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Afghanistan: Security Vacuum Dangerous Portends

The security vacuum in Afghanistan is providing sanctuaries to multiple terrorist groups – regional, global as well as those resisting the Taliban internally such as the Islamic State of Khorasan [ISK].

Briefing the United Nations Security Council Secretary-General's Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan, Markus Potzel on 27 September 2022 highlighted the grim security situation in Afghanistan.

He said, “Our earlier warnings about the capabilities of Islamic State Khorosan Province (ISKP) were dismissed by the Taliban. But ISKP has demonstrated in the last few months alone that it can carry out assassinations of figures close to the Taliban, attacks against foreign embassies, as well as fire rockets across Afghanistan’s border to attack its neighbours, all while maintaining its long-standing sectarian campaign against Shia Muslims and ethnic minorities. We are particularly concerned about the recent attack at the Russian embassy in Kabul that killed 10 people, among them a Russian diplomat. In addition to attacks carried out by ISKP, a number of unclaimed incidents killed and wounded Afghans going about their daily lives, in particular while attending places of worship. I take this opportunity to express our condolences to all victims and their family members”.

He also recalled that, “The reported presence of al Qaeda leader al Zawahiri in the heart of Kabul and the strike against him, as well as continued presence of other terrorist groups, have forced a questioning of the Taliban’s counter-terrorism commitments, further deepening the trust gap with the international community. These questions are still unanswered”.

Potzel said, “Armed clashes persist between the de facto security forces and armed opposition groups in the Panjshir, Baghlan, Kapisa, Takhar, and Badakhshan provinces. There are disturbing reports, as well as videos and photos, indicating possible serious human rights violations committed in Panjshir. UNAMA has called on the de facto authorities to investigate allegations of extra-judicial killings in Panjshir in line with international standards. The de facto authorities have stated that they will conduct serious investigations into these allegations. The status of these investigations is unknown. UNAMA will continue to carefully monitor this and other reports of serious human rights violations.

Meanwhile confirming the death of al Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahiri, America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has displayed a model of the house in which he was killed. The Taliban is not likely to confirm the death, whereas nomination of a chief by the al Qaeda is the only indicator that he has been done away with.

The Foreign Minister of Tajikistan, Sirajuddin Mehruddin, said that “Afghanistan is rapidly becoming a safe haven for terrorist groups," while delivering the country statement at the 77th UN General Assembly. “We share 1,400 km border with this country ... In the current alarming situation, it is… for Tajikistan to strengthen its border with Afghanistan,” he said.

Zahra Ershadi, ambassador and deputy permanent representative of Iran to the UN has indicated that terrorism poses a threat to both regional and international security while speaking at the special UN Security Council meet on Afghanistan.

This comes after Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif raised similar issues in his country statement at the 77th UN General Assembly which was disputed very vehemently by the Taliban in Kabul and has developed into a minor diplomatic spat between the two countries.

In India head of the Central Reserve Police Force [CRPF] Director General Kuldiep Singh in his remarks on September 29 in a press briefing highlighted the fillip to terror in Jammu and Kashmir due to Taliban take over in Afghanistan. "This is a challenge... After Afghanistan, this challenge has grown in many forms and you can see it... Also like the number of foreign terrorists goes up and sometimes down. However, the total number of terrorists in J&K is less now... It is under 200 now as compared to the earlier times when it used to be 230-240," Singh said as per the Greater Kashmir.

China which was planning to make heavy investments in Afghanistan in the mineral as well as the oil and gas sector has delayed final decisions given the continued threat of East Turkestan Islamic Movement - the terrorist group active in Xinjiang which is said to have sanctuaries in Afghanistan with some estimates of over 1000 fighters which need to be confirmed.

Engagement - Option

These revelations coming just a year after the Taliban has taken power in Kabul are alarming as with consolidation of hold over the country, more such incidents are likely which may become a major concern in the months and years ahead particularly as the Taliban continues to be in denial.

While the US is concerned of the threat that continues to be posed from the Taliban’s facilitation of leaders of global terrorist groups as the al Qaeda the option for dehyphenating from the country is not being exercised so far even though diplomatic and political isolation of Taliban regime in Kabul is almost universal. Despite concerns about their counterterrorism commitments, the U.S. has opted to remain engaged with the Taliban. This is the consensus in the international community and has also been pursued by Pakistan which the US has adopted for now.

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