The Azadi Briefing: Islamic State Targets Chinese Interests In Afghanistan

By Abubakar Siddique

​Welcome to The Azadi Briefing, a new RFE/RL newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan. To subscribe, click here.

I’m Abubakar Siddique, a senior correspondent at RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi. Here’s what I’ve been tracking and what I’m keeping an eye on in the days ahead.

The Key Issue

The Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) extremist group carried out a deadly gun and bomb attack on a Chinese-owned hotel in central Kabul on December 12. The Taliban said it killed all three attackers, and that two foreign nationals were lightly wounded.

Beijing contradicted the Taliban by saying that at least five Chinese hotel guests were injured in the assault. More than 30 Chinese citizens were in the hotel at the time of the attack, according to a leading Chinese businessman in Afghanistan. The Emergency Hospital in Kabul said it had received three dead bodies and 18 wounded.

Why It’s Important: The assault on the Kabul Longan Hotel was the first major attack on Chinese interests in Afghanistan since the Taliban seized power last year.

The attack has helped shed light on Beijing’s growing business activities in Afghanistan, which have largely gone under the radar. China has been one of the few countries in the world willing to trade with the Taliban government, which has not been recognized by any country. Chinese nationals have become the largest expatriate community in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. It has become common to see representatives of Chinese state-owned companies visiting ministries and holding talks with Taliban officials.

IS-K’s attack on the Chinese-owned hotel in Kabul comes after assaults on the Russian and Pakistani embassies in recent months. China, Russia, and Pakistan are among the few countries that have maintained a diplomatic mission in Kabul. They are also among the Taliban’s key political and economic partners.

Observers have said that IS-K’s attacks could be an attempt to undermine the Taliban’s ties with Beijing, Moscow, and Islamabad and scuttle efforts by the Kabul authorities to attract international trade and investment. IS-K appears to have achieved its immediate goal. Following the hotel attack, Beijing advised its citizens to leave Afghanistan “as soon as possible.” The move could see an exodus of Chinese expats.

What’s Next: IS-K militants have posed a direct threat to the Taliban’s rule and legitimacy. In the past 16 months, IS-K has staged deadly, high-profile attacks that have undermined Afghanistan’s new rulers. The extremist group is likely to continue attacking the interests of the Taliban and its key foreign allies in Afghanistan.

The Week’s Best Stories

Taliban Higher Education Minister Nida Mohammad Nadim has sparked a flurry of controversies since his appointment in October. The hard-line cleric has described female education as un-Islamic and against Afghan values. Observers told RFE/RL that Nadim’s appointment and rise within the Taliban suggest that the militant group is planning to impose a blanket ban on female education.

Mohammad Sherzad keeps thousands of scorpions on his "farm" north of Kabul. Scorpion venom can be used in various medical products and is the most expensive liquid in the world. In this Radio Azadi video, Sherzad said tat the closure of Western embassies since the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has made exporting more difficult.

What To Keep An Eye On

Pakistani security forces and Taliban fighters clashed near the key Chaman-Spin Boldak border crossing on December 15. Islamabad said at least one Pakistani civilian was killed and over a dozen wounded.

Cross-border shelling and gunfire killed at least six Pakistani civilians and a Taliban fighter on December 11 near the same crossing, which connects Afghanistan’s southern province of Kandahar with Pakistan’s Balochistan Province. In November, the border crossing was closed for a week after a Taliban fighter shot a Pakistani border guard.

Why It’s Important: The clashes reflect the growing tensions between the Taliban and Pakistan, who are longtime allies. The alliance, which dates back to the emergence of the Taliban in the mid-1990s, has come under increasing strain as their interests have diverged.

In recent months, Pakistan has accused the Taliban of harboring the leaders of the Pakistani Taliban, which has waged a 15-year insurgency against Islamabad. The Taliban has hit back by accusing Islamabad of permitting its air space to be used by U.S. drones to strike targets in Afghanistan.

Observers have said that the Taliban is also playing to a domestic audience by trying to show that they are not Pakistani proxies, an accusation that many Afghans have leveled against the militants.

Analysts say that Pakistan and the Taliban have incentives to cooperate despite their differences, citing the large trade volume between Pakistan and Afghanistan. But, so far, that has failed to curb the constant border clashes and war of words.

That’s all from me for now. Don’t forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have.

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Until next time,

Abubakar Siddique
Twitter: @sid_abu

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