The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

Increasingly, Afghanistan has become a playground for Islamists.

In October of 2021, the U.S. State Department’s Colin Kahl predicted that a possible resurgence of international terrorism might emanate from Afghanistan. Kahl’s prescient prediction is coming to fruition.

Over a year has passed since the Taliban assumed control of the country, and the group is still lacking an adequate approach to thwart terrorism. Despite publicly renouncing connections with known terrorist groups, the Taliban regime is sympathetic to them. Mainstream terrorist groups have been gradually expanding their roots in the country due to the Taliban’s rickety policy. There are many terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State – Khorasan Province (IS–KP), the Turkistan Islamic Party, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and Khatiba Imam al-Bukhari who are active in the country.

Al-Qaeda is the most prominent of these groups. Since the Taliban’s takeover in 2021, the core leadership of Al-Qaeda congratulated the regime. Al-Qaeda has regrouped by recruiting more members from inside and outside the country. Under the leadership of the now-deceased Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda has been able to enlarge its branches.

Likewise, the Islamic State – Khorasan Province, or IS-K, is another notorious terrorist group that is a powerful branch of the Islamic State. In Afghanistan, its objectives are analogous to Al-Qaeda, which is to establish a caliphate. The group is led by Afghan national Sanaullah Ghafari. In less than a year, membership of the group has doubled, and its activities have been extremely dilated. More than half of its members are foreign fighters. It is estimated that the group conducted more than six dozen attacks in 2021.

Groups like Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, the Turkistan Islamic Party, Khatiba Imam al-Bukhari, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and many others are accused of conducting terrorist attacks on Afghanistan’s neighbors.

Shortly after assuming control of the country, a new interim government was named, and controversially, Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani Network was appointed acting interior minister in charge of security. This interim government is mostly led by hardliners with no minorities, women, or opposition figures in positions of power. Ironically, despite being a member of a foreign government, Sirajuddin Haqqani is still on the FBI’s Most Wanted list with a reward of $10 million, and his Haqqani Network is designated as a terrorist group due to having links to Al-Qaeda.

Established in the 1970s, the Haqqani Network fought the Soviets. Up until 2021, the Haqqani Network was ruthless and killed thousands of Afghans while fighting coalition forces. The group can be blamed for a suicide bombing at Kabul’s Serena Hotel in 2008 and the killing of 16 Afghans during a 20-hour siege of the U.S. embassy in 2011.

Since 2021, many terrorist attacks have taken place in the country. In August, a series of bombings occurred in which more than 250 Afghans have been killed and injured. One such attack during evening prayers saw 21 killed and 33 people injured. Before the incident, Rahimullah Haqqani, a senior Taliban figure, was assassinated in a suicide bombing led by IS–KP. However, more recently, on September 22, in a catastrophic bomb blast, 7 people were killed and 41 were injured near a mosque in Kabul. The bombing can be traced back to IS–KP militants.

Moreover, on September 30, a suicide bombing in Kabul killed at least 53 people, including 46 girls, and women. The attack prompted thousands of Afghans to take to the streets to demand better security.

Since the Taliban is less likely to pursue any hard policy and has some sympathies with groups like Al-Qaeda and IS–KP, tensions with Afghanistan’s neighbors are going from bad to worse. The Taliban’s inability to moderate itself and crack down on groups like Al-Qaeda has also ensured that the government’s reserves being held in foreign bank accounts will not be released to the Taliban.

While there was some hope that the Taliban would rethink its governing philosophy and its approach to like-minded Islamists, that was clearly naïveté by some.

Kawsar Uddin Mahmud is a Researcher at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs in Dhaka.