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EDITORIAL: It seems the Taliban are going to celebrate the first anniversary of their return to power in Afghanistan not just in international diplomatic and financial isolation, but also under the growing threat of Al Qaeda (AQ) as well as the self-styled Islamic State (IS) strengthening their presence in the country.

If the findings of the 30th report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team can be taken at face value, which is often an issue as US and its allies whitewash their own role in the Afghan crisis and pin as much as possible of it on the Taliban regime that defeated them, then the country and its neighbours are vulnerable to attacks from AQ and IS as they regroup and reassert themselves.

Such developments would belie the Taliban’s claim that they would never allow militant groups to function in Afghanistan and nobody would use their territory to attack, or plan attacks on, other countries.

It’s true that the Taliban have been engaged in a battle for land as well as dominant Islamic ideology in the country with IS since before their triumphant return to Kabul. AQ remnants, on the other hand, have been welcome guests in the country since before the so-called war on terror; and this report suggests that they continue to be treated as such.

Its researchers and authors have also somehow established that AQ chief Aiman al-Zawahiri, who was long thought dead, is indeed alive and well and also “living and communicating freely”. But while AQ is not planning any adventures in the near term, because it does not want to embarrass its gracious hosts, the same cannot be said of IS; and also TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) which comprises about 4,000 lethal fighters from all over the place, including Central Asian states. And they are hence the biggest concern for the international community, especially countries that border Afghanistan.

All this ought to ring very serious alarm bells in Islamabad even as the government goes ahead with controversial peace talks with TTP. Recent violence and kidnappings in the former tribal area are proof enough, if any was seriously needed, that the militants are not honouring the ceasefire till the talks last.

And if they are really busying themselves with planning more attacks, and they can’t possibly target anything or anyone inside Afghanistan, then it’s pretty clear that their target is going to be Pakistan. Our government and security agencies ignore these facts at their own, and the country’s, peril.

To an extent the Taliban are themselves responsible for the diplomatic and security situation they find themselves in. They never kept their word of giving equal rights to all genders and political and religious denominations. They did not clamp down on TTP. They continue to cajole AQ. And they’ve more or less halted active operations against IS as they look to consolidate their regime.

Yet they also know how to begin solving some of these problems. Once they relent and give women and minorities the freedoms that they were promised, they will not just begin to have international recognition and legitimacy, but also the kind of support and funds they need to cleanse their country of all these militias that are bent upon creating more yet more havoc in a world fed up with terrorism. And the longer they delay decisions that they will ultimately have to take, the more the noose will tighten around their necks and make the people of Afghanistan suffer that much longer.

Islamabad has repeatedly given them precisely this advice, not the least because more trouble there is bound to spill over across the border and upset an already fragile situation over here as well. They have already wasted almost a whole year; with the result that terrorist militias have started creeping up all over the place once again. The ball is still in their court, but it will not stay there forever.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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