Afghanistan dispatch: international terror groups have found a home in Taliban territory Dispatches
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Afghanistan dispatch: international terror groups have found a home in Taliban territory

Law students and young lawyers in Afghanistan are filing reports with JURIST on the situation there after the Taliban takeover. Here, a Staff Correspondent for JURIST in Kabul reports on several terrorist organizations operating in the country, much to the concern of the international community. For privacy and security reasons, we are withholding our Correspondent’s name. The text has only been lightly edited to respect the author’s voice.

International concerns about terrorism that can quickly spread from Afghanistan have been further stoked by the Taliban’s return to power. The US and its allies have already expressed concern about international terrorism in Afghanistan, and almost all international discussions on Afghanistan include worries about potential threats to global security that could originate from the country, which is now ruled by the Taliban, a group that was known as a terrorist organization not long ago.

In their meeting in May, the G7 group recently asked the Taliban to combat terrorism in Afghanistan and uphold their obligations to the international community. Part of the G7 statement was related to the Afghanistan situation, and declared that the Taliban should adhere to their commitments in the fight against terrorism and to ensure that Afghan soil is not used to threaten or attack any country, plan or finance terrorist acts, or give a safe home to any terrorist group.

This dispatch describes how a number of terrorist organizations are growing on Afghan land and assesses whether the Taliban can stop their growth.

Taliban ties with Al-Qaeda – The Taliban are known for their close ties with the terrorist group Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of Al-Qaeda, was killed on July 31, 2022 in Kabul by a U.S. drone strike. Zawahiri appears to have resided in a home that was intended for the affluent Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani’s family. With strong ties to Al-Qaeda, the Haqqani network, which currently controls key government institutions in Afghanistan, has participated in numerous deadly attacks against the former Islamic Republic that have killed both civilians and members of the country’s security services.

US and NATO commanders have commented on the Taliban’s pledge to fight terrorism in the wake of Ayman al-Zawahiri’s death, and they have made it quite plain that any assistance for Al-Qaeda runs counter to the US deal with the Taliban reached in Doha.

Since the organization’s founding in Pakistan, Al-Qaeda has planned numerous additional attacks both inside and outside of Afghanistan. The group is best known for its attacks in 2001 on the US World Trade Center in New York City. On the other side, the Taliban have not yet demonstrated strength or ability to defeat their old ally, Al-Qaeda. Numerous sources indicate that the Taliban, particularly the Haqqani group, are still in contact with Al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Taliban’s commitment to fighting the organization is still up for debate.

ISIS-K – In addition to the deadly attacks on US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, this group has planned and carried out a number of lethal strikes against the former Islamic Republic. Since the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan a second time on August 15, 2021, their operations and attacks have significantly expanded. Attacks and operations by this group have increased in both southern and northern Afghanistan.  Iran has expressed alarm due to ISIS-K attacks that target the Shia minority in Afghanistan. Iranian Suni militants fighting against Iranian forces in Iran and Afghanistan have reportedly been recruited by ISIS-K, according to local and international reports. Since returning to power, the Taliban have also attacked and claim to have killed ISIS-K members in Kabul and elsewhere around the country.

On April 25, 2023, the Taliban announced that it killed the ISIS-K cell responsible for the August 2021 bombing of the Kabul International Airport, which took the lives of 13 US soldiers and 170 civilians who were to flee the country out of the Taliban terror. The Taliban have launched a brutal offensive attack against ISIS-K in Afghanistan over the past two years. One of the worst-case possibilities outlined when Afghanistan’s Western-backed government fell apart was the organization taking territory or recruiting huge numbers of former Taliban fighters bored in peacetime. However, up until this point, the Taliban have prevented that from happening.

Still, in the absence of American airstrikes and Afghan commando raids that killed many of its leaders, ISIS-K has spread from its original stronghold in eastern Afghanistan to nearly all of the country’s 34 provinces, according to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. The group has also carried out major suicide attacks on government buildings and educational centers targeting the Shia minority.

Pakistani Taliban –  Tensions between the Taliban government in Afghanistan and Pakistan have risen over the escalating terror activities of the Pakistani Taliban, also known as Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP). From its headquarters in North Waziristan, the TTP has commenced an expanding terror campaign within Pakistan. Members of the TTP, who now have close relations with the Afghan Taliban, are allegedly granted safe havens within Afghanistan, where they plot strikes against the Pakistani government.

In order to ensure that the Pakistan-influenced government in Afghanistan does not support the TTP, the Pakistani government even held direct talks with the Taliban in Kabul after the Taliban Supreme Leader alleged that Pakistan’s government was far from enforcing sharia law and Islamic principles. TTP who want to impose sharia law in Pakistan have been motivated by the Afghan Taliban’s win and the Afghan Taliban’s potential for retaliation over the Durand Line/border is a significant cause for fear for the Pakistani government.

While Pakistan sees itself as a major influence in supporting and bringing the Afghan Taliban to power, it should not be forgotten that regional powers like Russia, China, and Qatar also helped bring the Taliban to the negotiation table. The Taliban are currently indicating that they might be less receptive to directives from Pakistan, an issue which makes the Pakistani government fear that TTP will be supported by the Taliban-led government in Afghanistan.

The Taliban’s inability to combat terrorist organizations in Afghanistan is currently what matters most to the international community, particularly Iran, Pakistan, China, Tajikistan, and others.