Islamabad and its terror allies are waiting for the day when US forces vacate Afghanistan so that Pakistan's terror network can turn the war-torn country into its strategic playground.
A US Defence Intelligence Report, released on May 19, found that "Pakistan continues to harbor the Taliban and associated militant groups in Pakistan, such as the Haqqani Network, which maintains the ability to conduct attacks against Afghan interests."
Afghan news agency <em>Tolo News</em> recently released a documentary '<em>Daesh in Afghanistan</em>,' which also shares a similar concern regarding Pakistan's interference in its landlocked neighbor.
The documentary says that the Pakistan intelligence agency, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), not only provides personnel to terror organizations like the Haqqani Network (HN) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) to the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) in Afghanistan, but also provides aid to the tune of $200 million every year.
The US and the Taliban had reached a bilateral deal on bringing peace to the war-torn country by signing an agreement in Doha, Qatar, on February 29 this year. The deal envisaged a steady pullout of US troops from Afghanistan so that the Afghan government led by Ashraf Ghani can hold intra-Afghan peace talks bringing together diverse players in the country including the Taliban. Another important clause, among many others, was that the Afghan government would release Taliban members from its prisons and the Taliban would likewise release the Afghan troops that it has kidnapped.
Indian experts watching the developments in Afghanistan say that Pakistan is facilitating communication and networking between the various terror groups that it nurtures in Afghanistan so that these terror groups, most of which are its proxies, can take over power in Afghanistan.
Under the pretext of peace talks, the Taliban is forming strategic alliances with other terror groups. A recent United Nations report pointed that the HN, which is part of the Taliban itself, and the ISIS-Khorasan, have been forging relations in the dynamic Afghan scene and have been involved in attacks. HN is also linking up with Pakistan-based LeT.
<a href="https://thehill.com/opinion/international/502358-the-talibans-emerging-tactical-terror-alliances"><strong>An opinion piece</strong> </a>by Javid Ahmad in the <em>The Hill.com</em> says that "the Haqqanis constitute about 20 per cent of the Taliban's total fighting force. While there is little precise information about ISIS-K's actual fighting strength, up to 2,200 fighters are believed to operate under the group's banner across Afghanistan. This includes at least 10 percent foreign fighters with combat experiences in Syria and Iraq… Meanwhile, there are about 800 active Lashkar-e-Taiba fighters, mostly in eastern Afghanistan."
While American President Donald Trump is keen to withdraw forces from Afghanistan and has deployed Zalmay Khalilzad to make various groups and factions talk in Afghanistan, the on-ground situation in Afghanistan remains bleak. Despite the US-Taliban deal, the Taliban and other jihadi groups have conveniently carried on attacks on both civilians as well as Afghan security forces. Creating an atmosphere for peace by stopping attacks on Afghan civilians and forces was part of the deal.
On the contrary, Afghanistan has seen deadly attacks in the aftermath of the deal. The gruesome attacks include those on a Sikh gurdwara and the maternity ward of an international charitable hospital. Between these various terror groups, Taliban has been taking responsibility for attacks on Afghan forces while ISIS-K has been targeting civilians. What is also cause of concern is the role of the al-Qaeda which is supposedly close to the HN. The al-Qaeda, because of which the US had actually intervened in Afghanistan, remains fairly secure in the country despite US forces decimating its leadership.
Unfortunately for the Afghan people, the jihadi networks have not just Pakistan support but also that of foreign fighters, many of whom come battle hardened from Syria and other conflicts. The US decision to extricate itself from the Afghan war after nearly 20 long years has emboldened the terror groups as they see an opportunity to seize power. They have already shown that they care two hoots for any deal—whether it is with the US or with Afghanistan. With Pakistan keeping a hawk's eye across its western border, things will remain hot in Afghanistan as well-trained terrorists run amok..