Taliban victory threatens to be a double-edged sword for Pakistan, China
The recent attacks on Kabul International Airport by the Afghan affiliate of the Islamic State raise multiple questions as well as the specter of paradigm shifts in the drivers and geographic expansion of political violence.
The attacks called into question the Taliban’s ability to maintain security and control the activities of several militant groups in Afghanistan. Long at war with the Islamic State (IS), the Taliban have vowed to ensure that neither ISIS nor the groups with which it has good relations will be allowed to use the Central Asian state for attacks border crossings in the region.
This is perhaps easier said than done even though Al Qaeda, which launched the most spectacular and successful jihadist attack almost two decades ago, may turn out to be the least of jihadist concerns of the Taliban.
Analyst Abdul Sayed noted that Al Qaeda, in an effort to prevent the United States from driving them out of Afghanistan and Pakistan, has “shifted the focus from global terrorist attacks and foreign operations to supporting local jihadist groups across South Asia, and fueling the narratives that underpin their goals. This shift helped build resilience, allowing al-Qaeda to survive despite massive blows inflicted by the United States and its allies. “
The change was further motivated by the success of Western counterterrorism agencies in reducing Al Qaeda’s ability to attack the West. “The year 2011 marked the end of Al-Qaeda’s war against the West. The group lives as a set of regional militias with local programs in places like Somalia, but it has not successfully carried out a serious attack on the West for almost a decade, ”said Thomas Hegghammer, specialist. political violence.
Hegghammer went on to say that “in 2018, the number of jihadist plots and attacks in Europe had been halved compared to 2016, and the flow of foreign fighters had completely dried up. What is more remarkable, every jihadist attack in Europe since 2017 has been carried out by an isolated individual, which suggests that it has become very difficult to plan group attacks. Likewise, no terrorist attack since 2017 has involved explosives: instead, the attackers have used simpler weapons, such as guns, knives, and vehicles.
Likewise, Western successes have persuaded most analysts that Islamic State, like Al Qaeda, is unlikely to be able to launch transnational attacks in the West from Afghanistan anytime soon.
As a result, the Taliban’s security concerns are likely to be national and regional rather than stemming from transnational jihadist groups that have long dominated analysis and discourse on political violence.
What this means in practice is that the Taliban’s war with the Islamic State will be an internal struggle that could threaten efforts to stabilize the country and secure good relations with Afghanistan’s neighbors.
ISIS is hopeful that the disgruntled Taliban with a movement that, once in government, may be forced to compromise on its principles and moderate its policies will join its ranks.
Foreign fighters such as Uyghurs may also choose to side with Islamic State, which in the past has threatened China. Disgruntled members of ethnic minorities might do the same or join groups like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) which is present in Afghanistan.
The Taliban should include representatives of ethnic minorities in their government, a nod to various segments of the population as well as to Afghanistan’s neighbors.
“ISIS-K will attempt to assassinate Taliban leaders by behaving pragmatically. Mullah Baradar is likely a key target, especially in light of his meeting with the D / CIA last Monday. The elimination of Baradar helps ISIS-K undermine the Taliban’s efforts to consolidate their power, ”tweeted Kamran Bokhari, an expert on South Asia, referring to an acronym commonly used for Islamic State in Afghanistan.
Co-founder of the Taliban, Abdul Ghani Baradar is widely regarded as a conciliator and problem solver. He reportedly met CIA Director William J. Burns last week.
the local focus of Al Qaeda; the fact that Uyghurs, Uzbeks and other Central Asians can focus on their own country; and ISIS’s limited capabilities suggest a potential paradigm shift in the drivers and geographic expansion of political violence in South and Central Asia.
Change could be spurred by the perceived defeat of the United States, the second superpower to bite the dust in Afghanistan in a war against Islamic militants. The US withdrawal means the US is no longer a prime target in the region.
In discussing the fallout for Pakistan from the Taliban victory, analysts have generally focused on Pakistan as fertile ground for the spread of Taliban-style religious ultra-conservatism as well as the concerns that this would allow. Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), more commonly known as the Pakistani Taliban, to revive their campaign of attacks in Pakistan.
The TTP is a coalition of Pashtun Islamist groups closely linked to the Afghan Taliban that joined forces last year with several other Pakistani militant groups, including Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a fiercely anti-Shiite Sunni Muslim supremacist organization.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid has left the door open on the Taliban’s relations with the TTP.
“The issue of the TTP is one that Pakistan will have to deal with, not Afghanistan. It is up to Pakistan, and Pakistani Islamic scholars and religious figures, not the Taliban, to decide on the legitimacy or illegitimacy of their war and to formulate a strategy in response, ”Mujahid told a report. Pakistani TV show. The spokesperson stopped before saying whether the Taliban would comply with a decision of the scholars.
The Taliban would have advised the TTP to restrict their combat on Pakistani soil and would have proposed to negotiate with the Pakistani government an amnesty and the return of the Pakistani militants in the South Asian nation, according to Afghan sources.
The TTP is believed to be responsible for the murder this week of two Pakistani soldiers on the border with Afghanistan.
“Our fight against Pakistan will continue until we establish it as an Islamic State. We will not spare their dollar dependent soldiers and politicians, ”TTP commander Molvi Faqeer Mohamad said.
A wanted man in Pakistan, Mohamad was speaking to Al Jazeera after being released from prison during one of the Taliban’s numerous prison escapes. The government of Ashraf Ghani, supported by the United States, had refused to extradite Mr. Mohamad to Pakistan.
Only a few analysts have pointed out what would pose the greatest threat to Pakistan: the potential merger of a campaign of TTP violence with the idea of merging the Pashtun-populated areas of Pakistan with Afghanistan.
The intertwining of Pashtun national identity and Islam resonates in a Pashtun poem quoted by Anas Haqqani, a senior Taliban official and brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the group’s deputy leader: Always be a Muslim, ”says a verse of the poem . Mr Haqqani quoted the verse when discussing Pashtun identity without reference to geopolitics.
“The Pashtuns of the Afghan Taliban will find, after a few years in power, a common cause with their Pashtun parents in Pakistan … There are many Pakistani Pashtuns who would prefer that the whole of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly ) is one of them. wider Pashtunistan, ”predicted academic and former British Ambassador to Pakistan Tim Willasey-Wilsey.
Other analysts have privately argued that a Pakistan-dominated Pashtunistan integrated into a larger Asian confederation would thwart the various threats that preoccupy Pakistan, including the TTP, ultra-conservatism and secession.
The views of these analysts embody the worst fears of the Pakistani military and government: the weakening of Islam as the glue of Pakistan through ethnic cleavages. It is a fear that was first expressed by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of the country who warned against the “poison of provincialism”. The fear was heightened by the secession of Bengal mainly from East Pakistan to form Bangladesh in 1971.
“The time has now come for America and its allies to marginalize the remnants of radical Islamism in South Central Asia as the first step in generating a mega-confederation of free peoples stretching from Pashtunistan in the west to to and including Indonesia in the east, ”said a former Western government official turned academic.
“The key step for Pakistan in tackling the extremism of radical Muslims trained by Saudi Wahhabis is simply to absorb the western half of Pashtunistan, which includes the southern two-thirds of Afghanistan, and the eastern half which constitutes most of the western third of Pakistan, in a new province of Pashtunistan in a larger Pakistani confederation as a model for the world and in particular for the looser confederation which stretches from India to Indonesia ” , said the academic.
Pakistan last year cracked down on the Pashtun Tahafuz (Protection) or PTM movement, a nonviolent protest movement demanding rights for Pashtuns in the former federally administered tribal areas of Pakistan.
Pakistan is completing a physical barrier to any change along the Durand Line that separates it from Afghanistan, the country’s longest border, with the construction of a wall of 500 million dollars and 2,600 kilometers long.
The wall, designed to keep militants and potential refugees on the Afghan side of the border, is reinforced with advanced surveillance technology and multiple fortresses. Pakistan has closed 75 of its 78 border crossings following the Taliban takeover.
Much of the border is mountainous and, in the words of a former Pakistani military officer, “good territory for the guerrillas to operate and hide.”
The notion of Pashtunistan or a confederation that includes rivals Pakistan and India as well as countries as diverse as Indonesia may be far-fetched to say the least, but it will certainly ring in Islambad.
These bells may already be ringing after Taliban official Sher Mohammed Abbas Stanekzai said in a rare foreign policy statement that “we give them due importance to our political, economic and trade ties with the India and we want these ties to continue. We look forward to working with India in this regard.
Academic and author Pervez Hoodbhoy said, “Like it or not, AfPak has become a reality. Despised in Pakistan because of its American origin, this term rings true. Geographical proximity is now reinforced by the ideological proximity of the leaders of the two countries. Taliban-style thinking is bound to spread throughout Pakistan. “
AfPak was a term used by the US government to signal that Afghanistan and Pakistan were a single theater of operations in the war on terror.