As the trial of 49 suspects charged with the brutal mob killing of an Afghan woman gets under way in Kabul, the nation is plunged into collective soul searching.

Twenty-seven-year-old Farkhunda was lynched on March 19, two days before the Afghan New Year (Nowruz). The tragic incident not only captured the attention of the international media, but it made a huge impact on Afghans both within and outside of Afghanistan.

"Her attackers were not common criminals, nor a bunch of fanatic religious villagers. Most of them seem to be urbanite, well-groomed men in their 20s. They were born and raised in war. Their fathers had most probably lived most of their lives in war. The culture of violence, instilled over three decades, continues to be passed on to the young generation," wrote Helena Malikyar, an Afghan journalist.

Indeed, Afghanistan woke up on the first official day of Spring to the horrific images and clips of Farkhunda being beaten to death, then burnt by an angry mob of young men. The entire incident was broadcast on all the national TV stations and received extensive coverage on social media.

Murdered Afghan woman's family demands justice

From that first day of Spring, Afghans have seen several more bloody attacks across the country, with a sharp increase in incidents involving innocent travellers on the main highways being ordered off coaches at gunpoint by masked men and being taken as hostages or killed on the spot.

ISIL's first attack

Last month, the Taliban announced what it called its "Spring Offensive", with a rocket attack on a US base outside Kabul.

But the most significant attack so far this new year took place on April 18 in the city of Jalalabad. It was significant not only because of the extensive number of people that it killed and injured but because it was also claimed as ISIL's first attack in Afghanistan.

ISIL emerged in Iraq and later spread to Syria with further ambitions to expand across the Middle East. So a curious debate has started with regards to its sudden appearance here in Afghanistan.

Most Afghans who know their history would argue that the idea of a full-fledged radical ideology would never succeed in our country. Even the Taliban who were to some extent "homegrown" never quite managed to rule the entire country with their radical approach.

Most Afghans who know their history would argue that the idea of a full-fledged radical ideology would never succeed in our country.

 

While this reality may be of some comfort - and some may even go so far as to argue that ISIL does not exist in our country - it is largely the same Taliban fighters who have changed their white flags for the black flags of ISIL.
The real danger, however, is apparent when looking at the broader picture. Afghanistan has always been at the crossroads of Asia. Our country's strategic geopolitical position makes it a desirable location and sacrificial lamb for any ambitious political power in this region wishing to have a presence here.

Therefore, if ISIL's goal is to move beyond its current sphere of domination, Afghanistan would be a natural choice not just as an access point to both Central and South Asia but because it is conducive to the group's expansionist ambitions in this region.

Security challenges

Internally, Afghanistan, as in Iraq, is witnessing the departure of both US and NATO forces and, also as in Iraq, the new central government seems unable to counter the numerous security challenges it is currently facing without the fire power and air cover of its former NATO allies. This is increasingly evident as the new fighting season begins with heavy attacks on many district posts in different parts of Afghanistan by indigenous Taliban groups.

Defendants attend their trial at the Primary Court in Kabul [AP]

The current economic downturn, due to the drying up of aid money and little or no economic or job opportunities for the youth in the more volatile provinces, makes recruitment to their cause easy and convenient. ISIL would not find it difficult to recruit local fighters because they have the budget to finance their war.

Finally, unlike Iraq, the natural terrain of Afghanistan makes it a good base for guerrilla groups to operate from, so much so that it became the choice of al-Qaeda almost two decades ago.

I believe that a blanket denial of this new threat, or limiting ourselves to questioning the reason for its presence in Afghanistan, would be short sightedness on the part of the new Afghan government, our NATO partners and regional players. 

What matters is not whether the insurgency waves the black flags of ISIL or the white flags of the Taliban, but the urgent necessity for a winning strategy to combat these growing threats.

Afghanistan must not be permitted to descend back into chaos as it did after the Soviet Union's withdrawal in the late 1980s - or the crucible of death that Iraq has become in the wake of the US troops' departure.

Nadir Naim is an Afghan politician and a member of the former ruling Barakzai dynasty. He was a candidate in the 2014 Afghan presidential elections.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Source: Al Jazeera