As Last US Forces Prepare to Leave, Taliban Again Promises No Terror Activities on Afghan Soil
Analysts disagree on future threats from Afghanistan to the region, world
[Islamabad] With US and allied Western troops set to soon complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan after two decades, the country is slipping deeper into turmoil in the absence of a strong governmental or administrative arrangement. Meanwhile, the country’s warring parties are not prepared to compromise on their mutual demands.
In the post-withdrawal era, the biggest threat for neighboring countries is expected to come from terrorist groups operating along the country’s borders, including an allegedly reorganizing branch of the Islamic State organization active in South and Central Asia called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant − Khorasan Province, variously referred to as ISIS-K, ISIL-KP and Daesh-Khorasan.
Islamic State announced its expansion to the Khorasan region in 2015, which historically covered parts of modern-day Iran, Central Asia, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Initiating its deadliest offensive against Afghan security forces in Nangarhar Province, adjacent to Pakistan, ISIS-K gained control over a third of the province’s 22 districts in 2015. ISIS-K committed many atrocities against civilians, beheading hundreds and forcing thousands to flee. Afghan security forces subsequently carried out a comprehensive strike against ISIS-K militants in the province, vanquishing them.
Syed Muzzamil Agha, a senior security official based in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar Province, told The Media Line that “in the recent years, Afghan security forces have taken effective actions against the group and in 2019, the group was badly defeated in its stronghold Nangarhar.”
“The ISIS group may now carry out small-scale operations, but there is no possibility that ISIS could conduct any such activity on a large scale which could harm regional peace and stability,” Agha claimed.
Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesperson for English-language media outlets based in Doha, Qatar, told The Media Line “it was decided that Afghan territory will not be allowed to be used against any country. No one should have any ambiguity” on this.
“According to the Doha peace accord [the US and the Taliban signed in February 2020], a safe exit will be ensured to the foreign troops, and the world is witness that not a single shot was fired by the Taliban during the evacuation of troops,” he assured.
“The Afghan Taliban will never allow any individual or group to use its territory against anyone or any state,” Shaheen said.
However, Maj. Gen. Babar Iftikhar, director-general of the Pakistan Armed Forces Media Wing, recently said that “as far as the ISIS and Tehrik-i-Taliban in Pakistan (TTP) presence is concerned, everyone knows they are in Afghanistan and that they try to harm Pakistan’s interests.”
The TTP is also known as the Pakistani Taliban.
Iftikhar continued: “The security and management of the Pakistan-Afghan border is beefed up and, right now, 90% of the Pak-Afghan border has been fenced.”
While we are ending our military presence, NATO allies will continue to support Afghanistan, including with training and funding for Afghan security forces and their institutions
Peggy Beauplet, a Brussels-based North Atlantic Treaty Organization official, spoke with The Media Line about the Taliban’s recent widespread advances in Afghanistan and concerns about prospects for peace and security in the country.
“While we are ending our military presence, NATO allies will continue to support Afghanistan, including with training and funding for Afghan security forces and their institutions,” Beauplet said. “NATO will also maintain a civilian presence in Afghanistan, based on the Office of the Senior Civilian Representative.”
Naeem Khalid Lodhi, an Islamabad-based retired lieutenant general and former Pakistani defense secretary – the top civil servant in the defense ministry, told The Media Line that “any force leaving a country after 20 long years cannot be termed leaving in haste, and the US-led forces left in an organized manner.
“As far as the security situation for Pakistan is concerned, it was hell as long as coalition forces were here,” he said. “Afghans also suffered tremendously under their puppet regime. The first step required for peace in the region was the exit of foreign forces, and that has happened.”
“Afghanistan and this region during a short period of turmoil is moving toward peace and prosperity, and inimical forces like ISIS-K, TTP, etc. that flourished under the US and its allies’ occupation will find it difficult to survive under a legitimate Afghan regime,” Lodhi said.
In contrast, Michael Kugelman, a Washington-based leading South Asia expert, told The Media Line that “the withdrawal will intensify insecurity, and result in more violence and lawlessness. These are ideal conditions for militant actors of all stripes to exploit.”
“The security risks are regional as well because the withdrawal will embolden the Taliban, prompt it to ramp up offensives and tempt it to enter cities. All of this will inspire Islamist militants around the region, especially in Pakistan,” he added.
“However, for the US, the top priority is to curb the threat of terror as it applies to US interests beyond Afghanistan, including the US homeland itself. While the US will focus on curbing terror in Afghanistan itself, its biggest concern will be external terror threats,” Kugelman said.
Sen. Abdul Qayyum, a retired Pakistani three-star general and former chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Defense Production, told The Media Line that “regional security is expected to improve after US withdrawal. The American invasion created turmoil in the region.”
“The United States was well aware that Indian diplomats in Kandahar and Jalalabad [both in Afghanistan] were not only providing financial support to anti-Pakistan terrorist organizations but also managing training camps for them,” the senator continued.
It would be premature to assume that any terrorist organizations would be allowed to use Afghan territory after the withdrawal of US troops and the possible takeover of the Taliban
“Indian-backed terrorists attacked [the Pakistan Army’s] General Headquarters as well as Air Force and Naval operational bases. Pakistan has lost at least 70,000 human lives to suicide terror attacks which were carried out by Indian-backed extremist groups,” Qayyum said.
“Now the situation has changed drastically; it would be premature to assume that any terrorist organizations would be allowed to use Afghan territory after the withdrawal of US troops and the possible takeover of the Taliban,” he said.
Hizbullah Khan, a Kabul-based political analyst focusing on US foreign policy, told The Media Line that “the US’ decision to entirely withdraw its forces put Afghanistan’s security and hard-fought US gains at great risk as well as enormously encouraged the Taliban to intensify their attacks against [Afghan] security forces.
“It is also a decisive time for the Taliban, because they claimed they will capture Kabul after the full withdrawal,” he added.
“After 9/11, the US-led NATO invasion of Afghanistan had three goals: Eliminate al-Qaida, punish the Taliban for hosting al-Qaida, and train the Afghan Army so it can defend the sovereignty of the country and fight insurgents; and they have achieved these goals,” Khan claimed.
“During the last 20 years, democratic institutions have been established in Afghanistan and now the entire situation has been changed. Meanwhile, the Afghan defense forces are better trained and equipped as compared to the Taliban’s fighters,” he said.
“The war in Afghanistan is not a war among Afghans, it is a war against global terrorists who killed some 3,000 Americans in the 9/11 attacks, who killed more than 70,000 Pakistanis. Meanwhile, Afghans are still suffering. So, it is a primary responsibility of the entire world to fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and support democratic forces,” Khan said.
Anis Ur Rehman, a Kabul-based security analyst, described the security situation in Afghanistan as “normal.”
“Our people have strong faith in their security forces, which are fully capable of protecting them from any insurgency and doing well,” he told The Media Line.
“There will be no serious threat to the country’s security after the US troop evacuation, unlike after the USSR withdrawal [in 1989]. The Taliban is aggressive, but hopefully there will be a sense of peace in the coming days,” Rehman continued.
“Experience has proved that without peace in Afghanistan, there can be no peace in the region, so peace in Afghanistan and peace in the region are inseparable,” he said. “An insecure Afghanistan would be the hub of every terror organization including ISIS, al-Qaida and TTP, so the world powers cannot afford to leave Afghanistan alone as they did after the USSR’s defeat.”
The war in Afghanistan is not a war among Afghans, it is a war against global terrorists who killed some 3,000 Americans in the 9/11 attacks, who killed more than 70,000 Pakistanis. Meanwhile, Afghans are still suffering. So, it is a primary responsibility of the entire world to fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and support democratic forces.
Umer Karim is a visiting fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies (RUSI) in London, where he focuses on Pakistan’s evolving political and security environment within its neighborhood.
“At best the security situation can be termed ‘uncertain,’ because the Afghan state is collapsing and no organized entity is replacing it and, for now, we are seeing further fragmentation and chaos,” he told The Media Line.
“ISIS and other terror groups had found sanctuaries in Afghanistan and were allegedly supported by Indian intelligence funding that was routed through Afghan intelligence,” Karim continued. “This is something acknowledged by independent observers as well. So, in a manner, the weakening of Indian influence and the Afghan state may deprive them of some funding.”
“Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)’s threat from across the border remains of the same proportion, but now it may infiltrate Pakistan in the guise of refugees, and herein lies the most significant danger,” he added.
“Countering the rise and strengthening of such terror outfits probably remains a shared goal of the US and Pakistan, but it seems that unless there’s involvement of some high-profile al-Qaida or ISIS figures, the US will not get heavily involved in this theater but will monitor the situation from its CENTCOM [military] base in Qatar, while Pakistan has to increasingly deal with such threats across the border,” Karim said.