Who is in charge in Afghanistan?

МОСКВА, 25 сентября 2021, Институт РУССТРАТ.

The article of the Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev, published at “gazeta.ru” on the occasion of the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York, plunged many experts into a state of political shock because the author, citing information from the security services, said that “in Afghanistan, including in the provinces bordering the countries of Central Asia, there are tens of thousands of ISIS fighters. Such data is publicly presented for the first time since the withdrawal of US troops and their allies from Afghanistan and needs serious analysis.

The fact is that until recently, the Afghan authorities and the US-led forces of the international coalition in Afghanistan did not attach serious importance to the activities of ISIS, although in the autumn of 2015 the UN reported that ISIS militants are present in 25 of the 34 Afghan provinces.

At the same time, the report noted that “the number of groups and individuals who openly declare their loyalty and sympathy for ISIS continues to grow in a number of Afghan provinces”, especially in the eastern province of Nangarhar, and since 2017, ISIS militants have been seen already in the north of the country in the province of Jowzjan. But in November 2019, the President of Afghanistan, Mohammad Ashraf Ghani announced that ISIS in Afghanistan had been finished off.

Similar statements were made by the representatives of the American command and intelligence, noting that the number of IS-Khorasan militants (so-called ISIS) in Afghanistan is only from 2,000-5,000 militants, and that it is only potentially possible to talk about the possibilities of expanding the influence of ISIS in this country.

Even after “IS-Khorasan” committed a terrorist attack at Kabul airport, which claimed the lives of 13 Americans, it was hardly possible to talk about this radical group in Afghanistan as a force capable of fighting not only against the Americans, but also against the Taliban, which came to power in Kabul.

And suddenly, American experts and the military began talking about the fact that the “IS-Khorasan” has reached such a force that is able to resist the “Taliban” in the struggle for power in Kabul and to seriously complicate its efforts to consolidate power and create a national government. Everything here is built on some kind of intrigue.

Thus, a former US intelligence officer, Michael Pregent, who now works as an analyst at the Hudson Institute research organisation, claims that it is unlikely that IS-Khorasan was able to organise a terrorist attack in Kabul and that, most likely, we should talk about the activities of the leaders of the Haqqani network – a large faction of the Taliban – that acted under a “foreign flag”.

“If it was ISIS-K,” Pregent writes, “they passed through Haqqani security, because they have command and control of Kabul, and they have an intelligence apparatus”.

Or vice versa. Other experts claim that “part of the Taliban defected to the side of IS-Khorasan, joining the ranks of this radical group. In its turn, the Turkish intelligence service, which shows an increased interest in the situation in Afghanistan, leaked “information according to which the United States transferred ISIS members from Syria and Iraq in Afghanistan for the purpose of “organising at this stage the containment in the activities of a certain part of the Taliban, and then to designate in Afghanistan a new front of internal confrontation along the line of the Taliban-ISIS.

Al-Jazeera went further, claiming that “the Afghan branch of ISIS known as Wilayat Khorasan”, is a joint product of the US CIA and Afghan intelligence”. It is directed simultaneously against the “Taliban” and the desire of part of the Taliban to opt for reconciliation with the United States and the West.

If this is indeed like that, then much deeper calculations may be behind the recent Afghan events due to the closely intertwined relations of external and internal players. Analysts believe that Afghanistan can turn into a new centre of terrorism only in one case — if regional and international powers will support ISIS with people, weapons and money in order to further use this organisation to destabilise Afghanistan, to weaken the Taliban’s power and setting their own scores on Afghan soil, as it has happened over the past four decades.

However, it is still difficult to depend on the reliability of the information contained in various Afghan reports and forecasts. What is clear so far is that relations and clashes along the Taliban-ISIS axis will be one of the problems of the upcoming period.