In general, the mainstream media, both print and electronic, is highly anti-Taliban and anti-Daesh. And no less is the hatred for the Afghan media by the extremist groups, whom the latter target as and when they are found vulnerable. Yet, the general strategy of the Taliban and other extremist groups is to spread fear and terrorize the state and society in general as part of their ugly game of destabilizing Afghanistan.
The threat from extremists was underscored on Dec. 31, when two deadly attacks took place. At least 18 mourners were killed in an explosion at a funeral in Jalalabad, while a roadside bomb killed five police officers in central Logar province.
In spite of continued violence, the government is determined to defeat extremism and prevent any efforts that aim to create sectarian tensions.
Every time there is a terrorist attack where the victims belong to the Shiite sect, concerns regarding the risk of a rift between Shiites and Sunnis is widely expressed. However, the social realities of Afghanistan negate the risk of any such tensions. Afghanistan is a Sunni-dominated Muslim state with a small Shiite minority, but people have been living peacefully together in perfect harmony for centuries. This peaceful co-existence and mutual tolerance is part and parcel of both Afghan society and the state. Furthermore, Shiites are well represented in the government. They are in the leadership as well as various levels of the state machinery. The country’s leadership strongly believes that this division of power is important for the stability of the state and society.
Iran’s growing influence on Shiite parties in Afghanistan, however, has raised concerns that this may be politically motivated, eventually harming the traditional sectarian harmony that Afghanistan has enjoyed.
On Dec. 21, US Vice President Mike Pence, on a visit to Afghanistan, met with President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and other senior officials. He reiterated his administration’s support and commitment to Afghanistan, especially in its fight against terrorism and efforts to stabilize the country. Speaking to US soldiers at the Bagram Airfield, Pence referred to an increase in US airstrikes and also mentioned that, with the help of Afghan partners, the Taliban had been put on the defensive. Pence was categorical in saying that Pakistan had provided safe havens to the Taliban and many terrorists organizations, but said President Donald Trump had put Pakistan on notice over the issue. This was the first time that such a strong message had been delivered so loud and clear from the US leadership to Pakistan.
Pence’s visit carries high significance for the Afghan government. It shows commitment to Afghanistan and carries a strong message to Pakistan regarding extremist groups who not only threaten the security and stability of Afghanistan, but also the entire region.
In spite of continued violence that has been taking the lives of a large number of innocent civilians, along with members of the Afghan National Security Forces, the government is firm in its resolve to defeat extremism and prevent any efforts that aim to create sectarian tensions. Recent policy developments in the US have raised optimism that Afghanistan’s southern neighbor must be seriously rethinking its traditional policy vis-a-vis Afghanistan.
• Ajmal Shams is president of the Afghanistan Social Democratic Party, and a deputy minister in the National Unity Government.Twitter: @ajmshams