The attack on a gurdwara in Kabul on March 25 that killed at least 25 people, mostly members of Afghanistan’s persecuted Sikh minority, is a barefaced attempt by the Islamic State (IS) to revive its fortunes in the country at a time when it is politically divided and the peace process is hamstrung by the Taliban’s continuing violence. The IS, which is concentrated in the eastern parts of Afghanistan, carried out several attacks in the past targeting the country’s minorities. But, in recent months, the jihadist group suffered setbacks in the wake of sustained military operations by both Afghan and U.S. troops. In some parts, the Taliban had also attacked the IS, as the insurgents, who are tribal Islamist nationalists, see the latter as a threat. But the war-torn country’s security situation is as fluid as ever. It now has two governments, one led by Ashraf Ghani, who was declared winner of the September presidential election, and the other by Abdullah Abdullah, who has disputed the results and formed a rival administration . The peace agreement reached between the Taliban and the U.S. failed to bring any halt to violence, with the insurgents and the government not being able to reach an understanding even on a prisoner swap. Besides, the country has also seen a jump in the number of SARS-CoV-2 infections , with the Herat Province, which shares a border with Iran, emerging as the epicentre. The attack couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Afghanistan is notorious for violence against its minority communities. The Hazara Shias were brutalised during the Taliban regime in 1996-2001. Most Hindus and Sikhs, once spread across the country in hundreds of thousands, have fled the country. With the resurgence of the Taliban and the fear of the insurgents taking over Kabul and undermining the Constitution, which at least in theory guarantees rights to all communities, the remaining minority groups are already in an abandoned state. By attacking the gurdwara and an adjacent housing complex, the IS has not just terrified the country’s minorities further, but sent a message to the Afghan authorities that it remains a potent security threat. Afghanistan has too many problems, ranging from terrorism to the breakdown of the administration, which demands absolute resolve from the government. But, unfortunately, the country’s political leadership appears to be concerned less about resolving any of them than about keeping power. The leadership should realise the magnitude of this crisis, and take a united approach to tackle it. It should kick-start the peace process with the Taliban, fight the IS cells more aggressively and work towards at least ensuring the minimum rights of its citizens guaranteed by the Constitution.