Before engaging with the Taliban on counterterrorism, the global community needs to realise that this move will have both political limitations and repercussions
On Afghanistan, most capitals are undergoing a level of political fatigue mixed with unclear policies on how to move forward with the new reality of the Taliban ruling Kabul.Opinions remain divided on al-Zawahiri’s death, with some analysts saying that no cooperation (such as intelligence sharing) exists while others questioned how he was targeted. Many reports have surfaced that the compound he was eliminated in belonged to the Haqqani Network. Possibilities of either of these scenarios being true (or the truth being somewhere in the middle), remain palpable. The ISKP has openly waged war against the Taliban, however, it would be a mistake to file it under ‘counterterrorism’. For the Taliban, it is politically existential, as it was for the previous governments in Kabul fighting against the Taliban itself for over two decades. They do not want to meet the same fate as the Republic. The potential threat of an expanding ISKP is, however, not without merit. While some believe that the threat has been exaggerated, countries in the region, particularly those sharing a border with Afghanistan, remain on edge over the situation. Security agencies of Kyrgyzstan, for example, estimate that up to 7,000 ISKP militants could conglomerate in northern parts of Afghanistan by this summer, and states in Central Asia remain particularly concerned about the ethnic fault lines that the ISKP can mobilise in view of the Taliban’s Pashtun-centric power structure. The above concerns on countering terrorism by engaging with the Taliban have both political limitations and repercussions. To begin with, it offers the Taliban a significant level of legitimacy at a time when even the likes of Russia and China, the main foreign powers with the most visibility in Afghanistan, hold reservations over how the Taliban is building its political structure. Zamir Kabulov, Moscow’s point man on Afghanistan, recently once again highlighted that leadership in the country remains non-inclusive. Thereafter, giving weight to the Taliban’s efforts against the ISKP while it maintains ambiguity on cracking down on others, which includes Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), amongst others, allows the Taliban to offer itself a level of tactical utility which then translates to confidence building. Such tactical utility is approached by individual states based on narrow interests and not broader and more fundamental counterterror definitions.
The ISKP has openly waged war against the Taliban, however, it would be a mistake to file it under ‘counterterrorism’.However, more consequentially, giving the Taliban a rope anchored in the argument that its new Islamic Emirate, for the time being, is a favourable option to support actions against ISKP leaves an open-ended question: If this becomes a legitimate strategic policy, then where does the red line exist? Taliban’s victory has galvanised other groups as well, who now see perseverance along with tactical power as the key to success. Taliban’s representative in Qatar in April met Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, a designated foreign terrorist group which was one of the first to congratulate them on defeating the US. Others, ranging from Hezbollah in the Middle East to Islamist groups currently aiming to topple governments in West Africa’s Sahel region today know that their aims can be successful. Many of these fundamental questions have not been addressed by those looking for diplomatic and political normalisation of the Taliban regime. While doing so may not have direct repercussions on political processes and stability in the West, it certainly will affect those in the immediate neighbourhood. A steadily increasing trend calling for the Taliban regime to be recognised, and by association, legitimised, is coming from two main fronts. First, is a weaponisation of hope (or alternately offered as a “Faustian bargain”), that the Taliban, after gaining official recognition, will moderate its stance on issues such as girls’ education and women’s right to work amongst other things. This hypothesis, now aged, has not delivered till now. Second, is an attempt to potentially empower a more palatable section within the Taliban, which includes, oddly, the leadership of the notorious Haqqani Network, once central to American counterterror operations in the country. This would strategically mean moving away from pushing the entire movement towards a level of moderation, to dealing with those within the movement who are willing and able to do so in the hope that if there were to be an internal power tussle, these actors come out on top.
The domino effect of the tactical pragmaticism of providing any aid to the Taliban against the ISKP may have short-term gains, but how it is viewed politically in the long term may well be detrimental to the diplomacy being envisioned at this moment.The above, politically, is a challenge that increasingly has fewer answers. The domino effect of the tactical pragmaticism of providing any aid to the Taliban against the ISKP may have short-term gains, but how it is viewed politically in the long term may well be detrimental to the diplomacy being envisioned at this moment. This feeds further into the significant confusion prevailing on how to deal with this “new” Afghanistan as the recent United Nations conference, which took place in Qatar, showcased. It ended in a whimper even as Doha’s leadership has reportedly held breakthrough talks in Kandahar with the Taliban’s reclusive supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada. Countering terrorism should ideally avoid having two separate policies under the silos of diplomacy and the military. Such divisions open gaps that non-state militant actors can, and will, take advantage of now that the floodgates of negotiating and signing deals with such entities have been normalised to an extent.
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Kabir Taneja is a Fellow with Strategic Studies programme. His research focuses on Indias relations with West Asia specifically looking at the domestic political dynamics ...Read More +