The diametrically opposite claims of the Afghan government and the US government about the deadly terror attack on the Kabul maternity hospital in which two dozen nurses, mothers and newly-born babies were killed early this week, indicate why the peace deal in Afghanistan is tenuous.
While the Ashraf Ghani government has blamed the Taliban for the attack, the Donald Trump administration has held the ISKP responsible, even as neither radical Islamist groups have owned it.
The national security advisor to Ghani, Hamdullah Mohib castigated the Taliban saying that if they “cannot control the violence, or their sponsors have now subcontracted their terror to other entities — which was one of our primary concerns from the beginning” then their seems little point in continuing to engage Taliban in “peace talks”.
However, the US special representative Zalmay Khalilzad pinned the blame on the ISKP, saying the group opposed the US-peace agreement and sought to trigger an Iraq-style sectarian war in Afghanistan. “Rather than falling into the ISIS trap and delay peace or create obstacles, Afghans must come together to crush this menace and pursue a historic peace opportunity,” Khalilzad said.
The former vice president of Afghanistan Amralleh Saleh was quick to point out that the Afghan government has the IS chief for South Asia Abu Omar and chief for Khorasan Aslam Faroqi in its custody, implying that the ISKP is decimated in Afghanistan and does not have the capacity to attack. Interestingly, Pakistan had requested for Aslam Farooqi extradition, which the Afghan government rejected last month.
“Dots are connected. Neither the Taliban hands nor their stained consciousness can be washed of the blood of women, babies & other innocent in the latest senseless carnage,” he tweeted. Many in the Afghan government believes that both the Taliban and the ISKP in Afghanistan are controlled by Pakistan’s ISI to keep Afghanistan destabilized.
In 2015, in an expansionary move, the ISIS created ‘Wilayat Khorasan’ (Khurasan Province), a historical region that includes parts of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The ISKP recruited defectors and disgruntled members from the Taliban, especially Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), who fled Pakistani army operations in the FATA after mid-2014.
As a result, a turf war between the Afghan Taliban and the ISKP broke out in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, in which the latter was able to seize territory. The province, bordering Pakistan’s region formerly known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), became the center of the ISKP operations in Afghanistan.
However, the US dropped its mother of non-nuclear bombs, the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB), to destroy tunnel complexes used by the ISKP in the province in April 2017. Last year in November, the Afghan and NATO coalition forces defeated the ISKP decisively, forcing hundreds to surrender along with their families.
Most of the ISKP members were Pakistani nationals who had infiltrated, four years ago, into Nangarhar province through the Durand Line — the border which Afghanistan has disputed since it was drawn by the British in 1893.
Despite the defeat of the ISKP in the north and east Afghanistan, “US officials caution that ISKP remains a threat, though there reportedly is disagreement within the US government about its nature,” a January 2020 US Congressional research report said, adding that “some raise the prospect of Taliban hardliners defecting to ISKP in the event of a settlement with the United States”.
Security officials in New Delhi who follow the situation in Afghanistan closely agree with the assessment that the hardliners within the Taliban dissatisfied with the terms of the US President Donald Trump’s peace deal, may have already switched to the ISKP. “For us, the two groups are different but for them who switch between these groups easily, it is just a change of nomenclature,” an officer said.