Can the Afghan Taliban Devise a Counter-terrorism Policy

The Taliban view of the state is well known. But the evolving security environment has put them in a state of double jeopardy. On the one hand, there are internal threats from the Islamic State Khorasan Chapter (IS-K), while on the other hand, there is a mounting international pressure to provide ironclad guarantees against the terror outfits active on Afghan soil. It will be a great challenge for the Taliban leadership to relate their ideological vision to these real-time security imperatives.

After the Afghan Taliban takeover of Kabul, the IS-K has gained more relevance. Once, the Taliban was a major security threat to Afghanistan. Now the IS-K, has come under the global radar after its horrific bombing in the Afghan capital. Many experts project the terrorist organisation as a major threat to the Taliban regime and regional peace and safety. The tragedy at Abbey Gate reminded people of how violent and unstable Afghanistan can be and how almost nobody is guaranteed the safety and security of life and limb even though the Taliban make so many of the right statements in their latest incarnation. During the evacuation of foreigners and under-threat Afghans, the terrorist strike in the High-Security Zone at Kabul Airport has reinforced the belief that IS-K will become a key factor of instability in Afghanistan and beyond.

The position of the Taliban has evidently evolved from a non-state to a state actor after seizing office in Afghanistan. It has “highlighted” the IS-K status as a prominent non-state violent player in Afghanistan. The group can now employ all the strategic and propaganda tools that the Taliban utilised against the outgoing US.

IS-K has a history of using its propaganda powers effectively. Following the attack on Kabul, the media was fed the misinformation that it wanted to unleash in Afghanistan for a long time. The organisation sent a message that the Taliban were not just the American marionettes in Kabul and were “filthy nationalists.”

On the one hand, resistance against the Taliban ideology is taking roots. The resistance in internal ranks and external competitors. IS-K has accused the Taliban of letting go of the “crusaders of the West”. Their new recruitment agenda seems to be projecting their own resistance as true and negating the Taliban as they took a somehow conciliatory approach towards the West by giving them safe passage.

The Taliban cannot parade around Kabul, claiming to have driven out the “crusaders” only to collaborate with them afterward.

On the other hand, the pressure from the international community is gaining further momentum after the Kabul airport attack. Both Pakistan and China have pressurised the Taliban to act against Tahreek-I-Taliban Party TTP and Turkistan Islamic Party TIP – formerly known as ETIM, respectively. However, one thing remains oblique that such a crackdown by the Taliban on all the small terrorist groups can raise much skepticism regarding the legitimacy of the Taliban as a true resistance against the West.

The main question here is whether the Taliban will be able to tackle the major security threat to the state they have recently acquired? Will the US continue to target the IS-K group with drone strikes, thereby directly assisting the Taliban in containing the terrorist threat? Who will be able to stop the jihadists from re-establishing themselves if the response is no?

If, in any case, the Taliban do succeed in providing such a level of security and establishing a degree of cooperation with the US, this might still cause significant discontent among the new rulers of Kabul. In terms of propaganda and recruitment, such cooperation could potentially aid IS-K. The Taliban cannot parade around Kabul, claiming to have driven out the “crusaders” only to collaborate with them afterward.

The Taliban are not a monolith, rather an agglomeration of smaller groups that were united on the call to wipe the West off of its soil. If this scenario arises, the smaller segments might leave the Taliban and join IS-K that provides them an ideological reboot and a haven. It can further increase the manpower of IS-K, which has already gone up. This ripple effect seems to be out of sight once again. Pressure alone cannot give ironclad guarantees, nor can it wipe off regional terror infiltration.

In recent months, North and South Waziristan have witnessed a surge in casualties due to increased violence. Since May, 167 terrorist attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan indicate clearly what lies ahead. Armed groups in Afghanistan would threaten Pakistan with elements that were destroyed and dispersed by the security forces following a series of successful operations. As per a UN report, “a significant part of the Al Qaeda leadership is based along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border,” while ISIS-K or Daesh “remains active and dangerous”. All this calls into question one thing: How would the Taliban strike a balance between these mounting challenges, and what would actually be an absurd question to ask a few months back: what will be their counter-terrorism policy?

Rida Fatima

Rida Fatima is a graduate of the School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid -I-Azam University. She serves as a Research Assistant at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research.

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