Afghanistan never loses attention. Three conferences from July 10 to 15, 2018, saw their members pledging to play a role in bringing about the much elusive peace in Afghanistan. The Afghan debacle is now more than three decades old, but the last 17 years, since the US took upon itself to purge the country of terrorism, has seen more destruction and a robust return of the Taliban than at any other time. The NATO huddle in Brussels, the meeting of 100 Islamic scholars in Saudi Arabia, the consultation among Chinese, Iranian and Russian spy masters in Pakistan and the shift in the US Afghan policy were all directed towards eliminating terrorism from Afghanistan using the oft taken route: Bringing the Taliban to the negotiation table and stemming the emergence of more terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State (IS).
First it was Al-Qaeda, then the Taliban and now the IS. The world of terrorism has moved from being nomads to becoming a professional force seeking its share of identity apart from the nation-states.
The anti-Muslim vitriol now emanating from the conservative right-wing Christians and US security apparatus was once a deep seated love of Islamic Jihad; or to put it more succinctly, a tool for anti-communism. Elizabeth Gould and Paul Fitzgerald in their book Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story, have explained the US Christian leaders’ interest in using political Islam rather than finding a straightforward solution to the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan. Quoting William Casey, the Director of the CIA from 1981 to 1987, Gould and Fitzgerald wrote:
“Casey’s passion for the Afghan jihad has sometimes been described as messianic. An ultra-conservative Catholic, Casey saw little difference in the antimodernist beliefs of the Wahhabi House of Saud and the antimodernist, anti-enlightenment views of the newly installed Polish Pope, John Paul II.”
With the turn of the century, the ideology of the Clashes of Civilization, pitting Islam against the rest, evolved. The antimodernist beliefs of the Wahhabis became the antithesis. Saving the world from the savagery of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban became the most important thing. After World War II the world to the US was either good or communist. In the 21st century the world to the US was either good or Islamic. The objective of the US in Afghanistan has been singular: to retard modernisation in Afghanistan; first by using Pan-Islamic extremists and later by demolishing the same through militarisation. The fight against the Islamic fundamentalists did not stop in Afghanistan. In the line of fire fell Iraq and later Syria. The more war was stoked against terrorism, the more intense it became in ferocity and reach; culminating in the IS. Having travelled from Iraq and Syria to Afghanistan the organization now calls itself the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (Khorasan is a historical region encompassing modern day Afghanistan, Central Asia and parts of Iran).
A meeting of the intelligence officer from China, Iran, Russia and Pakistan in Islamabad was conducted to meet the challenges posed by the increasing footstep of the IS in Afghanistan. The strategists focused not only on finding ways to stop the infiltration of the IS from Syria and Iraq to Afghanistan but also on settling the Afghan conflict----understanding that unless this womb is made infertile, terrorism will keep resurfacing. Russia sees the US hands behind the origination of the IS and had used Iranian alliance to defeat it in Syria. The former Afghan President Hamid Karzai had also accused the US for airlifting the IS to Afghanistan. Russia estimates that there are about 10,000 IS fighters in Afghanistan.
Pakistan has a cause to worry. The Mustang attack on July 13 that killed Balochistan Awami Party’s leader Siraj Raisani and 150 other had been claimed by the IS. It was one of the several attacks claimed by this group. In case of IS absorbing loosely scattered terrorist organizations from Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Xingjian or other central Asian countries, its monstrosity may grow manifold.
The owerhouse of global decision making, the G-7, NATO and the UN have ceased to exist when it comes to policy decisions. They are busy more in managing the fallout of the US policy failures than managing the world order. For these institutions IS poses no threat to Afghanistan; not even when the organisation itself takes responsibility for terrorist attacks in the country.
Instead of talking the bull by the horn, the US is missing the bull and focusing again on potentially abortive strategies to clear the Afghan quagmire. De-legitimising Afghan Jihad through Islamic clerics in Saudi Arabia, pushing UAE to join NATO’s non-combative role and calling the insurgents –Taliban - to join the Kabul government, lack resonance because of the perception that in the demise of Taliban the US is seeing a deeper entrenchment in Afghanistan through the IS.
The Islamabad meet should send a message to the US that the regional powers would not take unilateral US approach to the resolution of Afghan conflict, and that the spectre of IS will be eventually hunted down with complete force.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Lahore.