The suicide bombings in Kabul, capital of Afghanistan, this Thursday (26), add an additional layer to the crisis the country is going through: to the political and humanitarian chaos, is added the terrorism of the Islamic State.
The situation also opens a window of opportunity for the Taliban, a fundamentalist group that seized power just under two weeks ago, to use the public agenda that has been demanded by potential international partners such as the United Nations. Russia and China, said Aureo Toledo, professor of international relations and peace studies at the Federal University of Uberlândia (UFU). “There is the possibility of obtaining other support, which would add to the common objective of fighting terrorism.”
By publicly criticizing the attacks that killed dozens of people, Toledo says, the Taliban are trying to imprint an image that appeals to the international community, an aspect of great importance to the group’s financial support. In Folha, the professor explains the main differences between the Taliban and the Islamic State, projects that the withdrawal of the populations from Kabul should be accelerated and underlines the consequences for the Afghans.
What do the attacks on this farm change about the already precarious situation in Afghanistan? ISIS is an organization hated by the United States, China, Russia, and the Taliban. If ISIS begins operating in Afghanistan [com intensidade], this could lead the Taliban to eventually obtain the support of other countries to fight them. ISIS is a split from Al Qaeda, and the Taliban have never had a close relationship with ISIS because the group has tactics to attack Muslims, which the Taliban never approved.
What is the role of ISIS in Afghanistan? Their ambition has always been to build a large transnational caliphate, which has always met with resistance. In the case of Afghanistan, resistance has come from the Taliban, who enjoy broad support. Even outside of government, the Taliban sometimes controlled around 70% of Afghan territory. Today, he controls more territories than in the 1990s. It is a relationship of rivalry. The ISIS branch in Afghanistan is weak. It is necessary to observe whether this branch will attract the attention of ISIS leaders, starting to receive resources to carry out more attacks. The security context has changed a lot with the departure of the United States, which can attract terrorism.
Does terrorism in the region tend to gain weight? It is too early to tell. Before the attacks on this farm, the situation for the Taliban was already different from that of the 1990s, when the group first rose up. At that time, the Taliban supported terrorist groups, especially al-Qaeda. Today, after the war on terror, the counterterrorism agenda is shared by many countries.
China does not want the Taliban to destabilize the border. Russia also does not want Taliban support for terrorist groups. What can be said is that an opportunity has opened up for ISIS to return to the media, as it has not been as active since 2017. ISIS saw a window of opportunity to have repercussions, but it’s hard to say that terrorism will escalate.
How do you define the differences between ISIS and the Taliban? The Taliban are a movement that proposed to control Afghanistan and “re-Islamize” the country. At the time, the group had no claim to go beyond Afghanistan. ISIS has a different proposition, even though both take a distorted view of what Islam is, and emerge with the idea of being a great international caliphate that transcends state borders.
In terms of radicalization, the Islamic State is more radical than Al Qaeda and the Taliban. These are all movements that have committed human rights atrocities, but something neither Al Qaeda nor the Taliban is doing is prioritizing attacks against Muslims, unlike Daesh.
Taliban attacks against Muslim Afghans are numerous … The Taliban have committed numerous human rights violations, especially against women. When I say they don’t kill Muslims, it has to do with the group’s strategic targets. The Taliban favor outside actors, like the Americans. Yet when the group was in government from 1996 to 2001, there were human rights violations for people who they said did not follow Sharia law. [lei islâmica] in the interpretation of the Taliban.
ISIS, on the other hand, does not make this differentiation and attacks the Muslim, the local population, as its main strategy. We can differentiate as follows: the Taliban, when they attack, use terror to rule, to scare the citizens; but avoids, in the attacks, to privilege Moslem targets. IE does not.
Spokesmen for the Taliban, who have a history of violent attacks, condemned the attacks. How to read these demonstrations? The Taliban are trying to convey an image to international actors. Countries that the Taliban are interested in because they would be interesting for the group’s financial support, such as Russia and China, are not in favor of terrorism. The idea is to get the attention of countries that can pay dividends.
Now that they are interested in perpetuating themselves in power, there is a demand to support, which requires money, which they will have to seek from international actors. Afghanistan has been a country chronically dependent on foreign aid throughout its history. By remaining in the territory, the Taliban will be able to tax the population, but they will also need partners.
Can we say that ISIS is the main internal brake of the Taliban? Not at this time. ISIS Khorasan, compared to the Taliban, is a weak group. Domestically, the Taliban control an area larger than 2000. There is a small region, the Panjshir Valley, which is not yet under Taliban control, but it is too early to say if there will be any. resistance.
Another question concerns the Afghan National Army, which was important. Where are the soldiers going? Will they join the Taliban? Go to resistance? Or possibly go to employment insurance?
How can attacks impact the withdrawal of American troops and civilians? The attacks can lead to an acceleration of the withdrawal. Keep troops, or miss the deadline [da retirada] could create new targets for attacks. I see no possibility that the attacks will prolong the occupation.
How can Daesh attacks aggravate the humanitarian catastrophe? Today, 14 million Afghans are food insecure and starving. The droughts of recent years have put an end to the wheat harvest, which is an important input in the country’s diet. There are also internally displaced people, people who have had to leave their homes, and the Covid pandemic. Vaccination in Afghanistan is overdue and there are reports of provinces where the Taliban have banned vaccination.
It is a series of humanitarian challenges facing the Taliban government. The international community could build humanitarian corridors to allow this population to have access to medicines and food. We have a humanitarian catastrophe. A crisis that was already political and humanitarian, and now terrorism is added to it. The picture is very worrying for the Afghans.
Auréo Toledo, 39 years old
Master and Doctorate in Political Science from USP (University of São Paulo), he is Associate Professor of International Relations and Peace Studies at the Federal University of Uberlândia (UFU). His research focuses on peace in the international context, state failure and the Afghan context.