The U.S. undersecretary of defence for policy, Dr. Colin Kahl had wisely predicted in October 2021, that a possible resurgence of international terrorism might emanate from Afghanistan. His assessment regarding Al-Qaeda and ISIS’ intent of conducting and augmenting the terrorist activities and networks inside and outside the country is gradually being palpable over time. One year has passed but the Taliban government is still lacking an adequate approach to thwart terrorism. However, under the regime, along with Al-Qaeda and ISIS-K, many more terrorist groups like the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM, known as the Turkestan Islamic Party), Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Khatiba Imam al-Bukha, Islamic Jihad Group, and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba, using the country as a citadel, are now operating in Afghanistan and conducting terrorist attacks in domestic and external arena.
Terrorist Groups in Taliban’s Afghanistan: Al-Qaeda, ISIS-K, TTP, ETIM and Others
Despite renouncing overt inclination and connection with the terrorist groups, the Taliban regime is sympathetic to them. Mainstream terrorist groups have been gradually expanding their roots in the country due to the Taliban’s rickety policy. There are many terrorist groups and regimes such as Al-Qaeda and IS-K, in the country that are saliently and robustly active in their activities.
To talk about Al-Qaeda firstly, since the Taliban regime’s takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, the core leadership of the group congratulated the regime. With the opportunity of the Taliban’s zero concern, by that time, the terrorist group has energized its affiliation with the outer world and reinvigorated its roots in the country by recruiting more members in and outside the country. With the leadership of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the successor of Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda had got a new impetus in Taliban’s Afghanistan to enlarge its branches. Although Al-Zawahiri has been killed by a drone strike, the activities of Al-Qaeda are not halted yet. Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, however, is mostly run with an affiliation with al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). Respecting this, however, being the regime and the country as a haven, it still ‘remains a central strategic node’ for Al-Qaeda.
Likewise, the Islamic State Khorasan branch, widely known as ISIS-K or IS-K, is another notorious terrorist group which is a powerful branch of the worldwide Islamic State. In Afghanistan, while IS highly seems to be an enemy group of Al-Qaeda and Taliban, its objective is analogous to the goal of Al-Qaeda to establish a pan-Islamic caliphate. With other leaders such as Maulawi Rajab Salahudin, Sultan Aziz Azam, Aslam Farooqi and other erstwhile military personnel and intelligence agency members, the group is led by an Afghan national, Sanaullah Ghafari. By the way, after the takeover, in less than a year, the members of the group have doubled in the country and activities have been extremely dilated. Of them, more than half of its operatives are from foreign countries. However, per an estimation, the group has conducted more than seventy-six attacks within 2021 after the retreat of the US forces.
Moreover, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), Khatiba Imam al-Bukha, Islamic Jihad Group, Lashkar-e-Taiba and many other regional and international terrorist networks and groups are staying in the country who are gravely accused of conducting terrorist attacks. Posing a vile threat to other neighbors countries like India, Pakistan and others, these groups are misusing Afghanistan as a conducive hub and the Taliban’s sympathetic stance in this regard is highly disquiet. After all the rise of the Taliban as a state actor in the contemporary time, and its victory over mainstream politics have unveiled conducive rooms for terrorist groups. It has been observed that diverse terrorist groups all over the world gleefully celebrated the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. Without any doubt, under the Taliban regime, the revitalization of the network of global jihad is gradually becoming stronger in the country.
New Interim Government and Haqqani Network
A new interim government had been named in Afghanistan and controversially, Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani Network had been appointed as the interior minister, in charge of security and police. This interim government is mostly led by the hardliners having no inclusion of minorities, women and opposition members. However, Sirajuddin Haqqani is one of the FBI’s ‘Most Wanted’ persons and his Haqqani Network is designated as a terrorist network due to having links to Al-Qaeda. Being established in the 1970s, The Sunni Islamist Haqqani network had fought Soviet-backed Afghanistan and later had been infamous for conducting suicide bombings and killing thousands of Afghans, Americans and Soviets.
This network’s high-profile attacks include the suicide bombing at Kabul’s Serena Hotel in 2008 and the killing of 16 Afghans in a 20-hour siege of the US Embassy in 2011. However, although the Taliban is bullish about the group and says that “the group will be more conciliatory now than in the past and will abide by certain international norms”, it is very unlikely to discern any transformation. While the Taliban is antagonistic towards ISIS-K, according to Sajjan Gohel, the Haqqani network preserves a sound connection with ISIS-K. According to Michael Kugelman,… “several members [and leaders] of the Haqqani network — which has been implicated in some of the most mass casualty horrific terrorist attacks in Afghanistan over the years.. And are going to be occupying the top spots [of interim government].”
Recent Terrorist Attacks in the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan
Without misgivings, the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan has given an impetus to the upsurge of Terrorism. According to the Statista, the index of terrorism in Afghanistan has heightened to 9.11 in 2021 which was 9.05 in 2020. Statista data also shows that in 2021-22, Afghanistan secures the top position in the list of deaths from terrorism. Accounting for 20% of all deaths, Afghanistan is in the highest position in sharing global terrorism deaths.
However, in recent times, many terrorist attacks and incidents have taken place in the country. In August 2022, a series of bombings occurred in which more than 250 people have been killed & injured. Police reported that during evening prayers, a huge explosion was conducted by bombings killing another 21 and injuring 33 people. Before the incident, Rahimullah Haqqani was assassinated in a suicide bombing led by the Da’esh terrorist network. However, recently, on September 22, 2022, in a catastrophic bomb blast, at least 07 people were killed and 41 were injured near a mosque in Kabul. This bombing was allegedly led by ISIS.
Moreover, on September 30, a serious suicidal terrorist attack was held in the coaching centre of Kabul. In the attack, more than 25 people were killed and according to reports, it was against the local Shia Hazara girls and people led by ISIS-K. Very recently, demanding protection against the militants, thousands of protestors have come out of their homes and rallied against the heinous attack of the TTP on a school van in Swat Valley of Pakistan. In the terrorist attack, the driver of the van was killed and 02 children were injured. According to some reports, they are gradually coming back to their respective areas in Pakistan from Kabul which infers that they are now bolstered to a grave extent. As a result of the activities of the notorious terrorist groups, it has become more palpable that in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan terrorism has expanded to an egregious degree.
Since the Taliban government is less likely to pursue any hard policy and follows a ‘sympathetic attitude’ towards Al-Qaeda, ISIS-K and others, the tension among the neighbors is swelling deliberately. For instance, conducting their activities from Kabul, Afghanistan, the TTP is being stronger day by day in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. The local people are highly concerned with the heinous attacks and mischief activities of the group. However, with the major theme of “security and economic development,” a three-day conference was held between July 25 to 26 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan where more than 20 states and organizations partook including China, Pakistan, Iran and other Central Asian countries. In the conference, the neighbor states showed grave concerns regarding the dilly-dallying policy of the Taliban government regarding the terrorist groups. Particularly, they focused on the abrupt and violent upsurge of Al-Qaeda with the sympathy of Taliban. The return of Al-Qaeda is gravely giving rise to a vulnerable region, in which regard, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China and other countries are extremely concerned about the resilience in and outside the country.
Apart from all the grim developments, the major and big question is, whether the Taliban government has been competent to uphold its pledge about thwarting terrorism or the regime is pursuing a contrast path giving the groups more sympathy. Data and evidence exhibit that the regime is countenancing the terrorist groups which course is threatening and ominous not only for the region but rather for the whole world. As a result, the neighbors and other countries are highly concerned about the future trajectory of the groups. Therefore, in no time, the Taliban government should break up all the relationships with terrorist groups in order to keep its legitimacy in the international community.