The Biden administration says it will hunt down the attackers of the deadly Kabul explosions, but the real question is how the Taliban will react.
Can the Taliban rule Afghanistan? Can the Taliban, a local political movement, control groups like Al Qaeda and Daesh, global terrorist networks? The attacks, which were claimed by Daesh-K (Islamic State - Khorasan), the group’s Afghan wing, killed more than 100 people including 13 US troops last week. K means Khorasan, which Daesh uses to refer to Afghanistan.
While these questions are not easy to answer, at least one question, which is whether the Taliban wants to go after Daesh and similar groups, might have an answer.
“The Taliban have already gone after IS (Daesh) - and killed their leaders who were in jail in Kabul when they took over the city,” says Thomas Ruttig, a co-founder and co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, a Kabul-based think-tank.
“So, this will continue,” Rutting tells TRT World.
Ruttig refers to people like Abu Omar Khorasani, the Daesh-K leader, who thought that he would be released by the Taliban due to past cooperation against the US and its Afghan allies. Instead, he was executed by the group. Prior to his death, Khorasani confirmed the hotly debated notion that the Taliban aspires to be a countrywise movement while Daesh has global ambitions.
“One of the Taliban's major concerns is to see a Daesh revival in Afghanistan or to see those Daesh leaders who have a capacity to remobilise their fighters. For this reason, they targeted Daesh commanders and leaders like Khorasani who are capable of mobilising fighters,” says Obaid Ali, an Afghan political analyst at the Afghanistan Analysts Network.
The last two years also witnessed a lot of clashes between the Taliban and Daesh-K, according to a report conducted by Afghanistan Analysts Network. Aided by both US airstrikes and the former Afghan government’s provincial troops, the Taliban defeated Daesh-K forces in both Kunar and Nangarhar provinces, the report said.
Taliban attacks on Daesh-K led to Daesh-K leadership announcing that it is “planning a long new war against the Taliban, anticipating in light of US-Taliban deal that Taliban will soon take power in Kabul with the US withdrawal,” wrote Abdul Sayed, an expert on Afghanistan and the Taliban, on Twitter.
Ali also sees signs of a long war between the two groups but thinks the Taliban’s fight against Daesh will not be straightforward.
“For Daesh, it was quite difficult to remain or survive from all these attacks from different directions and also from different forces. But today, it’s different because there is only one front [the Taliban] against Daesh in Afghanistan,” Ali tells TRT World.
In the past, Daesh was fighting a variety of forces ranging from the US and its allies to the former Afghan government and the Taliban.
The future scenarios might be even harder for the Taliban’s survival because there is a possibility that Daesh “will get stronger to fight against the Taliban”, according to Ali. There are many unknowns and a lot depends on Daesh’s capacity to remobilise its forces, Ali adds.
“There is a space for Daesh to defy and restart its fighting. It still needs time and support to remobilise its fighters and recruit new fighters to fight against the Taliban,” Ali says. “So time is ticking for Daesh to mobilise its fighters.”
The Taliban will also be preoccupied with forming a government in the centre, “I don’t think the Taliban has enough fighters and forces to fight against Daesh in rural areas.” As they combat Daesh, they also need to convince opponents like Ahmad Massoud and other anti-Taliban forces on their mandate to rule the state, Ali says.
Daesh-K’s new leader Dr. Shahab al-Muhajir, who takes the title of emir, also declared “a new urban terrorism campaign against the Taliban, the Afghan government, and ‘their US masters’,” Sayed also wrote on Twitter.
According to Sayed, the main motive behind the Kabul attack is related to the past two years of fighting between the Taliban and Daesh-K, where the latter took heavy casualties in places like Kunar and Nangarhar. But Daesh-K has increasingly turned out to be an organisation dominated by its Kabul network, which “also has splinters and defectors from the Taliban’s so-called Haqqani Network (HQN),” the analyst noted.
Another serious issue surrounding Taliban rule and its fight against Daesh is factionalism. One of their biggest allies, the Haqqani network, is currently part of the Taliban structure while a Pentagon spokesman recently suggested the opposite saying that “the Taliban and the Haqqani Network are separate entities.”
“One of the good things about the Taliban is that they remain as a united force as they did in the past. There are factions, but it’s easy for the Taliban to maintain their friendships with other militant groups. Because the Haqqani Network has fought alongside the Taliban for a long time, it’s easy to maintain their relations,” Ali says. He does not think there will be a split in the Taliban.
But Mohammed Marandi, an Iranian-American academic and political analyst, thinks that what will happen is something difficult to predict because the Taliban has “different factions and they have different agendas.”
“The problem is that since the Taliban is made up of different factions and there is no single authority which can impose its will on everyone, it’s going to be very difficult for them to deal foreign fighters,” Marandi tells TRT World. The analyst believes that different groups affiliated with either Daesh or Al Qaeda have “strong protectors within different factions of the Taliban.”
Some Taliban factions have a significant number of foreign fighters, according to Marandi. “The main group, which is in power in Kabul right now, is officially opposing the presence of foreign fighters,” he adds. “The main faction of the Taliban is fighting ISIS and that fight began before these attacks.”
Another mystery related to the current relationship between the Taliban and groups like Daesh is the fact that a lot of inmates including allegedly Al Qaeda and Daesh-affiliated militants were released from prisons by the Afghan group during its campaign across Afghanistan.
Marandi believes that a lot of Al Qaeda-affiliated prisoners were released by the Taliban. Mohammed Rahman Rahimi, an Istanbul-based Afghan analyst, also thinks that some of the biggest figures of Daesh were released by the Taliban.
Releasing prisoners without checking who they are became a big issue for the Taliban, according to Ali. “Killing one Daesh leader does not mean eliminating all Daesh from Afghanistan. It was actually a big mistake for the Taliban to release prisoners without assessing their background,” Ali says.
What should the Taliban do?
“The Taliban have to go after the Daesh attacks. Otherwise, it will be hard for them to survive. They need recognition from the international community. They need immediate funding from the World Bank, IMF and the European Union,” says Kamal Alam, a non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.
“Unless the Taliban shows they are serious to counter terrorism, especially against Al Qaeda and Daesh, the Taliban will not survive in the current geopolitical environment,” Alam tells TRT World.
While Taliban officials appeared to blame the US for the failure to prevent the recent attacks near the Kabul airport controlled by American troops, after Washington’s withdrawal, the Taliban might not find any excuse to blame Westerners for future attacks, according to Alam.
“In a few weeks when the Americans are gone, all the attention will be on the Taliban and on how they can fight Daesh. One thing is for sure: if they don’t fight Daesh, then, there will be no place for the Taliban in the international community or recognition,” Alam views.
But it’s still not clear when and how the Taliban will fight Daesh, the analyst adds. Pakistan, one of the backers of the Taliban, and Qatar, which has long hosted the talks between the group and Washington, might play a crucial role to tame the organisation, Alam says.
“A lot depends on how Pakistan and Qatar can continue to pressurise the Taliban to go after international terrorists,” Alam says.