AS the world confronts financial and political crises, as well as a full-blown war in Ukraine that threatens to expand, a familiar threat lurks in Afghanistan that has the capability to upend regional and global peace.
As highlighted by a recently released UN report, Al Qaeda and the self-styled Islamic State group are operating unhindered in Afghanistan, while the TTP is said to oversee the largest group of foreign terrorists on Afghan soil. Few people have to be reminded of the trail of blood all three of the aforementioned terrorist groups have left across the world, and the international community can only ignore the warning signs at its own peril.
While it is true that transnational militant groups were operating in Afghanistan even as the US/Nato military machine maintained a heavy footprint in that country, after Kabul fell to the Afghan Taliban last year, fears grew that once more Afghanistan would become a hotbed of international terrorism.
Clearly, those concerns were not unfounded.
Editorial: UN report on terrorism
For example, the UN report says Al Qaeda supremo Ayman al Zawahiri is silently, but openly, operating in Afghanistan. Of course, the present Taliban rulers don’t need to be reminded that their previous regime also fell because they had hosted the Al Qaeda leadership, which had attracted the wrath of the US following 9/11.
Moreover, after IS was largely routed from the Levant, it found in Afghanistan an atmosphere conducive to conducting its activities. Today, the Afghan set-up of the ‘caliphate’ is one of its most active chapters, attracting religious militants from across the world.
For Pakistan, it should be a matter of great concern that the TTP, with which the state is pursuing peace talks, maintains thousands of fighters just across the border in Afghanistan. In case negotiations fall through, the state needs to have a contingency plan in place to neutralise such a large number of militants.
Of course, the key question that arises from these findings is what should be done about the militant threat.
The primary responsibility to get rid of safe spaces for terrorists in Afghanistan lies with the Taliban rulers. They had promised they would not let their soil be used against other countries, and now it is time for them to deliver on this.
Moreover, the international legitimacy they crave will always elude the Taliban if they continue to shelter, or ignore, global terrorists.
Regional states — specifically Pakistan, Iran, China, Russia and the Central Asian states — must individually and collectively put pressure on the Taliban to not allow Afghanistan to once more become a global base for terrorism. Instead of the flawed military adventurism undertaken by the Western bloc, regional states and the international community must warn the Taliban that trade and diplomatic ties will be impossible if groups like Al Qaeda, IS and the TTP continue to find shelter in their country.
Published in Dawn, July 25th, 2022