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The grim calculus behind Afghan tragedy

26 November 2021


It’s been more than three months since the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan and the situation in that country continues to worsen by the day. The ongoing humanitarian crisis has been exacerbated by the standoff between the Taliban and the Islamic State Khorasan or IS-K, the lack of access to food, medicines and cash reserves. The Taliban, now in a position of ultimate power, have shown the world that they can defeat the military might of the United States by simply outlasting them. However, they are struggling on the governance front — in their ability to demonstrate to the Afghan people, the international community and to their fighters across the country that they have the capability to lead a nation, maintain law and order and provide a functioning economic system. One of the foremost security challenges for the Taliban government comes from IS-K. There remain between 2,000 to 3,000 IS-K fighters in Afghanistan, with majority of them concentrated in eastern Nangarhar province, where they occupy some of the key drug smuggling routes into Pakistan, traditionally controlled by the Taliban. The IS-K remains an amalgamation of former Taliban, al-Qaeda, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and other smaller jihadist group fighters coming together under the established brand-name of the Islamic State, challenging the Taliban on their home turf. As traditional rivals, the IS-K views the Taliban’s coming to power in Kabul in August 2021 as an opportunity to frame them as deceitful and illegitimate, given their collaboration with the United States and their links with the Pakistan state. While the Taliban has been an insurgency group for decades, in an ironical twist they must now demonstrate their counter-insurgency capabilities as IS-K violence rages across the country in an effort to paint the Taliban as ineffective governors.


Harsh V. Pant
Professor Harsh V Pant is Director, Studies and Head of the Strategic Studies Programme at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. He holds a joint appointment with the Department of Defence Studies and King's India Institute as Professor of International Relations at King’s College >>

Kriti M. Shah
Kriti M. Shah is an Associate Fellow in the Department of Strategic Studies at the Observer Research Foundation. Her research primarily focusses on Afghanistan and Pakistan, where she studies their domestic politics as well as their relationship with each other, the Taliban, the United States and the >>


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