, including 13 US Service personnel. This attack was blamed on ISIS-K (for Khorasan Province). There was even speculation that the Taliban may have provided the US with ground intelligence on ISIS-K positions in Kabul for the subsequent US drone attacks. The Taliban condemned the suicide attacks and said they had nothing to do with terrorism. They pledged not to provide a safe haven to any terror group.

But just one look at the Interim Government could embolden other terror groups encouraged by what they see in Afghanistan as a triumph. One problem is that the Taliban itself does not have an organised structure – it comprises numerous factions with varying degrees of extremism and propensity to support other terrorist groups. It will not be difficult for any members of home grown or overseas terror groups to ‘blend in’ with the Taliban and carry out missions from or on Afghan soil.

Many Governments have raised concerns about the record of some of the ministers and leaders in the new Afghan Government. This has led to fears of a consolidation of power of all the terrorist groups under the umbrella of the Taliban due to the space that the Taliban is wittingly or unwittingly providing for them. It is not surprising that nearly all the countries in the region from India to Iran are apprehensive of the course of events happening in Afghanistan. They fear that Afghanistan could be a launching pad for terror attacks in the neighbourhood.    

The only inhibiting factor is that with an economy overwhelmingly dependent on aid and a Government that was earlier 80 percent funded by Western donors, the Taliban are going to have to take into account at least some international concerns. Even though the first signs are not positive, the Taliban may have to soften their stance on issues such as women’s rights in the long term. The International Community already has a dim view of how it is treating women protesting on the streets of Kabul and Herat.

The other noteworthy development is the commencement of the trial in France for the accused in the Paris Bataclan terrorist attack of November 13, 2015, that killed 130 people and injured 416 others. This is the largest criminal trial in French history. French national Salah Abdeslam was the only attacker to survive when nine gunmen and suicide bombers struck the Bataclan Concert Hall. Nineteen other suspects are accused of helping provide guns and cars or of playing a role in organizing the largest ISIS attack in Europe. The lesson here is that while the wheels of justice may take their time to turn, there should be no escape for the perpetrators of terror anywhere. This should spur justice for victims of all terror attacks worldwide.  


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