- Pakistan, Russia, China and Iran agree to jointly counter Islamic State
In an unprecedented development, four key regional military powers have decided to form a joint military front to counter the growing influence of the notorious terror group Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan.
The meeting is the first of its kind held between three nuclear-armed neighbours and Iran to work together towards a joint objective of keeping the threat of IS contained, and reflected the growing concerns that IS might be able to cement its foothold in Afghanistan.
Sources told Pakistan Today that an agreement was reached during the extraordinary huddle held in Islamabad on Wednesday in which the intelligence chiefs of the four countries were present besides other high-ranking officials.
They said that the heads of intelligence agencies from Pakistan, Russia, China and Iran agreed over joint counterterrorism cooperation with a particular focus on foiling the rise of IS in Afghanistan and foil its efforts to destabilise the territorial boundaries of the four countries.
“This is just a start. Many central Asian countries are likely to join in soon as we all share the same concerns,” an official privy to the development said, reflecting that the scope of joint counterterrorism alliance would grow sooner.
‘ALLIANCE NOT AGAINST ANY COUNTRY’:
An official, requesting anonymity, told Pakistan Today that the meeting was not aimed at any third country or state and no country should feel offended.
When asked if the alliance was directed against any regional or global power including the United States of America (USA), the official said, “Let me make it clear that the effort is against the terrorist outfit and not against a specific country.”
“This is an agreement to counter the scourge of terrorism and since all the countries are against terrorism, such efforts should be encouraged by the regional and global partners,” he said.
Furthermore, a spokesperson for Russian foreign intelligence service confirmed that the rise of the terrorist Islamic State in Afghanistan prompted the deliberations in Islamabad.
“The conference reached understanding over the importance of coordinated steps to prevent the trickling of IS terrorists from Syria and Iraq to Afghanistan, from where they would pose risks to neighbouring countries,” Sergei Ivanov told state-run TASS news agency.
He said that the director of the Russian spy agency, Sergei Naryshkin, attended the Islamabad meeting along with Chinese and Iranian counterparts. He said the meeting “stressed the need for a more active inclusion of regional powers in the efforts to end the war in Afghanistan”.
The discussions followed months of Russian allegations that the USA was supporting the growing influence of Islamic State, particularly in northern Afghan provinces next to the border with Central Asian countries. Washington dismissed the charges as rumours and an attempt to justify Moscow’s links to the Taliban insurgency.
Russian envoy to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, while addressing a Security Council meeting on Afghanistan last month, asserted that IS is creating training camps in the country for its fighters, including those who come from Central Asian states.
“This is a group, which has up to 10,000 fighters in its ranks and is already active in at least nine out of 34 provinces. It is constantly consolidating its positions in the north of the country, turning it into a springboard for its expansion into Central Asia,” Nebenzya said.
Iran, which shares a long border with Afghanistan, has raised similar concerns in the wake of IS’ growing terrorist activities in the region.
Islamic State calls its Afghan branch as Khorasan province or ISKP, and it routinely carries out deadly suicide bombings in the war-hit country and occasionally plots such attacks in Pakistan.
Pakistani officials maintain that the terrorist group has established strong bases in “ungoverned spaces” in Afghanistan and plans cross-border terrorist attacks from there.
They cite US military assessments that the Afghan government controls less than 60 per cent of the territory.
Islamabad, Moscow, Beijing and Tehran have all maintained contacts with the Taliban, saying they are meant to persuade the insurgency to seek a negotiated settlement to the Afghan war.
But the diplomatic ties with militants have upset both Kabul and Washington because they see them as an attempt to legitimise Taliban’s violent campaign.