Afghan anxieties

Al-Qaeda revival in Afghanistan following the US withdrawal is said to be imminent

M Ziauddin June 19, 2021
The writer served as Executive Editor of The Express Tribune from 2009 to 2014

An al-Qaeda revival in Afghanistan following the US withdrawal is said to be imminent. The so-called Indian Subcontinent’s Al-Qaeda chapter, consisting members from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Myanmar and operating from within Afghanistan, is expected to help this revival take shape.

The UN Analytical Support and Sanction Monitoring Team listed the Haqqani network as the main link between al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The network is known to have enjoyed the backing of elements within Pakistan.

According to media reports al-Qaeda operatives have also been known to be sheltering in Pakistan-Iran border areas, where many foreign nationals have been spotted traveling back and forth to Iran using the Balochistan region as a base.

The Afghan Taliban have already declared “victory” over the US and looks set to overthrow President Ghani’s government in Kabul by force, as the militant group is said to have taken control of at least 26 outposts and bases and four district centres in Laghman, Baghlan, Wardak, and Ghazni provinces in May.

Pakistan is fencing much of its 2,640km border with Afghanistan at a cost of $500 million to shore up its defences against militant movements.

The anti-Taliban elements in Afghanistan are, in the meantime, said have grouped themselves under the banner of “mujahedin” fully equipped with necessary fire power professing an alliance with Kabul and signaling a clear return to the territory-based warlordism seen in the past during the civil war following withdrawal of the Soviet troops.

On April 18, Muhammad Ismail Khan, Afghanistan’s former minister for water and energy and a leading politician in West Afghanistan, held a ceremony at his residence in Herat, which was broadcast live on Facebook and where several armed groups vowed to resist the Taliban.

Khan even went to the extent of offering Kabul to deploy mujahedin to fight the Taliban in cities and districts, saying: “… there are hundreds of armed mujahedin in each district and the government [should] trust them. It isn’t necessary to send forces from the city of Herat to the districts who then suffer casualties. We have enough forces from the sons of this land in each district and they can defend their areas.”

Elsewhere in Takhar province, armed militias have re-emerged under the leadership of Ahmad Massoud, the son of late mujahedin commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, vowing to resist the Taliban post-US withdrawal.

With Massoud’s political office claiming support from people in Takhar, Baghlan, Kunduz and Samangan provinces, the possibility of an ugly war involving not only Afghan security forces but also irregular armed militias is said to have increased manifold.

Atta Muhammad Nur, a former mujahedin commander known as “The Teacher” for the training he provided to Afghan mujahedin during the Soviet-Afghan war, has also said that his affiliated groups will resist the Taliban and stand by “our system and government”.

For Russia and China, a wider civil war in Afghanistan could mean destabilisation of their Eurasian Economic Union and the BRI projects, respectively. As President Vladimir Putin recently remarked, “The peaceful development of Afghanistan is of key importance for security and stability in Central and South Asia. Russia will continue to assist in forming an economically independent Afghan state, free from terrorism.”

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that officials under Nato’s authority are seeking Qatar’s permission to use a military base to train Afghan special forces. The US, Britain and Turkey are among the Nato countries prepared to send military trainers to Qatar to assist the Afghan forces.

The Biden administration, meanwhile, is in talks with Turkish officials over leaving Turkish troops to secure Kabul International Airport.

The Pentagon wants to continue “over-the-horizon” operations to target Islamist extremists in Afghanistan deemed to pose a threat outside of the country. But so far no one in the region has offered the facility.

Besides US "diplomatic, logistic and financial assistance”, President Tayyip Erdogan says Ankara is looking for Pakistan and Hungary's involvement in new mission in Afghanistan following departure of foreign troops. Turkey currently has some 500 soldiers in the war-torn country.