WASHINGTON: The United States has pledged to further tighten the noose around militant groups such as the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) and the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pak­­istan (TTP), as the two terrorist outfits step up their activities in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“We have seen the reports that IS-K has claimed responsibility for the attack,” a US State Department spokesperson told Dawn on Wednesday, days after militants targeted Pakistan’s Chargé d’Affaires Ubaid Nizamani in Kabul and severely injured an embassy guard, who shielded the diplomat.

“We remain committed to further degrading Al Qaeda, IS-K, TTP, and other terrorist groups that pose a threat to the US and our partners and allies,” the spokesperson added.

Last month, the TTP also ended its ceasefire agreement with the government of Pakistan and began attacking several targets inside the country.

Expert suggests Islamabad and Kabul should jointly monitor, act against militant groups threatening both countries

Earlier this month, Washington had declared four TTP and South Asian Al Qaeda leaders as global terrorists and vowed to use its full might against all Afghanistan-based terror groups.

The next day, US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price told reporters that the US was deeply concerned by the attack on the Pakistani diplomat in Kabul and called for “a full and transparent investigation” into the failed assassination attempt.

In an earlier statement, another US State Department official said the militants operating in Afghanistan were a common enemy and the US and Pakistan “have a shared interest” in combating them. The official also pledged support for Pakistan’s anti-terror efforts against these groups.

Shuja Nawaz, a US-based Pakistani defence expert, told Dawn: “It is in the interest of both Pakistan and the US to continue collaborating in monitoring and eliminating TTP and IS-K operations in Afghanistan.”

“Pakistan needs to take a firm position on the use of Afghan soil as sanctuary by the militants. Hold Afghanistan responsible for any attack originating from its territory and retaliate swiftly and firmly,” he added.

In a recent report, the US Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) pointed out that IS-K “has grown in strength since the US withdrawal from Afghanistan last year, doubling its strength from 2,000 to 4,000 fighters. Almost half of the fighters are from Pakistan.”

Sharing Pakistan’s concerns on this issue, US officials have said they do not want militants to turn Afghanistan into a hub once again and use its territory to launch another 9/11-like attack.

According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Washington, IS-K is an offshoot of the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant group, which itself was formed by disgruntled Al Qaeda activists.

IS-K was set up in January 2015 at the height of Islamic State power in Iraq and Syria, before its self-declared caliphate was defeated and dismantled by a US-led coalition.

The group recruits both Afghan and Pakistani fighters, especially defecting members of the Afghan Taliban and TTP who don’t see their own organisations as strong enough to carry forward their militant mission of creating a new Islamic state in Khorasan.

The term “Khorasan” refers to a historical region covering parts of modern-day Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

The group initially included Pakistan, until a separate Pakistan section was declared in May 2019.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2022

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