The Taliban‘s pitch to the Afghan people has always been simple life under their hardline rule would finally bring security after decades of war. Notorious for using suicide bombers during their insurgency, the Taliban are charged with guarding against the same kind of attacks now that they are in power.
The Islamic State-claimed blasts at Kabul airport on Thursday, which killed scores of Afghans as well as 13 US troops, is an early test. Last night’s attacks have shown once again that no one group can claim monopoly over violence in Afghanistan or claim to secure it,” said Abdul Basit, a research Fellow at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
Taliban spokesman Bilal Karimi told AFP after the attack that IS “will be defeated”. But they side-stepped their own role in freeing some of its prisoners.
During the Taliban blitz, which ended with the takeover of Kabul on August 15, a familiar pattern emerged — when each city fell, the militants would head for the prisons. With thousands of seasoned Taliban fighters behind bars across Afghanistan, the tactic focused on allowing the group to replenish their depleted ranks.
But contrary to the Taliban’s liking, others including battle-hardened militants from the Islamic State’s Afghanistan-Pakistan chapter (IS-K) were also freed. Hailing from different theological branches of hardline jihahidst thought, the two sides have duked it out in bloody clashes for years in Afghanistan.
The spree of prison breaks increasingly looks to have been a lethal error — seeding the future battlefield with the Taliban’s enemies, while their own forces are stretched thin.
Before the Kabul airport attack, the Taliban were already trying to distance themselves from the prison debacle, piling blame on former president Ashraf Ghani who has fled the country.
“We are cautious and careful because prisoners from Daesh (IS) fled the jail and are hiding now after officials of the Kabul administration abandoned their posts,” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Pakistani broadcaster Geo News this week. With the Americans pulling out in a matter of days, the Taliban will have few excuses moving forward.
During its last rule in the 1990s and in areas controlled by the Taliban over recent years, the hardline Islamist group has been known for handing out swift but heavy-handed justice — unlike the governments it has ousted. But the inability to prevent future bombings may erode the little public trust they have secured since capturing the capital.
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