Homeland Security

South Asia Terror – Western USP?
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 29 Aug , 2023

A recent UN report highlights the following: Afghanistan is becoming epicenter of terror with 20 terrorist groups operating from Afghan soil; Al Qaeda has infiltrated law enforcement agencies and Afghanistan’s administration with patronage of high-ranking Taliban officials; Islamic State of Iraq and Levant-Khorasan Province (ISIL-KP) is the most serious terror threat to Afghanistan and the region; ISIL-KP, closely linked to AQIS, has Indians and Pakistanis in their network; NATO-caliber weapons are being transferred to ISIL-K by groups affiliated with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda like Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and ETIM; Al Qaeda and IS-KP plan increased presence in India; 200 Al Qaeda fighters in the Indian Subcontinent may be planning operations in J&K, Bangladesh and Myanmar; TTP could become a regional threat.

Concurrently, a report by the US Institute of Peace (USIP) released in June 2023 brings out the following: Taliban takeover of Afghanistan threatens the region but ISKP is the primary threat, not Taliban or Al Qaeda; core territory of ISKP, which has switched to urban warfare, remains Af-Pak; IS presence in South Asia extends beyond Af-Pak to India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Maldives, and Sri Lanka; ISKP poses a growing threat to the West and its South Asian partners, which calls for the West to have limited counterterrorism cooperation with Taliban, and; the nexus of AQIS-ISIL-KP has already forayed into India.

There are enough instances to indicate that the UN has become a lackey of the US. Actions by the UN in the ongoing US-NATO war on Russia, using Ukraine as proxy, have made this bias more than evident. The instant UN and USIP reports appear to be an attempt at information/disinformation overload to create confusion and obfuscate real intentions of the US-led West.

If Afghanistan is the epicenter of terror, isn’t the US to blame with its sham “peace deal” with Taliban and giving the country to them on a plate? The UN report mentions close Al-Qaeda-Taliban links, as well as between ISIL-KP and AQIS, but rates ISIL-KP the most serious threat – why? Is it to showcase Taliban the good boys and downplay the Al Qaeda threat? To top this, the UN report fails to mention the close Taliban-TTP links despite evidence to the contrary, including Taliban releasing TTP leaders and hundreds of their fighters from prisons immediately after the US exited Afghanistan.

To say that groups like TTP and ETIM are transferring NATO-caliber weapons to ISIL-K is also ludicrous. Is the TTP-ETIM manufacturing these weapons? No doubt global players have a stake in Afghanistan but didn’t the US leave behind $92 billion worth of armament and military equipment to Taliban, including two fully serviceable helicopters at Kabul airport – CIA’s parting gift?

The USIP report calling for re-energizing US-Taliban relations under pretext of counter-terrorism is a googly. Taliban, who are demonstrating new lows in radicalization with each passing day, have become the favourite terrorist group? The US was well aware of Pakistan forming an ISKP brigade in Peshawar (refer report by Director National Intelligence to the US Congress in 2016) but did nothing to stop its raising. Moreover, the US has been pumping IS/ISIL fighters into Afghanistan using Pakistan as the conduit. So, is the increasing threat of IS/ISKP-AQIS in South Asia suiting US national interests?

Playing down the threat of Taliban and Al Qaeda is naïve butis being propagated because the US has been trying to reestablish links with Taliban through Qatar and now directly to advance its interests and counter growing Chinese and Russian influence in the region.

Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West, along with Special Envoy for Afghan Women, Girls, and HR Rina Amiri, and Karen Decker, chief of the Doha-based US Mission to Afghanistan discussed critical interests with senior Taliban representatives and technocrats in Doha, Qatar on July 30-31, 2023. US officials identified areas for confidence building, taking note of decrease in large-scale terrorist attacks against Afghan civilians and Taliban’s continuing commitment to not allow the territory of Afghanistan to be used by anyone for terrorism (sic). They voiced openness for a technical dialogue to stabilize Afghanistan economically and to continue dialogue on counternarcotics.

The US history of using terrorist organizations as proxy boots and even playing one against the other when found suitable is well known. Moreover, the US has been overlooking Pakistan’s proxy war on India other than making perfunctory noises. It has even ignored Pakistani genocide against Balochis and Pashtuns, for example, the appeal by Pashtun activist Umar Daud Khattak to the then POTUS Donald Trump for taking action against Pakistan, especially with Pakistan using chemical weapons in Balochistan and Pashtunistan.

The Pakistan-US-UK ties remain strong. Pakistan’s removal from the FATF’s ‘grey list’ and recent $3 billion IMF loan to Pakistan had an obvious nod from the US. On July 16, 2023, a US-Pakistan Joint Police Training Centre was inaugurated in Nowshera, Pakistan with Donald Bloom, US ambassador to Pakistan attending the ceremony. The facility gives a foothold to the US in the area. The US is also providing the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police $3 million worth of armored vehicles, bulletproof jackets and helmets. The US would try similar tactics with the Taliban to advance its own national interests.

Pakistan has always been ruled directly or indirectly by its military. Pakistan also “facilitated” US exit from Afghanistan and militaries and intelligence agencies of both countries are closely linked. In August 2023, Pakistan enacted two laws that criminalize criticism of the military, legalize enforced disappearances, neuter constitutional rights of citizens, and provide legal cover for any kind of military action, including manipulating elections. Not only is there no criticism by the US Administration, but Secretary of State Antony Blinken has commended Pakistan for preparing for “free and fair elections” – talk of hypocrisy!

According to one estimate, the TTP has 25,000 fighters including 500 plus suicide bombers, which makes it the most powerful terrorist group in South Asia. The group aims to take over Pakistan by 2026-2027 and impose Sharia, which is unlikely considering the size of the Pakistan army. However, instability in Pakistan is set to rise with the rise in TTP attacks and the Baloch Liberation Army also striking the Pakistan security establishment. The TTP has threatened India in the past and in future will become a threat. 

On August 19, 2023, nine Army personnel died and two were injured when their vehicle skidded and plunged into a gorge in the Kerey area of Nyoma in Leh. This was considered an accident. But Lashkar-e-Taiba’s offshoot ‘The Resistance Front’ claimed it as an IED attack. The group published photos of the killed soldiers and the IED, which is apparently wire-controlled looking at the wire bundle in the photo. If true, we could have more such terror attacks in the future in seemingly innocuous places.

For India, Islamic terrorism is a threat per se and most of these terrorist organizations are linked underhand. Besides, even if some of these terrorist organizations are not linked; their common agenda is to establish an Islamic Emirate to include India and South Asia. It is no secret that the US wants to destabilize South Asia similar to what it has been doing to the Middle East/West Asia, as also wanting an India-China war to further its strategic and economic interests, and facilitate NATO deployment in the Indo-Pacific. But even without an India-China war, the US perceives a destabilized India leaning more on the West. Energizing the CIA-MI6-ISI bond may heat up the terror scene in India, aided by fifth columnists, in the run up to elections.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army.

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