Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Daily Times Editorial April 20, 2015

IS arrives A suicide bombing followed by a planted bomb outside a bank in Jalalabad on Saturday that killed 33 people and injured over 100 announced the 'arrival' of Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan. The bank is where government workers collect their salaries. Obviously a queue of people waiting to collect their dues presented a tempting target for the terrorists. It is not known what if any security arrangements existed at the bank for just such an eventuality. That is not to say that the presence of security is any guarantee of safety against determined fanatical suicide bombers. But the realities of life in Afghanistan (and Pakistan for that matter) mean that any gathering in the public space offers opportunity and temptation to the terrorists. This particular atrocity stands out for the claim of responsibility by IS. Until now, claims of IS actions in Afghanistan were widely considered to emanate from former Taliban members disillusioned with their leadership. Younger Taliban are reportedly more and more inspired by IS because of its spectacular victories and capture of large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria. Accompanying the IS claim of responsibility for the bombing came the condemnatory statement of President Ashraf Ghani, who only last month on a visit to Washington had warned that IS presented a "terrible threat" to his country. Never were truer words spoken. Pakistan too needs to wake up from complacency to the new deadlier threat posed by IS. Ominously, the IS claim of responsibility was made in the name of IS in Afghanistan and Pakistan, signalling the expansion of the group into South Asia. Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar in particular needs to shed the complacent blinkers that informed his comment not long ago that there was no IS presence in Pakistan. If the old style religious extremists like the Taliban had only tenuous cross-border links, IS has demonstrated in practice in Iraq and Syria that it is no respecter of borders. Al Qaeda in the past relied on 'franchising' it's brand throughout the Muslim world but IS, having declared a millenarian caliphate, has conceptually obliterated the nation state and its boundaries. That was the thrust of Afghan military chief General Sher Mohammad Karimi's remarks while addressing the passing out parade at the Pakistan Military Academy Kakul on Saturday, ironically the very day the terrorists struck in Jalalabad. General Karimi called for sincere counterterrorism cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan to counter and ultimately defeat the menace and threat of terrorism. He cautioned against missing the historic opportunity of defeating the terrorists through joint efforts. The Afghanistan-Pakistan border situation in particular presents both threats and opportunities vis-a-vis the terrorists. The threat emanates from the bases enjoyed since 2001 by the Afghan Taliban on Pakistani soil. On the other side of the border, Pakistani Taliban have received hospitality and safe havens from the Afghan Taliban. Jamaat ul Ahrar and Lashkar-e-Islam have shown surprising alacrity in condemning the Jalalabad atrocity, perhaps for fear of the backlash threatening their continued presence on Afghan soil. The Afghan Taliban too have been quick to distance themselves from the attack, calling it "evil". For the Afghan Taliban this is standard operating procedure. They seldom if ever claim attacks in which large numbers of innocent non-combatants are killed, arguing they only attack foreigners or Afghan military and government targets. An atrocity like Jalabad is therefore an 'orphan' except in the eyes of the ruthless IS. Terrorism in the shape of IS has morphed and gone beyond the parameters of the Taliban or Al Qaeda. Whereas the IS terrorists have a headstart in transcending the confines of national state boundaries, governments in the states under attack have yet to catch up and tackle the increasingly cross-border threat jointly. Pakistan and Afghanistan, in a changed milieu of unprecedented cooperation, defined by Pakistan trying to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table (admittedly a difficult enterprise given the reported divisions within the Afghan Taliban ranks on the issue) and Afghanistan coordinating actions to counter the Pakistani Taliban on its side of the border, could show the region and the world the way forward by close collaboration and coordinated joint action against their common terrorist enemy, particularly rising IS.

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