Afghanistan massacre of Sikhs: Pakistan proxies continue with impunity

Updated: Mar 26, 2020 5:29 PM

The attacks attributed to ISIS thus could serve two purposes; keep Taliban out of the limelight and continue to send a message to the Indian diaspora, now limited to less than one thousand across the country, to leave Afghanistan so as to keep it totally under the influence of Pakistan.

In a surprise announcement, ISIS-KP claimed responsibility for the attack on Gurudwara and killing of worshipers inside its premises.
  • By BRIG N K BHATIA

27 members from the minuscule minority Sikh community were massacred in an early morning attack on the Gurudwara Guru HarRai in the central part of old Kabul. A group of four heavily armed terrorists entered the Gurudwara at approximately 7.45 am and carried out the killings of Sikhs who were inside the place of worship. Expectantly the finger pointed towards the Taliban but the organisation was quick to deny its involvement. Its spokesperson ZabiullahMujahid in a statement said the Islamic Emirate has no link with the attack in Shor Bazar area of Kabul.

In a surprise announcement, ISIS-KP claimed responsibility for the attack on Gurudwara and killing of worshipers inside its premises. The statement of ISIS spokesperson needs to be seen with scepticism in the backdrop of US claims that it has been able to significantly reduce the footprint of ISIS in Afghanistan.

U.S. officials had estimated in September 2019 that ISIS terrorist group was capable of fielding between 2,000 and 5,000 fighters. It had claimed that ISIS had lost half its strength in US airstrikes and ground operations carried out by Taliban ground forces including surrender of over 300 ISIS fighters in Nangaharprovince to Afghan forces.

In November, Afghan President Ashraf Ghanihad also, claimed that ISIS had been “obliterated” in Afghanistan.

Similarly, President Donald Trump spoke about the success of operations against the Islamic extremist group during a Thanksgiving Day surprise visit American troops at Bagram Airfield and claimed that the U.S. forces were “wiping” out ISIS militants “left and right.”

The aggressive US operations against the ISIS were an outcome of tacit cooperation between the US and Taliban, although never openly admitted by either side.

The first paragraph of Taliban- US Agreement, signed on 29 February 2020 for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the Taliban referred to as Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and the USA asked for guarantees and enforcement mechanisms that would prevent the use of the soil of Afghanistan by any group or an individual against the security of the United States and its allies.

The Agreement in some measure showed the US confidence in the ability of the Taliban to enforce peace, post its withdrawal and drawdown from Afghanistan, primarily based on two reasons; firstly the reduced the capability of ISIS having considerably disseminated it through a sustained campaign and secondly, due to an assessment that ISIS has no support base in the Afghan countryside.

On the other hand a sustained campaign against the Taliban by the USA over the years has had a limited impact on its top leadership. Taliban’s outreach and control of the countryside through an organised hierarchy and military strength remained intact. This probably hinged on the minds of the US to throw its weight behind Taliban prior to a plan for withdrawal.

The attack on Sikh Gurudwara, claimed by ISIS would, therefore, be a cause of concern to the USA who seem to have placed the onus of ensuring peace entirely on Taliban.

However contrary to what has been claimed by ISIS, it would not be out of place to rule out role of Haqqani network which has been instrumental in most attacks linked to Indian interests and its diaspora.

Haqqani Network’s close links to Pakistan’s ISI are well established. The Network has deep roots in Central Afghanistan and Kabul, an area where ISIS is not very strong. In the past a good number of fighters drawn from Haqqani Network and Pakistan based Taliban are known to have joined ISIS, with the backing of ISI, thus giving it leverage over ISIS fighters as well.

The attacks attributed to ISIS thus could serve two purposes; keep Taliban out of the limelight and continue to send a message to the Indian diaspora, now limited to less than one thousand across the country, to leave Afghanistan so as to keep it totally under the influence of Pakistan.

The latest attacks on Sikh Gurudwara have been taken note of by the international community. It would be worthwhile by the USA to reconsider a holistic review of its engagement only with the Taliban for sustained stability and peace in Afghanistan.

(The author is an Indian Army veteran. Views expressed are personal.)

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