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Pakistani Collusion Suspected After Attacks on Chinese nationals in Afghanistan: Experts

Pakistan has become the focus of suspicion after a suicide bombing in the heart of Taliban-administered Kabul targeted members of Chinese delegation on January 11. The delegation was due to meet the Taliban officials in the Afghan foreign ministry, when a suicide bomber was seen detonating himself, claiming at least 20 casualties.

Wednesday’s attack outside the Afghan foreign ministry was the second in less than a month in which Chinese people living in Afghanistan were principal targets of the Islamic State (Khorasan) group. On December 10, 2022, members of Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) stormed a hotel frequented by Chinese business people, wounding at least five Chinese nationals.

According to Brigadier (retd.) Arun Sahgal, Executive Director of New Delhi-based Forum for Strategic Initiative, the January 11 attack outside foreign ministry in Kabul highlights that “Taliban political leadership is not fully in control” of the country’s state of affairs. 

“IS-K does not want Chinese presence and intends to scare away the investments,” he added, referring to a 25 year deal signed by Chinese Company,  Xinjiang Central Asia Petroleum Corporation for extracting oil from Amu Darya on the Afghan-Uzbek border.

But there is much more to IS-K’s intentions to scare away Chinese investments with Islamabad being a central figure of authoritative influence. 

Experts point out Pakistan’s complicity in enabling the past and ongoing actions by Islamic State (Khorasan) in Afghanistan. 

Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, senior research fellow at New Delhi-based Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies told WION that Islamic State-Khorasan is “entirely a fabrication of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (IS-I).”

“Time and again it has been proven that Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) is a Pakistani creation,” Iyer-Mitra added.

Experts also point out Pakistan’s track-record of enabling IS-K actions in Afghanistan, such as the March 2019 attack on a Sikh gurudwara in Kabul. In the investigation into attack which followed, the Afghan intelligence agencies, then administered by democratically-elected Ashraf Ghani government, nabbed an IS-K emir.

“When the Afghan intelligence arrested the IS-K’s emir Mawlawi Abdullah aka Aslam Farooqui, it turned out that he was a Pakistani,” pointed Sridharan Subramanyam, Distinguished Fellow at Chennai Centre for China Studies. 

During interrogation by Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS), it was revealed that IS-K was then controlled by the Pakistan’s ISI and Sirajuddin Haqqani.

“It could very well be that the ISI is similarly trying to embarrass the Taliban government now and also spoil the party between the Taliban and China,” Subramanyam added. 

Taliban actions on IS-K: Confused, contradictory

The Taliban opened gates of prisons and released the inmates after the dramatic exit of the US forces from Afghanistan in 2021 and subsequent fall of the democratically-elected Ashraf Ghani government in Kabul.

Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) sources cited by scholar Atal Ahmadzai in his October 2022 research paper indicate that the Taliban released more than 2000 IS-K fighters right before capturing Kabul. 

Among the released inmates was the one who carried out a suicide bombing attack at the Kabul airport on August 26, 2021 that killed 170 Afghan civilians and 13 US service members. As IS-K reached its peak of exposure following its attack on Kabul airport, the Taliban launched a campaign against IS-K members. The Taliban campaign against IS-K members included beheadings, drownings and on-the-spot executions, prompting many IS-K members to seek refuge in neighbouring Pakistan. 

Afghan and Pakistani Pashtuns serve as the public face of the Islamic State offshoot’s outer layer, scholars have said in the past. This composition allows IS-K members to be mobile across the perilous Af-Pak region towards Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Pakistan’s suspected role in IS-K targeting Chinese nationals

Experts also point towards Pakistan’s obsession with the idea of ‘strategic depth’ in the Af-Pak region, which is a military term that refers to internal distance within a state from its Forward Defended Localities (FDLs). Pakistani rulers have called for gaining strategic depth by supporting Taliban, in the hopes of developing advantage against India along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. 

“The idea of ‘strategic depth’ is still deeply ingrained in the doctrine of the Pakistani Army,” Subramanyam said, adding that the Taliban never accepted Durand Line as conclusive border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

“The Taliban Deputy PM’s latest reminder of the events of December 1971 is especially devastating for the Pakistani Army and the ISI and cannot be swallowed easily,” Subramanyam added, pointing out Taliban administration’s deputy prime minister Ahmad Yasir’s recent reference to Pakistan’s 1971 debacle against India after Islamabad said it intends to attack TTP hideouts in Afghanistan. 

“The worsening Taliban-Pakistan relationship is taking a toll on the Afghan-China front as well,” Subramanyam said. 

Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, while referring to Pakistani collusion in recent attacks against Chinese citizens in Afghanistan, reasoned that Islamabad does not want “anyone controlling Afghanistan except itself.”

“Such attacks are one way to prevent direct Chinese-to-Afghan contact. It is a way of reducing the agency of the Afghan state. It is sending a warning sign to the Chinese, that, ‘don’t deal with these people without telling us’. Fundamentally everything here in terms of motive and ability only points to Pakistan,” Iyer-Mitra told WION. 

Source : Wio News