What’s in a name? Very little, in the world of terror groups. Changes in the labels affixed by groups are common, and remain an effective way of diverting attention from the foot soldiers and masterminds of bands intent on mass murder. ISIS (Khorasan) has become a convenient way to draw international attention away from the ongoing spate of killings and acts of violence being perpetrated by elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Gone is the insistence that international assistance should be routed directly to NGOs known to be active in providing succour to the Afghan population. Not that there is such a possibility any more in Afghanistan. Any help will very soon be intercepted by Taliban elements and used for their own purposes. Very little will flow to the needy, with most of the help getting diverted to the cadres who collectively rule Afghanistan. The entirety of the Taliban believe in the Khorasan project, the setting up of a radical superstate based on an extreme interpretation of theology. The Taliban believe that Afghanistan should be at the hub of this caliphate, and are unlikely to let go of such an objective. Mullah Omar was explicit about this and his teachings are still what guides the organisation he once led. Even the two groups (within six) of the Taliban that follow the directions given by GHQ Rawalpindi and the group that goes by the views of the PLA believe in the Khorasan project, which is why the backing of the Sino-Pakistan alliance for the Taliban will turn sour on both countries in the course of time. In the meantime, Afghanistan has once again become a useful diversion of attention from China, while in the case of Pakistan, the emergence in power of the Taliban once again allows GHQ Rawalpindi to pose as the indispensable (and well compensated) firefighter. There is now a mock battle between ISIS(K) and the Taliban, with the former taking the blame for mass killings. The cadres of ISIS(K) and the Taliban are indistinguishable from each other. The purpose of the killings is not only to incentivise donors to be more forthcoming in providing assistance, but to make an unhappy and restive population believe that they need the Taliban for security against an even deadlier danger to human life. The mass killings attributed to ISIS(K) have reduced the intensity of protests against Taliban rule, despite its oppressive nature. There is impatience among the cadre for the money that the international community is expected to shower on the Taliban. The three groups that are not tied to Pakistan or China comprise the bulk of younger cadres, and the veterans who form the majority in the groups controlled by GHQ Rawalpindi are anxious that any further delay may lead to an open revolt of the younger cadre against those who have spent much of the past twenty years in relative comfort, away from the fighting waged by younger cadres. It is the illusion that the declared leadership of the Taliban can control the rest that is motivating the spate of meetings by key NATO member-states. ISIS(K) has become a useful way to deflect blame from the Taliban for the continuing episodes of violence and mistreatment, especially of modern and moderate Sunnis, women and Shia elements in the population. Barring a token representation for the Shia moderate males and women have been excluded from the government that took charge on August 15.

The Afghan people are suffering, even more than in the past. The problem is that any assistance provided through the Taliban are overwhelmingly going to the coffers of the Taliban. Those in the population who are not part of the militia will be left out. Geopolitical miscalculations have led to NATO member-states continuing to rely on Pakistan for access into Afghanistan. In case providing assistance through Iran is still outside the realm of possibilities, the Central Asian republics bordering Afghanistan need to be used to ferry goods into Afghanistan. On condition that the distribution be in the control of international agencies and not the Taliban. The situation in Afghanistan is so dire that even many of the Taliban fighters and their families are hurting. Rather than succumb to blackmail and rely on the Pakistan route and on the Taliban, the international community needs to hold out for direct access. This would serve as a booster for those who believe in a peaceful Afghanistan where some at least of the freedoms seen during the past wo decades are restored. Apart from material assistance flowing almost entirely to the Taliban cadres rather than to the overwhelming majority of Afghans, financial assistance will land up in the same pockets. Part of this will be used on “special projects” designed to target the NATO powers themselves. Much of it will go into strengthening the Taliban at the expense of the interests of Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the drumbeat of well-motivated but unrealistic calls for giving assistance even through Pakistan into the coffers of the Taliban is growing. The long-term harm that such a reflex of good intentions leading to bad results is obvious. Short-term fixes (that are themselves ineffective) are no substitute for concentrated efforts to ensure that channels get created that are designed to genuinely reach the needy. Across the world, money provided with the noblest of intentions has often landed up in the pockets of the crooked and the undeserving. In the case of Afghanistan, there is the further risk that such money will generate a blowback that will compromise the security interests of the donors themselves, besides the people of Afghanistan. Short cuts may seem attractive, but end up in tragedy for the intended beneficiaries. Pakistan and China know what the Taliban is all about, but it suits their interests to claim otherwise. There is no excuse for countries such as the US, Germany, France or the UK that choose the easy way out as simply a means of salving the collective conscience of the member-states of NATO. What is needed is hard bargaining based on ground realities rather than illusions. In the case of the Taliban, illusions have proved harmful in the past and will do so again. There is no way to reach the needy in Afghanistan except by giving an ultimatum to the Taliban to allow independent entities the freedom to operate in the country for the purposes of giving assistance. Monetary assistance should be given directly to the people themselves. The Taliban need to be made to deliver on their protestations of sympathy for the Afghan people by allowing help to reach the truly needy rather than just themselves and their favourites.

MDN