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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 1 March 2021

Did ISIL, the Taliban or the Haqqani Network carry out the Kandahar attack?

The key usual suspects have remained quiet over the Tuesday bombing which killed five Emiratis along with at least six others. But in a country increasingly dependent on funding from Arab Gulf states this is perhaps not surprising
Afghan Taliban fighters listen to an unseen Mullah Mohammad Rasool Akhund, the newly appointed leader of a breakaway faction of the Taliban, at Bakwah in the western province of Farah on November 3, 2015. Javed Tanveer/AFP
Afghan Taliban fighters listen to an unseen Mullah Mohammad Rasool Akhund, the newly appointed leader of a breakaway faction of the Taliban, at Bakwah in the western province of Farah on November 3, 2015. Javed Tanveer/AFP

More than two days have passed since the attack in Kandahar which killed five Emiratis along with at least six other people and no group has yet taken responsibility.

The key usual suspects, the Taliban, the Haqqani Network and ISIL, have remained quiet over the Tuesday bombing, although the Taliban claimed two other attacks on the same day in Kabul and Lashkar Gah.

In a country increasingly dependent on funding from Arab Gulf states this is perhaps not surprising. “Whoever did it has shot themselves in the foot and will not have made themselves popular with the rest of the country,” says Thomas Ruttig of the Kabul-based Afghan Analysts Network, referring to the UAE.

The Taliban have been the largest threat to the Afghan government since being ousted from power in 2001 and have carried out a continuous suicide attacks against Afghans and foreigners alike.

But the Taliban are far from a cohesive organisation. And since the death of former leader Mullah Mohammed Omar in 2013 and in the power vacuum subsequently created, they have become even more fractured.

Mullah Omar was respected and revered among the Taliban, even among foot soldiers. When Mullah Akhtar Mansour replaced him, infighting ensued and a breakaway faction established itself in direct opposition to the group’s new leader.

When Mullah Mansour was killed in May last year by a US drone attack he was succeeded by Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada who had served under Mullah Omar. Mawlawi Akhundzada appointed his son to the post of deputy but in a move demonstrating the complex and elastic nature of the Taliban, he split the role with Sirajuddin Haqqani, the son of Jalaluddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani Network.

“It is significant that the [Taliban] leadership remains in the hands of the old guard,’ says Ashley Jackson, a research associate at the Overseas Development Institute.

“Their ideologies are nationalistic and entirely focused on Afghanistan. The younger, more extreme military commanders raised in the madrasas of Pakistan have a different perspective and refuse to compromise.’

After Mullah Mansour’s death, Mawlawi Akhundzada immediately pledged to avenge him with more attacks against Afghan and international forces.

“One of the other major issues ... is that no one truly realises that the Taliban are not just puppets of Pakistan: they are a key player in their own right,” Mr Ruttig says.

The Pakistan-based Haqqani Network, meanwhile, is akin to the Afghan Mafia. The largest of the Taliban factions, the network controls its own town – Miramshah, located in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan which border south-eastern Afghanistan. There, the network’s leaders operate their own laws, medical system, schools and governance. Although largely believed to be funded by benefactors in the Arabian Gulf, the group makes a large proportion of its money through smuggling, extortion and kidnappings.

The network is credited with recruiting Osama bin Laden to the mujaheddin during the Soviet-Afghan war and later aiding his escape from Afghanistan to Pakistan after the 9/11 attacks – a move which cost the Taliban their rule.

The Haqqani Network claims to have pioneered the use of suicide attacks, using foreign fighters as opposed to the local foot soldiers used by the Taliban for such attacks. But despite this difference in tactics, the network’s ideology is very much in line with the Taliban’s – both ultimately want to be part of a future government in an independent Islamic Afghanistan free from all foreign intervention.

ISIL has a much shorter history in Afghanistan. When the extremist group exploded onto the world’s stage in 2014, it was a year before they rolled into Afghanistan, establishing a stronghold in the country’s east and appealing to disenfranchised Salafists. “The militants were initially welcomed as guests by the Taliban but when they began establishing their own systems of governance and society and upsetting traditional social structures it did not sit well with Afghans, who are naturally mistrustful of outsiders at the best of times,” Ms Jackson explains

It is still unclear what exactly ISIL’s end goal is in Afghanistan, but the extremists’ aim was clearly never to win hearts and minds. Their use of shock and indiscriminate brutality has proven to be dramatically out of line with Taliban ideology which is deeply rooted in Sufism and the Deobandi movement.

Today ISIL has been relegated to the isolated and remote districts of Kunar, Nuristan and Nangahar. Most Afghans fear the group, whom they equate to the ISIL militants operating in Syria and Iraq. The Afghan branch of ISIL, however, is merely a fringe group with little strategic power.

But, as Mr Ruttig explains, the group has proved a useful fund-raising tool for the government: “Their presence is hyped up by the Afghan government in order to keep Afghanistan in the minds of the West before all foreign aid dries up.”

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

Published: January 12, 2017 04:00 AM

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