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Opinion

Opinion: Is 'Islamic State' spreading to Afghanistan?

The attack in Jalalabad suggests the "Islamic State" has arrived in Afghanistan. Florian Weigand thinks it is a consequence of the international community's withdrawal from the country before its problems were solved.

It was just a matter of time. For months rumors of "Islamic State" activity have been haunting Afghanistan's media and social networks. Junior government officials participated in the speculation, while others denied their claims. But now it seems official: The Afghan president himself, Ashraf Ghani, has confirmed that IS is responsible for a bomb attack in Jalalabad that killed 33 government officials.

Now there are fears that the same awful reality playing out in Iraq could repeat itself in the Hindu Kush. Kabul is occupied by a weak government consisting of two hostile factions that have failed to appoint officials to a number of ministerial posts more than six months after elections. At the turn of the year most international forces were withdrawn from the country - after 13 years, NATO's ISAF force is history. Sure, there is a leftover support mission to train Afghan troops, but despite being named "Resolute Support," it cannot be expected to keep its rhetorical promise when things get serious. Afghan soldiers recently fought well in two operations in the south and northeast, but they are hardly in a position to put down rebels. Thus, Afghanistan presents a prime opportunity for IS.

Afghanistan as a new theater of operations

Weigand Florian Kommentarbild App

DW's Florian Weigand

The international community is now paying for the fact that it prematurely abandoned the Hindu Kush - not because the mission was a success, but because voters back home could not be convinced of the necessity of seeing the job through. The chaotic situation on the ground is well-known to military and developmental experts, but politicians try to gloss over it, while at the same time cutting funds for civilian reconstruction.

But the fact that IS has now popped up in Afghanistan has a lot to do with current developments in Iraq and Syria. Radical Islamists have come under increasing pressure there over the last few weeks. Bombing by the international alliance has forced them out of several important locations. IS strategists will more than likely be thinking cynical thoughts about how these setbacks can be compensated for in the media. Afghanistan, and in the future perhaps the unstable nuclear weapons state Pakistan, seem destined to be new theaters of operation.

Nonetheless, a few questions remain. Attacks like the one today in Jalalabad have never been the method of choice for IS. Unlike al Qaeda, IS fighters put little stock in drawing attention to themselves with spectacular individual attacks, preferring rather the build-up, expansion, and control of a contiguous geographic area. Ethnic cleansing and execution videos serve only to further the goal of strengthening the new "caliphate."

Former Taliban in new IS robes

But this attack bears the signature of regional terror groups trying to destabilize the governments in Kabul and Islamabad with attacks that make an impact in the media. In fact, according to information acquired by DW, the source that has claimed responsibility for the attack is a former member of the Pakistani Taliban. Some time ago a splinter group broke off from Afghanistan's old rulers and swore their allegiance to the Islamic State in a video message; no one can say whether this group now receives instructions directly from Iraq, or whether they operate like a kind of independent "IS terror franchise." Both scenarios offer horrifying prospects.

A bloody summer is to be feared, from which only the Taliban will profit. In order to block the establishment of an IS outcrop in the Hindu Kush, and therewith proximity to Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, Kabul and the international community will be willing to meet every demand that the Taliban makes just to get them involved in peace negotiations. Their old regime of terror and the recent attacks will all simply be set aside - and along with them, perhaps also everything that the international community stood up for 13 years ago: a secular state, freedom, tolerance, and equal rights for women.

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