Islamist Terrorism Flourishing Under the Taliban

The most worrying concerns, though, about the Taliban’s ability to rein in the activities of Islamist terror groups stem from the composition of the new Afghan government which, far from reflecting the Taliban’s claim that it is pursuing a “moderate” agenda, is packed with hardliners and includes no women, minorities or opposition members.

In particular, the appointment of Sirajuddin Haqqani, a prominent member of the infamous Haqqani network who is on the FBI’s most wanted list and is a designated global terrorist, completely undermines the Taliban’s claim that it wants to curb the activities of Islamist terrorists.

More recently the group has been building ties with ISIS-K. As Sajjan Gohel, international security director at the Asia-Pacific Foundation, wrote in a recent article for Foreign Policy magazine, “There has, in fact, been a tactical and strategic convergence between the Islamic State-Khorasan and the Haqqanis, if not the entirety of the Taliban.”

At the time of the Taliban takeover, Pakistan’s pro-Islamist Prime Minister Imran Khan rejoiced at America’s humiliating defeat in Afghanistan. Now he finds himself facing a battle for survival in Islamabad as militant supporters of the so-called “Pakistani Taliban” seek to emulate the achievements of their Afghan neighbours by overthrowing the Pakistani government.

As seen this morning with the bombing of the Eidgah Mosque in Kabul, leaving a reported 8 people killed and 20 wounded, the prospects of Afghanistan once more becoming a safe haven that can be used by Islamist terrorist groups to launch deadly attacks against the West have risen dramatically in the wake of US President Joe Biden’s disastrous decision to withdraw American forces from the country. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack on Saturday through its Nasheer news agency on Telegram.

Part of Mr Biden’s justification for ending America’s 20-year-old involvement in the conflict was that the Taliban had learnt the lessons of its past involvement with Islamist terror groups like al-Qaeda, and would therefore be unlikely to allow them to operate freely in territory under Taliban control.

Indeed, one of the key requirements of the controversial Doha peace deal the Taliban signed with the previous Trump administration was for the Taliban to curb the activities of Islamist militants. The Taliban’s leadership has said it wants to proceed with its policy of confining foreign jihadists in “reserves” where their movements can be controlled, and their weapons confiscated.

The Biden administration has argued that the Taliban is keen not to repeat its past mistakes, where its close association with al-Qaeda at the time of the September 11 attacks in 2001 resulted in the overthrow of the previous Taliban administration following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan.

Yet, a month after the Taliban seized control of the country, all the indications were that jihadist terror groups have been growing in strength in Afghanistan, with all the implications this deeply concerning trend will have both for Afghanistan and the wider world.

There is deep concern within Western intelligence circles that a consolidation of power is already taking place in Afghanistan among a number of Islamist terror groups that are taking full advantage of the Taliban takeover.

Islamist groups such as ISIS, which first began operations in Afghanistan after the creation of its so-called caliphate in Syria and Iraq in 2015, have benefitted from the disillusion of some former fighters with the Taliban who, concerned with the group’s attempts to position itself as a “moderate” regime, have defected to more hardline Islamist groups.

One of the more ludicrous examples of the Taliban’s attempts to portray themselves as a moderate movement were their attempts to have their newly-created Islamic Emirate recognised by the United Nations, replacing the existing Afghan representation.

The Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISIS-K), as the ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan is known, has seized on the Taliban’s craving for international recognition to denounce them as being too moderate, with the result that disaffected former Taliban fighters have been recruited to its ranks.

Last month’s suicide bomb attack on the outskirts of Kabul airport was a devastating indication of the group’s growing strength, which has seen it launch 77 attacks in the first four months of 2021 compared with 21 during the same period last year.

The growth in ISIS-K’s strength in Afghanistan is also reflected in the creation of a specialist unit called Al-Sadiq, which the movement uses to coordinated its activities with other Islamist terror groups in South Asia.

The most worrying concerns, though, about the Taliban’s ability to rein in the activities of Islamist terror groups stem from the composition of the new Afghan government which, far from reflecting the Taliban’s claim that it is pursuing a “moderate” agenda, is packed with hardliners and includes no women, minorities or opposition members.

In particular, the appointment of Sirajuddin Haqqani, a prominent member of the infamous Haqqani network who is on the FBI’s most wanted list and is a designated global terrorist, completely undermines the Taliban’s claim that it wants to curb the activities of Islamist terrorists.

The Haqqani network is known to have links with Islamist terror groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS-K, and with one of its most prominent leaders occupying a central position in the new Afghan regime, the Taliban’s ability to control their activities would be limited.

As the leader of the Haqqani network, Afghanistan’s new interior minister has a reputation for using violent tactics, including using death squads for executions and releasing videos of mass beheadings. High-profile attacks carried out by his network include the suicide bombing at Kabul’s Serena Hotel in 2008 and a 20-hour siege of the U.S. embassy compound in Kabul in 2011 that left 16 Afghans dead.

More recently the group has been building ties with ISIS-K. As Sajjan Gohel, international security director at the Asia-Pacific Foundation, wrote in a recent article for Foreign Policy magazine, “There has, in fact, been a tactical and strategic convergence between the Islamic State-Khorasan and the Haqqanis, if not the entirety of the Taliban.”

There have also been reports of a number of al-Qaeda terrorists moving from their hideouts in Pakistan to Afghan territory controlled by the Haqqani network.

Then there is the knock-on effect the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has had on neighbouring Pakistan, where terrorist attacks have increased to their highest level in more than four years in recent weeks, according to data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal.

At the time of the Taliban takeover, Pakistan’s pro-Islamist Prime Minister Imran Khan rejoiced at America’s humiliating defeat in Afghanistan. Now he finds himself facing a battle for survival in Islamabad as militant supporters of the so-called “Pakistani Taliban” seek to emulate the achievements of their Afghan neighbours by overthrowing the Pakistani government.

There can be little doubt that the rapidly deteriorating security situation in both Afghanistan and Pakistan is the direct result of Mr Biden’s idiotic decision to end American involvement in the region, one that is likely to have profound implications for Western security for many years to come.

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