Why Kabul turns blind eye to ISIS expansion in Afghanistan?

Alwaght– Afghanistan’s capital Kabul was rocked by a deadly blast earlier this week. According to the media sources, the suicide attack on the voter registration center in Kabul killed at least 60 and injured 120 more.

Kabul’s police chief Davoud Amin said that the victims went to the center to receive their identity cards for the ballot when a bomb ripped through the center in Dashte Barchi district.

Children were standing in line with their parents waiting to register when the bomb went off on Sunday morning.  The dead include 21 women and five children.

ISIS terrorist group issued a short statement in which it claimed the responsibility for the carnage.

Religious divisions and elections: ISIS key targets

Despite the fact that the attack targeted a government center distributing voter registration papers, it should be taken into account that the targeted neighborhood is a region heavily populated by the Shiite Muslims, who have been targeted by ISIS for their religion in the past.

Since starting its operations in Afghanistan nearly two years ago, the terrorist group focused on the Shiite centers across the county comes with the aim of broadening the religious chasms in the war-ravaged state.

The attack on the registration center, opened this month for legislative elections which are due to take place in October, sent a clear message to the vote organizers in the county. Earlier, the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan had warned that insecurity will pose the greatest challenge to its duty of organizing the process, asking the government of President Ashraf Ghani to do its best to provide the best possible security climate for the elections.

The upcoming elections are the first in the county in eight years and are the first since Ghani, along with the Abdullah Abdullah, the nation’s chief executive, formed a national unity government in 2014. However, it seems that the elections will fall victim to security weakness, and the recent attack bears all the reasons for this claim.

With regard to the vital significance of the security for the successful organization of the October elections, will the government of President Ashraf show adequate will to secure the process and repel the terrorist plots?

How much is security provision important for Ghani’s administration?

As a living human being needs blood, Afghanistan needs security and without it the nation against the terror risks, the government cannot peruse the simplest plans, let alone such a demanding process as the parliamentary elections.

Afghanistan can achieve security only through putting an end to the civil war and decisively fighting terrorism, which is growing fast across the country as ISIS expands its spheres of influence and recruits further fighters. But how serious the Afghan government is to terminate the domestic conflict and battle growing terrorism risk remains a question.

The president regularly maneuvers with the so-called efforts of the government to end the home struggle through negotiation with the armed groups, on top of them Taliban. However, some contradictions in the approach of the government to the peace process raise serious questions about its true will to end the decades-long conflict.

In the case of the home peace efforts, one of the key parties is Taliban militant group, which holds vast tracts of the country’s territory. But Taliban were absent at least in the three peace talks rounds in Oman, and also recently in Uzbekistan despite the presence of the foreign actors as guarantors of the peace overtures.

Whereas the government regularly argues that it invites the Taliban to the dialogue sessions, Zabihullah Mujahid, the spokesman to the militant organization, denies that the government invitation was sent to them, even for Oman and Tashkent conferences. It appears that Kabul only reaches out to the smaller and less effective factions of Taliban to seal a peace deal with them. This means that the major a head of establishing security in the country is failure of peace talks.

But the deadlock is only a factor in a circle of factors distancing the county from enjoying peace. A larger part of security risks is posed by the freshly-rising terrorist groups like ISIS. The recent suicide bombing shows that ISIS is mobilizing its resources to disrupt the parliamentary elections.

The voter center attack, however, was not the first blast in the new year by the fundamentalist group. A month ago, an attack, also a suicide one, in the capital took lives of at least 40 people and injured 70. Before that in January, a suicide attack rocking a Shiite cultural center in Kabul killed at least 45. These assaults are aside from the clashes and advances of the group regularly reported about in various regions.

Despite ISIS expansion, news of the government security forces and the army’s military actions against the extremist group hardly come out. The last anti-ISIS move of the Afghan armed forces was in December last year when the troops clashed with militant fighters in Darzab district in Jowzjan province.

Questions are beginning to rise about why the government does not push against ISIS as much as it does against Taliban. Even the president in his speeches insists on dismissing the ISIS risks and deeming its progression as limited and far from being precarious. Addressing the “Heart of Asia” 6th foreign ministerial meeting in Baku on December 4, 2017, Ghani told the participants that ISIS had no weapons, facilities, and forces in Afghanistan and that only a small number of them are stuck in the mountains and “will die of hunger.”

Such postures exhibit Ghani’s negligence of the seriousness of ISIS perils for the county. But no matter how much the president turns a blind eye, the ISIS hostility against the people and government proves that it is out there and moving ahead.

When last week the Shiite passengers in Ghor province were massacred, the government officials rushed to hold Taliban accountable for the incident. But shortly after, ISIS claimed it was behind the attack. Taliban denied involvement at the same time. The government officials, showing consistency with Ghani’s mindset, are leaning towards highlighting the dangers of Taliban than those of ISIS as they attribute ISIS actions to Taliban.

The unity government’s disregard of ISIS jeopardy has roots in the internal political competition and its hope to impair Taliban exploiting a rival organization like ISIS.

Since its formation in 2014, the government pledged to bring peace back to the country, fight corruption, absorb foreign aids, and cultivate economic growth in the county which is the world’s largest refugee origin. But as of now, not only the economy saw no rejuvenation but also the security circumstances worsened compared to 2014.

According to the World Bank’s figures, Afghanistan’s economic growth in 2018 will not grow any better than the year before which was 2.2 percent. The World Bank’s Country Director for Afghanistan Shubham Chaudhuri has said that if the security conditions do not deteriorate, the growth can touch the 3.2 percent. So, although the economy begins to slowly recover, the growth rate remains way below that 2003-2012 period which was near 10 percent, hence providing no prospects for considerable improvement in the security situation. This largely drives Kabul government to downplay ISIS hazards to repel the rivals’ criticism as the elections draw close.

Still, from another perspective, ISIS is becoming a rival to Taliban in Afghanistan, managing over the past year to recruit members and attract resources. Therefore, Kabul finds interest in the vying of the two militant organizations that could erode the strength of Taliban whom the Afghan leaders regard as the main threat to the nation’s stability.