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A Jolt To Counter-Terrorism

Once again, Afghanistan is all set to become a safe haven for Regional Terrorism. There are mainly two reasons why the Taliban’s claim that Afghanistan now will be different from the one over 20 years ago could be, if not fully, at least partially reasonable.

The Every Morning Asia online portal recently reported that the Taliban is unwilling to follow the same mistakes they did during their first rule (1996-2001), when close relations with al-Qaeda and its hosting on Afghan territory led to the launch of 9/11 terrorist operations followed by the US invasion of Afghanistan and the collapse of the first Taliban Regime. The Taliban might be extremist, but it is certainly not foolish and much more cautious in consolidating Power (for the second time) in the long run.

Secondly, a promise not to host terrorist outfits was made not only to the US, but also to other major regional powers. China has been promised that Afghanistan will not become a sanctuary for Uyghur Islamist Organisation, for their regrouping and planning cross-border operations in Xinjiang, given the existence of a physical border between Afghanistan and China (Xinjiang) at the eastern end of the Wakhan Corridor.

The same promise has been given to Russia, which has been guaranteed that Afghanistan would never host any Chechen or Uzbek terrorist organisation. The Talibans have also assured Pakistan that they would not influence and sponsor Islamist groups, such as Tehreek-e-Taliban, inside Pakistan and would continue the fight against the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISIS-K, the local affiliate of the Islamic State). They have also guaranteed Iran of obstructing extremist Sunni groups funded by Saudi Arabia with infiltration operations on the Iranian territory.

Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar

These findings are all the more credible as geopolitically the Taliban Afghanistan does not afford to antagonise its most important neighbours. If geographically Islamabad and Tehran could economically isolate Afghanistan by closing all land routes to the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea, Beijing is seen as savior of the Afghan Economy as the Taliban expects China to resume development plans in Mes Aynak copper mine, and oil and gas reserves in northern part of the war-ravaged South Asian country.

Timeline of US military operations in Afghanistan

As many desperate Afghans flank the runway at Hamid Karzai International Airport for a flight out of the country (with people galling to their deaths), it seems that the short-term imperatives of saving as many Afghans as possible will soon give way to an assessment of what the new Afghanistan means for international security… for countries in South Asia, particularly India, the withdrawal of US Forces, collapse of the Afghan Military, and ascendance of the Taliban pose a massive counter-terrorism threat. Transnational groups, like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, as well as their affiliates and regional branches, will likely step up their activities from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Anti-India terrorist groups, like Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, could eventually use the country as a base to launch attacks in Kashmir or other parts of India, as they did in the 1990s. While the Pakistani Taliban has lost much of its strength, it could reconstitute in Afghanistan and launch attacks into Pakistan. All of this will have immense implications for the future of Jihadism in South Asia and beyond.

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