OVER the past four decades, a variety of jihadi organisations have taken root in South Asia, thanks largely to the anti-Soviet Afghan ‘jihad’, a geopolitical adventure marshalled by the US, financed by the Gulf Arabs and supported by this country.

Though many outfits have been neutralised in the aftermath of 9/11 and the so-called war on terror, the region is still not completely free from the menace of extremist militancy. For example, more ferocious terrorist outfits have emerged, such as the self-styled Islamic State group, while ‘veteran’ players such as Al Qaeda have branched out and formed new wings.

Among these is Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, a group formed a few years ago and primarily consisting of militants of South Asian backgrounds. The group has been known to be involved in acts of terrorism in this country.

Earlier this week, reports emerged that AQIS’s Indian-born chief Asim Umar was killed in Afghanistan in an operation conducted by Kabul’s forces with American help in September. The Afghan Taliban claim the AQIS chief is not dead, but have offered no evidence to the contrary. A hardened militant, Asim Umar maintained links with the banned TTP as well as other terrorist groups and was said to be a major propagandist for Al Qaeda.

The reported death of a high-profile militant shows that despite the low profile terrorist groups are currently maintaining, they have not completely been neutralised, and unless there is cooperation on counterterrorism efforts among regional states, the spectre of religiously motivated militancy can re-emerge at a more opportune time.

Moreover, the Taliban must reconsider their approach to sheltering foreign militants. If they seek to be legitimate players in Afghan politics, they must cut all links with foreign terrorist groups. Lest they forget, it was their association with Al Qaeda that prompted the US invasion in the first place.

The fact is that ungoverned spaces in the region, especially in Afghanistan, will allow militants space to regroup and plan further mayhem across the globe. In particular, the IS Khorasan ‘chapter’ is active in Afghanistan, attracting several recruits, including disgruntled Taliban elements, from that country. It poses a distinct threat to all countries in the region.

Transnational terrorism recognises no borders, which is why the states of South Asia must pool their energies to counter what is a common threat. Acting in isolation will allow militant groups greater space to operate.

Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2019

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