L’Isis-K is the main suspect in the suicide bombings that struck today, August 26, the airport of Kabul, in Afghanistan, where the evacuation of civilians and of those who collaborated with Western powers after the Taliban took power in the country are taking place. The attacks resulted in at least 40 deaths, including some children and 4 US Marines. On the Afghan situation TPI interviewed Alberto Negri, journalist, long-time war correspondent for the Sole 24 Ore, which has followed the main international conflicts and political events from the 1980s to today.
The attack in Kabul had been foretold in the past few days. American intelligence reports spoke of a possible attack by Isis-K right at the airport.
There have already been other attacks by ISIS in Kabul this year, especially with the changing of the guard at the top of ISIS-K (the name by which the Islamic State of Khorasan, an Afghan region, is known). The current leader, Shahab al-Muhajir, is a former member of Al Qaeda who has moved on to the rival camp. His rise to the top of ISIS in Afghanistan has led to a sensational escalation, with the use not only of suicide bombings, but also of armed action, some of which with anti-aircraft missiles.
What do we know about Isis-K?
It is a heavily armed group, whose bases are located in the Nangarhar region (in the east of Afghanistan, on the border with Pakistan, ed). It is made up of no more than 1,500-2,000 men but it was extremely dangerous for the holding of the Ghani government, and now it is for the Taliban, because it undermines control of the territory. In recent months, its attacks have targeted the general population, but also Shiites, as in the style of ISIS in Syria or Iraq. When the Americans were still there, they also attacked strategic targets, such as barracks or prisons.
What is the position of this group with respect to the Taliban?
He represents their main enemy. Although both are jihadist movements, between Isis-K and the Taliban there is a profound ideological contrast: the Taliban aim at the restoration of the Emirate which collapsed in 2001, while ISIS wants to establish a Caliphate, it has a jihadist pan-Islamic vision that concerns the whole Islamic world and is not limited to national borders. This opposition has always existed, but it has become more acute since the Taliban began to take power.
How can we read today’s attacks?
They are a message from ISIS that refuses to accept the Emirate of the Taliban. The Taliban, for their part, must demonstrate that they can guarantee control over the territory, so as not to give rise to the accusation of favoring terrorism. The Doha agreements with the Americans, in fact, provide for the Taliban’s commitment to ensure that Afghanistan does not become a terrorist base.
What will be the consequences of these attacks?
I think we will try to close the evacuation operations as quickly as possible, both by the Taliban and by the United States and the West. In fact, among the victims there were not only civilians or Westerners, but also Taliban guards. The airport area has become very vulnerable, they will try in every way to secure the area as much as possible and speed up evacuation operations.
The Taliban took power quickly. In your opinion, what were the mistakes of Westerners?
The Taliban had already controlled a large part of Afghan territory for at least five or six years, the Americans knew perfectly well that they would try to regain power in Kabul sooner or later. The most striking element was the rapid collapse of the Afghan forces.
What was it due to?
First, their number had been overestimated. There was talk of 300 thousand men, but the real number maybe 70-80 thousand. This was a mistake by both the United States and NATO. Another factor was corruption: many Afghan army commanders have crossed over to the other side or have deserted and crossed the border. Furthermore, the Americans have demoralized the Afghan forces. On 2 July they left Bagram, the largest US base in Afghanistan. They did so at night, without even notifying the local armed forces. This gave a bad signal to the Afghan army, they realized that the Americans were abandoning them to their fate. Then there is also a political motive behind the breakup of Afghanistan.
Western Afghanistan was a kind of bubble, with 200-300,000 people living with a Western lifestyle. But the vast majority of the population saw them as an elite. The creation of this elite proved to be very fragile in the test of facts.
Do the Taliban enjoy the support of a large part of the population?
The defeat of the Taliban in 2001 represented a defeat for the Pashtun ethnic group, which is largely in the majority in Afghanistan, which has always been in power in Kabul, except on very rare occasions. The revenge of the Taliban is therefore also in part the revenge of the Pashtuns. Although the Taliban of today have also formed alliances with other ethnic groups.
What will the new Taliban-led Afghanistan look like?
In the first Emirate, most of women’s rights were not guaranteed and civil and human rights were constantly violated. This new Emirate will follow the previous one, but with some differences, including generational ones. Today’s Taliban are young from 20 to 30 years old, it will be necessary to see how they will accept the changes that have taken place in recent years. Certainly there will be no elections, women’s rights will be minimized. There sharia, Islamic law, will be applied harshly. But many leaders have been abroad and fully understand that the key to their survival is above all linked to good economic and political relations with the states around them. The first thing they need is the money to run the country.
Where will they find this money?
If they keep their words, the Taliban should fight the opium trade, which is one of the Afghans’ sources of income. Then there are international relations, especially those with Pakistan, the main sponsor of the Taliban. Pakistanis have a very close relationship with China, which has invested tens of billions of dollars in Pakistan. They will also try to have good relations with Russia and Iran.
These days there are those who speak of possible dialogue between the Western powers and the Taliban.
To help the Afghan population inside, it is essential to speak with the Taliban. The first to do so, on the other hand, were the Americans with the Doha accords, whose negotiations have been going on for years. But this does not mean recognizing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
Is the West giving up its role in Afghanistan and against terrorism?
The United States and NATO withdrew because the Afghanistan adventure had already become a failure a few years ago. Now they have come out of it from the point of view of military presence, but they will certainly continue to monitor what is happening in Afghanistan. Americans are always ready to intervene with missile and air strikes. But the vacuum of forces on the ground will likely leave room for other powers, including China and Russia.
Will their influence on the country increase?
There had already been growth in this sense: the Chinese, for example, had invested in Afghan mines. Furthermore, Afghanistan was the only country in the region left off the famous Chinese Silk Road. Now it’s up to the Afghans to choose what to do, but I believe they will eventually accept China’s economic partnership.
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