The Enduring Terror Threat in the Afghanistan-Pakistan Region
In recent weeks, the situation in Afghanistan has rapidly deteriorated as the Afghan Taliban and the Islamic State of Khurasan (ISK) unleashed their acts of terrorism in different parts of the country. The recent wave of violence in the war-torn country is a grim reminder of the enduring character of the terrorist threat and the counter-productive nature of militarised approaches to counter-terrorism. This drives home the point that a viable solution of the war in Afghanistan lies in political termination of the conflict. As long as the conflict simmers, terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda, ISK and the Afghan Taliban, among others, will find ungoverned spaces to survive and exploit the public resentment to their benefit.
Alarmingly, some foreign fighters from Iraq and Syria are now making their way to Afghanistan after the defeat of the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group. The presence of French, Moroccan, Chechen, British and Uighur militants affiliated with IS has been witnessed in Afghanistan. This will generate a heated inter-group competition between the Taliban and ISK for possession of resources, new recruits and fighters, and monopoly over the ideological narrative of jihadism that could negatively affect the already abysmal security situation in Afghanistan. Resultantly, the violence is likely to increase in Afghanistan ahead of the fast approaching fighting season in the summer.
The wave of high profile attacks by the Afghan Taliban, mostly in the urban centre, is a bid to demonstrate that they, not the ISK, are in charge of the insurgency in Afghanistan and they can strike anyone, anywhere and at any time. The spate of attacks could possibly be in reprisal to US President Donald Trump’s new Afghan policy which has hinted at stepping up the war efforts in Afghanistan to reverse the war momentum prior to exploring a political solution. In recent weeks, the US has stepped up its airstrikes against the Afghan Taliban in different parts of Afghanistan. The upsurge of violence in Afghanistan could possibly also be in retaliation to the resumption of drone strikes against the Haqqani Network in the Afghanistan-Pakistan tribal region.
Coupled with this is the booming opium production in Afghanistan, which has financed the Taliban insurgency and enabled it to continue indefinitely. The failure to break the supply-demand nexus and encourage the farmers to cultivate alternative crops has left them with no choice but to grow opium. Corruption, lack of technical expertise and resources and absence of government’s writ in the rural areas of Afghanistan, where much of the opium grows, have also hampered efforts to eradicate drugs. Disrupting and dismantling the financial sources of the Afghan Taliban are as important to reverse the war momentum as dismantling their overseas sanctuaries. These urgent issues are discussed at length by Neo Wee Na in her article on the insurgency-narcotics nexus vis-à-vis Afghanistan, and how Afghanistan could learn from Thailand’s success in arresting drug dealers and providing alternative livelihood to the farmers and simultaneously isolate the terrorists and drain their financial sources.
The rise of extremist groups in neighbouring Pakistan is an equally troubling development. Muhammad Suleman describes how the rise of Barelvi extremist groups on Pakistan’s political landscape in recent years has pushed the nuclear-armed Muslim nation further into the abyss of religious extremism. The state’s naïve promotion of Sufi Islam against Deobandi and Wahhabi groups – mainly blamed for promoting jihadism and militancy in Pakistan — without thinking through the ideological fallout of such policies has proved to be counterproductive. Pakistan’s best bet to overcome the violent-extremist threat lies in promoting the rule of law and liberal-democratic values as enshrined in the country’s constitution.
This issue also discusses the utilisation of local charities to finance terrorism in foreign conflict zones. On one hand, specific charities in parts of the Middle East have been designated as terrorist organisations. On the other hand, international charitable organisations have provided funds to Hamas in Gaza and the Maute clan in the Philippines. Gregory Rose suggests the introduction of risk assessment from intelligence agencies, sharing of information on suspicious transactions, and public transparency and accountability systems, as a few possible policy responses to prevent charities from becoming a source of financing for terrorist organisations, within and beyond Australia.
Commentaries / Conflict and Stability / South Asia / Terrorism Studies
Last updated on 22/02/2018