Pakistan’s not so hidden hand in Afghanistan’s misery

April 15, 2020 12:39 PM

With ISIS, now designated ISIS KP, and Taliban both vying for control of territory in Afghanistan resulted in clashes between the two groups. Pakistani establishment, having linkages with both played an important role in preventing clashes between Taliban and ISIS PK.

Afghanistan Gurudwara attack, Kabul gurudwara attack, ISIS attack, Taliban, pakistan behind afghanistan gurudwara attackAs per Afghan officials, ISIS KP had become quite active only with the help of Pakistan. (Representational image: Reuters)

By Brig NK Bhatia

The brutal massacre of 27 innocent Sikhs in a Gurudwara (religious temple) in downtown Kabul on 25 March 2020 shook the conscience of international community, drawing widespread condemnation.

The attack on the religious place was quickly claimed by ISIS KP. This was rather surprising as ISIS KP was known to have been decimated in relentless operations conducted by US forces with some assistance from the Taliban, specifically from their stronghold of Nangahar.

In a quick follow up to the killing of Sikhs, Afghanistan’s National Department of Security (NDS) arrested Abdullah Orikzai known as Aslam Faroqqi, a resident of Akhundzada’s village of Orikzai area in Pakistan along with 19 other members of the terrorist outfit.

According to NDS, Faroqqi had been appointed as head of ISIS KP in Afghanistan after the killing of Abu-SayedBajuri former governor of Daesh in Afghanistan. He has been in charge of Daesh subversive actions in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunwa as well. As per NDS’s statement, Faroqqi had steady ties with Haqqani and Taliban terrorist networks. The statement also named two other top members of IS-K, QariZahid known as Maaz and Saifullah known as Abu-Talha Pakistani, who was reportedly in charge of Daesh recruitments in Nangarhar.

The Afghan statement of the arrest of Aslam Faroqqi on April 5, 2020, came as a big surprise. But equally surprising was the request of Pakistani establishment to the Afghan government conveyed through their ambassador in Islamabad. Pakistan asked for AslamFaroqqi to be handed over to them for plotting terrorist attacks against Pakistani targets. Pakistan emphasised that Islamabad and Kabul should ‘coordinate actions against the menace of terrorism.’

As per Afghan officials, ISIS KP had become quite active only with the help of Pakistan.

After the peace agreement between the US and the Taliban signed on 29 February in Doha, two major terrorist attacks have been claimed by ISIS PK. The first attack was launched on the death anniversary of Abdul Ali Mazari, which claimed the lives of 32 people and the second attack was carried out on Kabul Gurudwara, in which 27 Sikhs died. Another attack on US forces at Bagram airbase has also been claimed by ISIS PK.

A background check on Faroqqi revealed that he had earlier been associated with Lashkar-e-Taiba(LeT) and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and was operating as the commander of Daesh’s military wing in Pakistan’s Peshawar city and was deployed in Abdul Khel valley of Achin district of the eastern province of Nangarhar. Last year he replaced Maulwi Zia-ul-Haq alias Abu Omar Khorasani as ISIS KP chief. Aslam Faroqqi is known to have close ties with other major terrorist networks, the dreaded Haqqani Network.

However, as per Dr Antonio Giustozzi, an expert on terrorism relating to Afghanistan, the ISIS Levant split into two factions towards the middle of 2017 with AslamFaroqqi assuming the leadership of one faction and UstadMoawiya, a former IMU commander and leader of the Central Asian faction leading the breakaway group. The reasons for the split were two-fold; one the fight for control amongst Pashtuns led by Faroqqi and Central Asian dominated Uzbek and Tajik fighters led by Moawiya and the second a belief by Central Asian faction that AslamFaroqqiled faction were agents of Pakistan’s ISI.

As revealed earlier, Aslam Faroqqidue to his association with LeT and TTP had walked into ISIS with a substantial Pakistani component of his followers. His main reason for seeking the support of ISI was to find safe sanctuary within Pakistan’s tribal areas and for financial assistance. In return, he agreed not to carry out ISIS operations within Pakistani territory.

With ISIS, now designated ISIS KP, and Taliban both vying for control of territory in Afghanistan resulted in clashes between the two groups. Pakistani establishment, having linkages with both played an important role in preventing clashes between Taliban and ISIS PK.

Over the last two years, the ISIS KP saw its strength diminish substantially after the US carried out air and drone attacks supported by ground attacks against its cadres with support of Afghan National Army (ANA) with the help of the Taliban resulting in a sizable reduction of its strength and influence.

The Taliban, on the other hand, continued to consolidate its position by carrying out attacks on US-led forces and ANA from position of strength forcing the USA to reconsider its long term strategy of staying longer in Afghanistan. The Agreement between the USA and the Taliban gave it a legitimacy that it was looking for and brought it into the frontline to play a pivotal role to control the destiny of Afghanistan once US forces fully withdraw from Afghanistan post-July 2021.

This did not quite fit into the scheme of ISIS KP, which although disseminated refused to cede complete control to the Taliban. ISIS KP with mentoring of ISI and having a fairly good number of fighters amongst its ranks are drawn from Haqanni network who wield considerable influence in Kabul and its adjoining areas regrouped quickly to strike at unsuspecting targets to show their relevance and undermine the peace process. Open admittance of attacks was, therefore, to send across a message to the relevant quarters including Taliban of their existence and significance.

Taliban having reached this far have been in the process of charting out an independent strategy, sans past baggage of control by ISI and its masters. This may have been a rude shock awaiting Pakistani establishment, which has always consider the Taliban as its protégés and Afghanistan as its area of influence and strategic backyard.

Pakistan has always used Islamic terrorist groups as its strategic assets. Although it may have overtly supported the Taliban to usher in an agreement with the USA, it remains capable of using alternate proxies to send across a message to all, including the Taliban, not to undermine its authority and role in Afghanistan.

The sudden activation of ISIS KP, led by Faroqqiwith help of Haqanni Network, completely under ISI tutelage, to unleash violence in Afghanistan is therefore aimed to send across a message on multiple fronts to reveal Pakistan’s not so hidden hand in affairs of Afghanistan.

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

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