Afghanistan has been abandoned, nay handed over, to the Taliban after 20 years of US and allied efforts to root out Al Qaeda and other terror groups. Organisationally, almost all the regional and trans-national jihadist groups have started consolidating themselves. Their propaganda, training and recruitment drives have restarted. However, there is still some way to go before they can effectively plan, coordinate and conduct major attacks.
The killing of the Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri who was living in an upscale locality in the heart of Kabul is one of the most significant developments in recent weeks. It is an emphatic statement of the close ties between Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The Taliban have held ‘a neighbouring country which allowed the use of its airspace for the drone attack equally responsible for the assassination’.
A suicide attack on the Pakistan Army in North Waziristan, which killed four soldiers, is thought to be TTP retaliation. This comes just days after an explosion inside Afghanistan killed a top commander of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. The TTP accepted the killing and did not call off peace talks with Pakistan.
In South and North Waziristan there are reports of clashes and ambushes of the Pakistan security forces. Target killings of locally influential persons, extortion, intimidation, kidnappings are once again raising the spectre of a return to the times when the TTP held sway over the region. Peace talks between TTP and Pakistan have created space for TTP to spread out into areas they controlled before they were pushed out in military operations.
Many Pakistani analysts accuse the Pakistan Army leadership of conceding ground to TTP to buy peace. This suited both the Taliban and the TTP because without really conceding anything substantial, they were able to make an ingress into areas from where they had been expelled. Since they have limited firepower and are not often times in no position to frontally confront superior state forces, they rely on a sort of jihadist salami-slicing approach.
The Pakistan Army may be reconsidering its policy on containing terrorism through negotiations with the TTP. Faiz Hamid has been posted out and a new general and new policy seems to be in the works. The dilemma for the Pakistan Army is that if it ends the negotiations, it would mean undertaking military operations which are going to prove expensive in men, material and money; on the other hand, continuing with the negotiations means making space for the Taliban.
The emergence of the so-called Islamic Emirate of Tashkent as a semi-modern state is going to fuel discontent, which in turn will play into the hands of Taliban’s rivals. While a number of countries, including India, have engaged the Taliban, there is as yet no sign of any formal diplomatic recognition of the Emirate. For India, a presence in Kabul gives her a toehold back into Afghanistan, for whatever that is worth.
A piecemeal or selective approach to jihadist terror groups will never really end the menace that the jihadist phenomenon poses. Because these groups are part of a whole, cutting side deals with one group of jihadists to secure a particular country from being targeted ends up making everyone insecure. The temptation to use some of these groups against rivals only empowers and emboldens the jihad industry.
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