Updated: August 28, 2021 8:55:06 am
The twin bomb attacks on Thursday at Kabul airport that killed over 100 people have underlined the catastrophe that has befallen Afghanistan. ISIS-Khorasan has claimed one bombing saying it was carried out by one of its suicide bombers against “a large gathering of translators and collaborators with the American Army at Baran Camp near Kabul Airport”. Thousands of civilians were massed at Kabul airport, desperate to flee the Taliban since their takeover on August 15. For years, Afghanistan has been the happy hunting ground for extremist-terrorist groups, and the Taliban takeover was always going to bring them to the surface. Taliban-al Qaeda contacts continue, and the ISIS-K has been in a bloody contest for space with the Taliban, claiming responsibility for large terror attacks in which hundreds of civilians have died over the last three years. The question that arises from the airport bombing is how a fully loaded suicide bomber managed to evade the armed street patrols set in place by the Taliban and its allies. On the one hand, the attacks have shown that the Taliban are not fully in control; on the other, the bombings have helped the Taliban, feared by Afghans as brutal oppressors with designated global terrorists in their own ranks, but now seeking international legitimacy and assistance, in projecting themselves in somewhat less cruel light than those who claim to have carried out the terror attack.
For the US military, the deaths of at least a dozen of its servicemen in the attack, made it the largest single-day casualty since 2011. President Joe Biden has pledged that America will “hunt down” the killers. At this moment, when the US is rushing to evacuate all Americans and its last remaining troops from Afghanistan, it is not clear how that promise is going to be kept. When the Americans vowed to go after al Qaeda, there was a definite quarry — Osama bin Laden. At this point, the reality unfolding in Afghanistan is that of many terrorist groups, all with links to each other, and to the Taliban. If the ISIS-K claim is accepted, the true nature of this group — with its floating membership of militant groups from Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Taiba included, along with Chinese and Uzbek groups — needs to be understood. Indian intelligence officials believe it has links to the Haqqani Network, which is a part of the Taliban. Does Biden’s threat mean that the US will go after them in their Pakistani safe havens?
The situation is getting more critical, and India’s first priority, as External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar noted at an all-party meeting, is to evacuate all its nationals. In a silver lining, flights have resumed at the airport. The government must also make clear its stand on allowing Afghan nationals to enter the country. If India wishes to retain its long friendship with the Afghan people, it should welcome those who seek refuge here, and prevent a repeat of the shabby deportation of an Afghan woman parliamentarian. The government has said it was a mistake. It should ensure a course correction.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on August 28, 2021 under the title ‘Terror in Kabul’.
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