Saturday, April 13, 2024
 
 

The global impact two years after the Taliban’s takeover

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Two years ago, the world saw the return of a repressive Taliban regime. The rapid fall of the Afghan government sent shockwaves throughout neighbouring countries and beyond, as the new Taliban powerbrokers in Kabul systematically degraded human rights and afforded protection to a long list of Al-Qaeda linked terrorist groups in Afghanistan.

The complex competition between Taliban on the one hand the local branch of ISIS, Islamic State Khorasan Province, or ISKP, on the other, extends far beyond local political objectives, as it becomes increasingly evident that the resulting terror threat is being transmitted across the globe.

Recent arrests in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and several other European countries, of individuals accused of supporting ISKP and planning terror attacks, are a reminder that the threat emanating from Afghanistan is not contained in that region and always has the potential to extend into Europe. An ISKP bombing in Pakistan last month with 54 victims shows just how capable and dangerous this terror group can be if it is allowed to fester and prepare.

How should institutions such as the EU react? To answer this, it is crucial to acknowledge the current relationships the Taliban holds with other Islamist extremist groups.

Afghan women have been subjected to punishing restrictions that violate basic human rights provisions since the Taliban seized power in August 2021.

Despite Taliban guarantees that they would not allow terror groups to use Afghanistan to prepare for terror attacks abroad, the Al-Qaeda linked Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, better known in the region as the TTP, which sought shelter in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, has significantly increased its attacks in Pakistan since the reestablishment of the Taliban regime. For example, in January, 80 people were killed in a TTP suicide attack at a mosque in the provincial capital Peshawar. TTP also holds a strategic alliance with ISKP and according to the UN presents “a greater threat to the region”.

Furthermore, the links between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda leadership have once again become apparent. The US drone attack killing the Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul in July 2022 was a clear indicator. In addition, a UN report from 2022 points to the presence of high-ranking Al-Qaeda officials in Afghanistan and the wider Middle East region.

Reportedly, the Taliban have even begun issuing Afghan passports to members of other terrorist groups operating within its borders. This allowed these individuals to change their identities – a worrying development that may serve to assist extremists travelling to other countries under the radar.

But unlike the pre-2001 Taliban, the internal threat to their rule is not only violence from their adversaries. Of course, ISKP was able to successfully attack high profile Taliban targets, including the foreign ministry and provincial governors, on multiple occasions. The group also claims to have conducted over 180 attacks within Afghanistan throughout 2022, a significant increase on 11 attacks in 2020. However, ISKP also presents an ideological threat to the Taliban. ISKP, similar to all other ISIS affiliates around the globe, considers its adversaries, in this case the Taliban, to be apostates and attempts to draw in discontented Taliban.

Beyond Afghanistan, ISKP also seeks to restore a global caliphate, presenting a far more global security threat. The group has openly stated it will target governments it perceives to be cooperating with the Taliban, and in 2022 claimed they conducted rocket attacks against Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

The threat has also raised security concerns in China, Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Both the friendly and adversarial relationships held between the Taliban and Islamist extremist organisations such as the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, a reference to the 19th and early 20th-century term for the region, and ISKP have put these countries at significant risk of an attack.

The situation in Afghanistan also motivated terror groups in other regions. The surge in ISIS and Al-Qaeda linked activities in Africa, especially the Sahel region, are a case in point. There too, the ability of European governments to affect the situation is shrinking. The end of the French military operations in the region, the withdrawal of the Mali-based  United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali MINUSMA and the current military coup in Niger have created a significant security vacuum which the regional affiliates of ISIS and Al-Qaeda have indicated they will move to fill.

What should the European Union do to counteract this surge in Islamist extremism?

The EU Council needs to step away from its overly hesitant and conflict averse nature and push its members to implement the bloc’s Counter-Terrorism Strategy to build a coherent roadmap to tackle the threat. Utilizing the 27 European Union members’ capacity to provide counterterrorism analysis, and to pool their resources at the European level, has to be increased and properly supported.

Social media platforms that aid the proliferation of extremist propaganda must also be monitored and the controls established by the EU Terrorism Content Online Directive and the Digital Services Act appropriately used.

The EU should also maintain their presence in Central Asia, ideally on the ground in Kabul, and exchange information with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, friendly Gulf countries and the UN, to monitor the threat.

The Taliban takeover has created a tangible Islamist extremist threat to nearby countries, and across the globe.

Now is the time for the European Union to finally stand together as effective bloc alongside the United States and the United Kingdom, and use all tools at their disposal to ensure the safety of the citizens of the nations within Europe.

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Senior Director of the New York and Brussels-based Counter Extremism Project.

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