Despite the freezing weather, markets in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul are full of people shopping, following a mega sale announced by local and international brands.
In the heart of Kabul’s financial district, hotels are welcoming more guests, including businessmen from Central Asia, China, Pakistan and Russia.
“Business is returning to the hotel industry,” said Samira Khan, a 22-year-old receptionist at Safi Landmark Hotel & Suites. “It’s still slow, however things are improving.”
Samira is among hundreds of educated young women who have returned to jobs in the hotel sector in Kabul. Her younger sister has joined another hotel in Kabul as assistant manager.
In markets, great numbers of people can be seen buying warm clothes, including long coats, jackets and long shoes, while Taliban fighters equipped with lightweight rifles and knives keep moving in and out to ensure security.
“Our business is directly proportional to the law and order in Kabul city. Business has flourished to a great extent since March this year,” said Shoaib Hanfi, 55, the owner of Hanfi garments in Kabul. “Improved security has played vital role in this regard.”
The Taliban government has taken elaborate steps to maintain law and order throughout the year.
However, Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP) still poses a threat. The recent attack on a Kabul hotel popular with Chinese businessmen as well as tourists sent shockwaves to the highest levels of Afghanistan’s government. It was one of the major attacks on foreigners in Kabul since the Taliban took power last year.
Preliminary investigations, from Afghan interrogation of the suspects, revealed they were directed to shed as much Chinese blood as they could. However, prominent security measures taken by the hotel administration and swift action by Taliban commandoes minimized casualties.
The attacks on foreigners have raised questions. Analysts believe that ISKP has beaten war drums, and that anyone who came to Afghanistan’s rescue following the US withdrawal has landed on ISKP’s “hit list”.
On Sept 5, an ISIS attack on the Russian embassy in Kabul killed six people including two embassy employees. On Sept 13, ISIS targeted Chinese businessmen in a hotel, injuring five Chinese. And on Dec 2, ISIS unleashed a bid to assassinate Pakistan’s Charge d’Affaires in Afghanistan Ubaid-ur-Rehman Nizamani, only to find him shielded by severely injured security guards.
Some analysts and experts see it as part of a conspiracy against China and all those who come to help the people of Afghanistan.
After the pullout of US-led coalition forces, there were efforts “to isolate Afghanistan from the rest of the world both diplomatically and financially”, said Ijaz-ul-Haq, former federal minister of Pakistan and an expert on international politics.
“China is the only country having an independent policy and a vision for underdeveloped countries,” he said in an interview.
In October, Taliban government spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid highlighted China as a key part of Afghanistan’s economic development. China has voiced support for Afghanistan’s recovery and development.
China also persists in asking the United States to de-freeze Afghanistan assets.
“Freezing of Afghanistan’s assets is unjustifiable. We need money to reconstruct schools, hospitals and homes for the poor. We need money to buy arms and ammunition to root out terrorism from across the country. The Biden administration needs to understand it,” Zabihullah said at the time.
Aamir Ghauri, the resident editor of The News and founder of the London-based South Asia Future Forum, said: “One needs to understand who ISIS works and delivers for.”
To Ghauri, it seems ISIS serves the world’s only global superpower, keeping Afghanistan on the boil after the US departure so that China and Russia are denied progress on regional plans, and keeping Pakistan in pain on Afghanistan’s western frontier.
Hamid Mir, an expert on regional politics and international affairs, said: “ISIS, or ISKP, is targeting Russian and Chinese interests in Afghanistan because they think Russia and China are supporting Afghan Taliban.”
Iftikhar Shirazi, bureau chief of Pakistan’s influential Dawn News channel, warned that ISIS may emerge as the greatest threat to regional peace and stability.
“Attacking Russia, China, and Pakistan nationals and missions clearly indicates that the design behind these attacks is to hamper these countries’ support for the newly established Taliban regime,” he said.
He noted that Taliban factions are not in a position to handle the situation effectively.
Meanwhile, the Taliban and the Afghan people need outside help in countering terrorism and rebuilding their homes.
Pakistan, Russia, and China should convince the Taliban leadership to have a joint strategy to eliminate the ISIS threat on a permanent basis, “which will become a bigger challenge for the entire region if not addressed (in a timely fashion)”, Shirazi said.
First published in China Daily