Why Daesh in Afghanistan is an irritant that must be removed
The situation in Afghanistan has witnessed some fresh and positive developments in the past week. The United States has indicated its willingness to talk to the Taliban directly. Then we also saw a meeting of intelligence chiefs from China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan in Islamabad.
The meeting focused on growing Daesh activities in Afghanistan. It may be worth discussing the purpose and importance of this quadrilateral meeting. It is pertinent to point out that all four nations taking part in the Islamabad moot perceive Daesh in Afghanistan as a threat to their interests.
There were conflicting indications about the Daesh agenda in Afghanistan and the US view of the non-state actor. Last November, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai alleged that the US had colluded with Daesh in his country. However, some six months before that statement, the superpower had dropped the heaviest possible non-nuclear bomb in Nangarhar province, killing 36 Daesh cadres. If the US were promoting this terrorist group in Afghanistan, it would not have thrown that lethal bomb.
Non-state actors usually flourish in countries with chaotic conditions and eroded government control. According to a recent US statement, the Kabul government controls only 60 percent of the area and I would assess that estimate to be optimistic.
Let us now try to fathom why these four nations consider Daesh activities in Afghanistan inimical to their interests. A US military commander in Kabul recently said that more than half of the terrorist attacks in Afghanistan now originated from Daesh. The Afghan Taliban agenda is local, while that of Daesh is international. Moreover, the Taliban have never shown any proclivity to harm Pakistan.
As a result of successful sweeping operations by the Pakistan armed forces, a number of Pakistan Taliban had crossed over to Afghanistan. These TTP cadres are a major recruiting pool for Daesh. They have a mercenary mentality and are fully trained in various terrorist activities. They are naturally perceived as a criminal-minded group willing to rent its services for a price.
Russia thinks Daesh in Afghanistan is already infecting the neighboring states of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. If allowed to flourish, it could, like its predecessor Al-Qaeda, spread its tentacles to Russian territories such as Chechnya.
Befriending an enemy is kosher for intelligence agencies in order to fight a bigger enemy. And that bigger enemy today is Daesh.
The Chinese province of Xinjiang borders the Afghanistan areas of Badakhshan and Vakhan. Muslim-majority Xinjiang has seen turmoil in the past and its separatist Uyghar dissidents have been taking refuge in neighboring countries. Afghanistan is an important country for the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. Therefore increasing Daesh activity in Afghanistan is of concern to China.
Daesh has taken on the Hazara community in Afghanistan and this segment of the Afghan population has links with Iran. Pakistan thinks that Daesh, like its predecessor Al-Qaeda, could foment trouble across the border. The presence of elements of Pakistan origin in that extremist group is a cause of concern.
Meanwhile, there are reports that Russia and Iran have developed links with the Afghan Taliban to checkmate Daesh activities. Pakistan is genuinely interested in the security and stability of Afghanistan in order to ensure that it no longer remains a haven for foreign-sponsored terrorist groups and to enhance its bilateral trade activity with its landlocked neighbor and beyond. As Russia and Iran have generally been inimical to the Taliban, why should they cultivate some of its segments now?
One obvious answer is that befriending an enemy, or some of its segments, is kosher for intelligence agencies in order to fight a bigger enemy. And that bigger enemy today is Daesh. Russia does not want trouble in Central Asia, which it considers to be its backyard, and Iran is sensitive to developments in the neighboring Afghan province of Nangarhar which has become a hub for Daesh activities.
Peace in Afghanistan can unleash positive potential in the region by promoting connectivity. Afghanistan could become the pivot of the Eurasian trade and energy network. This could benefit numerous nations from India to Russia. To achieve that goal, Afghanistan will have to get rid of all rogue elements and Kabul should be in effective control of all Afghan territory.
Positive movement in these quadrilateral talks could later include the Afghan intelligence apparatus as well. Without full Afghan cooperation, all efforts by agencies of these four countries would not bear fruit. Intelligence cadres are the first line of defense, particularly for a country such as Afghanistan where peace has been elusive for decades.
That turmoil in Afghanistan has a negative effect on the economic development of Pakistan is a foregone conclusion. Therefore Pakistan has invariably shown its willingness to help in the peace process in Afghanistan. To achieve that objective it is necessary to remove this foreign irritant called Daesh. Non-state actors are now a story of the past. Geo-economics must replace geo-politics in the region which has had more than its fair share of turbulence.
– Javed Hafeez is a former Pakistani diplomat with much experience of the Middle East. He writes weekly columns in Pakistani and Gulf newspapers and appears regularly on satellite TV channels as a defense and political analyst. Twitter: @hafiz_javed