Al-Qaeda threat, blowback for Pakistan increasing from an Afghanistan in chaos

With the Taliban showing no sign of moving against Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, an old worry is surfacing – that the terrorist group could be re-emerging as a threat.

Nirmal Ghosh

Nirmal Ghosh

The Straits Times


A member of the Taliban security force standing guard on a blocked road, after a suicide blast near Afghanistan's foreign ministry in Kabul on Jan 11, 2023. PHOTO: AFP

January 27, 2023

WASHINGTON – Afghanistan is again in chaos, with the Taliban severely restricting women and fighting elements of the Islamic State Khorasan Province, and its ideological sibling Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) destabilising Pakistan.

And with the Taliban showing no sign of moving against Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, an old worry is surfacing – that the terrorist group could be re-emerging as a threat, across the region and to the United States and its allies.

The threat of Al-Qaeda is greater today than it was prior to the Sept 11, 2001 attacks in the US that triggered the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, argues Mr Bill Roggio, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracy and editor of the Foundation’s Long War Journal, which analyses the US’ global war on terror.

Before Sept 11, 2001, the Afghan Taliban did not fully control Afghanistan, Mr Roggio told The Straits Times’ Asian Insider.

“The Northern Alliance controlled anywhere from 10 to 20 per cent of the country in the north-east. It actively fought the Afghan Taliban,” he said. The Northern Alliance was a coalition of militia that resisted the first Taliban regime from 1996 until the regime’s fall in 2001.

Today, the Afghan Taliban is in full control of the country.

“Resistance is nascent at best. The Afghan Taliban has all of the equipment, billions of dollars in US hardware, military equipment… ammunition, the fuel that was left behind, training bases,” he said.

“That relationship between Al-Qaeda and the Taliban has been forged in decades of blood and fire while fighting against the US and the West inside of Afghanistan. The Taliban isn’t going to abandon Al-Qaeda. It never was going to. This was a fantasy.”

When the US signed the February 2020 Doha Agreement paving the way for its withdrawal – which finally came in August 2021 – then US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had claimed that the Taliban would “destroy Al-Qaeda”.

“That’s what he claimed,” Mr Roggio said. “(Yet) there’s been zero targeting of Al-Qaeda by the Afghan Taliban.”

On July 31, 2022, the US killed Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a drone strike in downtown Kabul, where he had lived in a safe house run by Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani. The Taliban had “grossly” violated the Doha Agreement by hosting and sheltering al-Zawahiri, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said after the strike.

The TTP is threatening the Pakistani state, said Mr Javid Ahmad, non-resident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Centre in Washington, and a former ambassador of Afghanistan to the United Arab Emirates.

“The TTP is a classic case of reverse insurgency,” he told Asian Insider. “This time, it’s threatening the Pakistani state.”

“They believe that if the Afghan Taliban managed to secure their own syariah-based emirate in Afghanistan, so could the TTP in Pakistan,” he added.

Mr Ahmad noted that scores of TTP fighters and commanders who relocated to eastern and south-eastern Afghanistan have staged attacks on Pakistani targets.

“I think inside Pakistan, many today believe that the Pakistani military is in a pre-war stage with the TTP, and the TTP has already been (on) the military offensive since last April,” he said.

“But if this war picks up, I think the Pakistani army would naturally prefer to fight it inside Afghanistan rather than inside Pakistan. I don’t think it will play well with the Afghan Taliban who are working to consolidate their own power to rule.”

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