On 7 February 2022, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) made public its report on Afghanistan’s terrorism potential. The 22-page report, the 29th edition, was prepared by the UN’s Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team which monitors counterterrorism-related sanctions against the al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (Daesh). The report, which is prepared twice a year, consisted of information from June to December 2021 on changes in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of foreign forces.
Concerning Pakistan, the report identifies six main points. First, Afghanistan has been regaining its potential to become a safe haven for the al-Qaeda and a number of terror groups enjoying ties to the Central Asia region and beyond. For instance, Central Asian terror groups, namely the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Islamic Jihad Group (IJG), and Khatiba Imam al-Bukhari (KIB), enjoy sufficient leeway in Afghanistan.
Second, Al-Qaeda’s relationship with the ruling Afghan Taliban and the supportive Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is strong and intertwined, as al-Qaeda stood by both organizations in their hour of need. A son of Osama bin Laden (namely Abdullah) visited Afghanistan in October and held meetings with the ruling Afghan Taliban.
The current chief of Al-Qaeda, Aiman-ul Zawahri, was reported alive as recently as January 2021. Nevertheless, Al-Qaeda is still short of conducting high-profile attacks overseas. The Afghan Taliban have not taken measures to limit the activities of Al-Qaeda elements residing in Afghanistan.
Third, in Afghanistan’s provinces such as in Ghazni, Helmand, Kandahar, Nimruz, Paktika and Zabul, and led by Osama Mehmood and his deputy Atif Yahya Ghouri, Al-Qaeda is present as the Al-Qaeda In the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) has between 200 and 400 fighters hailing from Afghanistan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.
Though the report has talked about the activities of the TTP, the report has shown that the Afghan Taliban may not be able to take any punitive action against their benefactors including the TTP, which has recently (February 5) launched an attack from Afghanistan’s soil
Fourth, the conflict between the TTP and Pakistan is interminable. Led by Noor Wali Mehsud, the TTP has from 3,000 to 5,500 fighters. Nevertheless, the Afghan Taliban have restrained the TTP from attacking Pakistan. Further, the Afghan Taliban would act only as mediators between the TTP and Pakistan, and they would not take any coercive action against the TTP.
Fifth, the TTP and Al-Qaeda have joined hands with the Uyghur militant group, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), having around 700 fighters inclined to launch jihad in Xinjiang (China) and carry out attacks on Chinese interests in Pakistan in collaboration with Al-Qaeda, the TTP and the Jamaat Ansarullah. However, the Afghan Taliban have dissuaded the ETIM from inflicting harm on the Chinese. As a restraining measure, the Afghan Taliban have relocated the ETIM from its traditional stronghold in Badakhshan (bordering China) to Baghlan, Takhar and other provinces.
Sixth, led by an Afghan national Sanaullah Ghafari (aka Shahab al-Muhajir), with a wider regional agenda and the prime focus on sectarian cleansing, Islamic State Khorasan Province (IS-KP) offers an alternate platform to the Taliban and foreign extremists disgruntled with the Afghan Taliban’s ruling regime. Consequently, the number of the IS-KP fighters has risen from 2000 to 4000 after August 2021. Enjoying a limited territory in Afghanistan, the IS-KP offers a kinetic threat to the Taliban. Consequently, the IS-KP eyes Central and South-Asian countries for its future course of action. It considers West Africa as its next abode, whereas Southeast Asia remains its bright spot.
Generally speaking, the report says that various regional militant groups supported the Afghan Taliban during their travail and torment from 2001 to 2021. The Afghan Taliban have not left their benefactors unrequited. It is time to pay the courtesy back. The Afghan Taliban are ready to reciprocate favours, though they themselves are struggling for seeking international recognition which would come at a cost. Nevertheless, the report may offer a stumbling block to the efforts of the Afghan Taliban who are out to seek the legitimacy of their rule to be recognized by the world. This is a key point. The report is about setting the tone for the future course of dealing with Afghanistan.
The report reveals that the Afghan Taliban have their own priorities. They are inclined to consolidate their hold on Kabul, instead of getting enmeshed in lesser affairs ranging from suppressing the TTP to appease Pakistan to quelling Al-Qaeda to mollify the USA and its allies. Nevertheless, on the one hand, the Afghan Taliban are concerned about the Chinese interests in Afghanistan whereas on the other hand the Afghan Taliban are creating a cushion between the Chinese dissidents, who have sought refuge in Afghanistan, and the mainland of China.
The report lays much focus on Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. With the mention of weakening of the al-Qaeda ranks, the report sends a promising and propitious signal to the world. For the region of Asia, the report offers a point of concern. The implications are for the countries bordering the north of Afghanistan. That is, the report entails a regional concern, though the report tries to see the future of militancy if it keeps on sprouting from Afghanistan.
Interestingly, the report is silent on the apportioning of weapons and ammunition which were left behind in August 2021 by foreign forces at the time of leaving Afghanistan. The report may render Pakistan conscious of the developments in Afghanistan, especially in the wake of terrorist activities in Panjgur and Noshki in Baluchistan (February 2), though the report is also silent on the Baloch separatists who have presumably got hold of abandoned weapons and ammunitions available in Afghanistan.
Though the report has talked about the activities of the TTP, the report has shown that the Afghan Taliban may not be able to take any punitive action against their benefactors including the TTP, which has recently (February 5) launched an attack from Afghanistan’s soil and taken the lives of five Pakistan soldiers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Whether or not the report is of any immediate concern of the USA, it is vital to Pakistan’s security and interests. The report offers Pakistan a chance to review its security strategies.