THE threat posed to the region by violent extremist outfits has only grown more complex since the fall of the Ashraf Ghani government next door. Indications of what may lie ahead if Pakistan and Afghanistan do not act soon to counter it can be gleaned from the latest US State Department report on terrorism.
About the militant Islamic State group’s Khorasan chapter, the report says: “The group is based in Afghanistan, conducts operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and is composed primarily of former members of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, the Afghan Taliban and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.” Its fighters are estimated to number around 1,000.
The TTP, according to the report, boasts between 3,000 and 5,000 fighters and draws “ideological guidance” from Al Qaeda elements which partly rely on TTP for safe havens along the Pak-Afghan border. It is, as the document notes, a convenient arrangement that gives the Pakistani militant outfit “access to both Al Qaeda’s global terrorist network and its members’ operational expertise”.
Militants who espouse violent extremist ideologies do not operate in silos. Even IS and Al Qaeda, each of whom have tried to develop their ‘brand’ over the years, have fighters that maintain links with the other group. Many have also moved back and forth, depending on developments on the ground; IS’s ‘caliphate’ was a particularly attractive recruitment tool.
Closer to home, the Afghan Taliban, despite seeking recognition from the world as their country’s legitimate government, have refused to take any action against the TTP which hosted them in Pakistan’s border areas while the Taliban leaders were on the run from US and Afghan military forces. Such a stance flies in the face of their commitment to the international community to prevent militant groups from using Afghanistan as a launching pad for transnational attacks.
While IS has a smaller number of fighters, they have carried out some of the most devastating attacks in the region; their sectarian agenda makes them doubly lethal. The US of course has a major stake in whether, after its unceremonious exit from the war-ravaged country, terrorist outfits will find the space to regroup and again pose a threat to its interests. There are many legitimate reasons to take issue with that country’s conduct in the ‘war on terror’, but the resurgence of militancy should be a common concern that pushes Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US to formulate a joint strategy against it.