U.S. President Joe Biden has defended the decision to withdraw U.S. troops unconditionally and completely by September 20, 20, on the grounds that the original goal of preventing the country from being used as a launch pad for terrorist attacks on the United States has been achieved. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken made similar dance remarks, saying that the goal of using Afghanistan as a base to stop anti-American attacks was successful and that it no longer made sense to continue America’s long war. The statements come as US intelligence estimates that there is no immediate threat to al Qaeda, ISIS or other terrorist groups seeking refuge in Afghanistan and striking the American homeland.
The chances of another 9/11-style terrorist attack on the United States plotting from Afghanistan are slim. But it is a mistake to assume that there is no terrorist challenge to Afghanistan’s sprawling neighborhoods in South Asia, Central Asia and Eurasia. Because of its failure to build a viable state and lasting peace in Afghanistan, the U.S. is packing up when the regional terrorist threat is deadly.
According to a 2020 UN report, two decades after the US demanded that the Taliban secede from Al Qaeda, they are still connected to each other through the notorious Haqqani network. It also found that “the Taliban consulted regularly with Al Qaeda during negotiations with the United States and promised to respect their historic ties.”
In addition to al Qaeda and ISIS, which have the potential to invest large amounts of unsanitary land in Afghanistan, which is likely to expand after the US withdrawal, the regional-centralized jihadi networks Pakistan Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, as well as Central Asia Ozzez -Tahrir, which has a strong land presence and links to terrorist and criminal groups on the Afghan-Pakistani border.
Through negotiations in the inter-Afghan peace process and through the ongoing uprising against the weak rule of President Ashraf Ghani, there are foreshadowings of another civil war, similar as the Taliban is poised to gain some amount of state power. In the early 1990s. That kind of chaos — the Taliban, the crumbling Afghan state and various regional and ethnic warriors vying for influence in different pockets of the country — allows terrorist groups to thrive and expand in the vicinity.
After the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1989, foreign fighters were diverted east across the Durand Line to fight in the Kashmir Valley. As part of the Islamabad proxy war on New Delhi, Pakistani military and intelligence equipment helped transfer these fighters, weapons and funds from Afghanistan to India.
Once again, with America’s decline from Afghanistan, there is a danger that Pakistan will act as a route for jihadists looking to pursue ‘infidel’ goals such as India, Shia-majority Iran, secular Central Asian republics and Russia. Even China, which shares a small border with Afghanistan’s Waqan Corridor, has not guaranteed a jihadist spillover in its Xinjiang region and is deploying a UN-led peacekeeping force.
Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar has pointed out the threats posed by foreign fighters and domestic terrorists emanating from the ‘off-Pakistan’ region as a result of the US-exit and compromise power-sharing agreement to thrive under the umbrella of jihadi groups. His call for the ‘regional process’ and ‘collective effort’ of all affected countries to keep these warriors away from cross-border borders and to spread mayhem is worth it. He created the ‘Double Peace’ in Afghanistan, in which there is no state collapse or civil war in that country, and the exposure of harsh jihadist violence across the region also represents a key challenge for the future.
India, Iran, Central Asian countries, China and Russia need to formulate a joint action plan to monitor the movements of refugees, narcotics and jihadists in the ‘Off-Pak’ theater and bring pressure to bear on the establishment of Pakistan. A repeat of its old destabilizing games. Without pressure from regional players, Pakistan and its jihadist proxies could repeat the disasters of the 1990s and wreak havoc in the region.
For the departing US, promoting the regionalization of the Afghan solution is worth the investment. Aiming to maintain the offshore ‘over-the-horizon’ counter-terrorism capability to infiltrate Afghanistan and pursue jihadi targets, Washington will be free to launch attacks on Pakistani soil and punish Pakistan through international financial institutions, after US troops have left Afghanistan. Military, intelligence and diplomatic coordination between the US and like-minded regional powers can help prevent the worst situations and curb jihadi activities.
The need of the hour is to play the role of ‘guarantor of peace’ and a regional coalition that will move forward to ensure the neutrality of Afghanistan and the restraint of Pakistan. A functional outer shell against terrorism and counter-terrorism will complete the internal political settlement in Afghanistan. The alternative is Afghanistan caught up in a fire and ongoing war.