The new Great Game in Af-Pak theatre: Is Afghanistan again becoming a springboard for international terrorism?

Pakistan has shifted anti-India terrorist camps into Afghanistan and there is evidence of the Taliban allowing Harkat-ul Ansar (HuA) to push terrorists from Afghanistan into Kashmir, writes Lt Gen P. C. Katoch (retd) for South Asia Monitor

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Afghanistan terrorism

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has resulted in an upsurge of terrorist activities in the Indian Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), as well as along the northern borders of Afghanistan with the Central Asian Republics (CAR), particularly adjoining Tajikistan.

In the Kashmir Valley, Pakistan has engineered killings of innocent civilians by organizing infiltration of terrorists and using local hybrid terrorist organizations which actually are fronts of Pakistan-based terror organizations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Harkat ul-Mujahideen (HuM).

Hindus and Sikhs were particularly targeted, with the victims including a prominent pharmacist and the principal and a teacher of a government boys higher secondary school in Srinagar to instill fear in the minorities.

The Resistance Force (TRF), a terrorist outfit that emerged in the Kashmir Valley two years back, is a front of the LeT though it claims no connection with Pakistan. Now another terror group calling itself Geelani Force (GF) has published a threatening video discounting any connection with TRF and Pakistan, which are lies. When separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani (a known ISI stooge) died on September 1, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran khan eulogized him profusely.  

Pakistan’s game plan is to push in more terrorists and ensure mushrooming of terrorist organizations in J&K. In a cross-border encounter, terrorists managed to kill five Indian soldiers recently and the Indian Army killed seven terrorists in counter operations. The terrorists responsible for killing the army personnel probably were TRF-cum-LeT, but now another terrorist organization calling itself Peoples Anti Fascist Front in Kashmir has claimed responsibility for the attack saying they would release video of attack soon.

Pakistan-China-Taliban nexus

As for the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, they remain inexorably linked with Al Qaeda. The latter had welcomed the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and called for Islamic jihad in Levant, Somalia, Yemen, Kashmir and the rest of the Islamic lands but omitted Chechnya and Xinjiang province of China, where there are complaints of atrocities on Uyghur Muslims. 

Pakistan has shifted anti-India terrorist camps into Afghanistan and there is evidence of the Taliban allowing Harkat-ul Ansar (HuA) to push terrorists from Afghanistan into Kashmir.  Recent reports also indicate that China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) officers have been contacting terrorists in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) who had operated in J&K earlier.

These developments along with some others indicate that China and Pakistan are hell bent on destabilizing India, particularly J&K. China has provisioned drones to Pakistan and this would facilitate another dimension of terrorism. Moreover, Pakistan appears sanguine that India will remain largely in defensive-reactive mode.

US and ISI terrorists

On October 9, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu during a joint press conference at Ankara with visiting Venezuelan Foreign Minister Felix Plasencia blamed the US for transferring ISIS terrorists from Afghanistan to Syria. He said that the US, which brought ISIS terrorists to Afghanistan from Syria by buses and planes, should first "look at themselves" before reproaching Ankara.

It was known for several years that the US was inducting ISIS into northern Afghanistan through Pakistan, but the matter was never acknowledged in public. This explains one of the reasons for Pakistan’s primacy to the US; both are partners in terrorism, not counterterrorism. This will likely continue with the aim of adversely affecting Russian influence in Afghanistan, as well in CAR countries.

If the US wanted to use the Taliban against China in Afghanistan, that is not likely to succeed, considering that the Taliban are removing Uyghur militants from the Afghanistan-China border, as asked for by China. How the US can use ISIS against China in the Af-Pak region is yet to be seen.

Afghan terror groups

The Deputy Governor of northeastern Afghanistan’s Badakshan province, Mullah Nisar Ahmad Ahmadi, recently stated that the Lashkar-e-Mansoori (LeM) battalion of suicide bombers is being deployed along the borders of the Badakshan, especially in the Badakhshan province on the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border. Ahmadi said this battalion, also known as Mansoor Army, was used for suicide attacks targeting security forces of the previous Afghan government.

Obviously,  Mansoor would also be tasked for terror attacks in CAR countries. That is why Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, in his recent address to the UN General Assembly, said, "Various terrorist groups are actively using the unstable military-political situation in Afghanistan in order to strengthen their positions...We are seriously concerned and regret that Afghanistan is once again on its way to becoming a platform for international terrorism." 

The Taliban reportedly has deployed tens of thousands of fighters in the Takhar province adjacent to Tajikistan

At the 17th meeting of heads of security agencies and intelligence services of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) which opened in Moscow on October 13, Sergey Naryshkin, Director of Russian Foreign Intelligence Service read out the message of President Vladimir Putin calling for using the potential of the intelligence services of the CIS member states to protect the Commonwealth space from new threats.

Representatives of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan attended the meeting. According to Putin, the services and departments of the CIS countries have serious operational, technical and personnel capabilities to reliably protect the CIS internal and external threats.

The US actions have also resulted in Sunni Turkey and Shia Iran rallying in support of Palestinian militant group Hamas and Lebanese Shia organization Hezbollah, while on the issue of the Iran nuclear deal, China and Russia are aligned with Iran. 

The Great Game will continue in Af-Pak, and terror will continue to flow outwards, including to India and other neighbouring countries.

(The author is an Indian Army veteran. The views expressed are personal)