How Taliban vs ISIS and Pakistan’s economic crisis reflects on global terrorism
By Vipul Tamhane
The regime change in Afghanistan brought a Taliban again to power but it was not the same puppet Taliban which played in the hands of its ISI handlers at Rawalpindi. China was a big stakeholder in the development and was looking forward to developing copper and other mineral mines in the war ravaged country.
Sources believe that Ayman al-Zawahiri, one of the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, was cut down in a US drone strike and after that the United States lost all interest in the great game of the subcontinent. With the traditional ‘Jirga system’ being destroyed by Taliban, and now when Afghans – Taliban or otherwise, look at their own situation, they feel cheated and exploited.
Taliban and ISIS: Tussle, not the Tango
Regime change also brought some new tunes amidst Taliban factions, as Pak sponsored Haqqani network leaders and others started to talk about development and even opening channels with the World, including India. But changed reality struck them soon, and conservatism was the only way to go. The sword of ban fell on women education and Taliban, falling back on its original avatar, banned working of women in society.
ISIS is also spreading its tentacles in Afghanistan. In 2015, the declaration of Khorasan Province by ISIS challenged the Taliban’s dominance in the region, triggering subsequent clashes. In 2017 the Taliban captured the ISIS-K stronghold of Darzab in the north. In 2019, Taliban and ISIS-K clashed in eastern Afghanistan with heavy casualties on both sides. In 2021, ISIS-K carried out a suicide bombing at Kabul airport, killing over 170 people, including 13 U.S. soldiers.
The Taliban perceives itself as the legal representative of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, and the rise of ISIS in Afghanistan and Pakistan has called into question the Taliban’s authority in the region, implying additional fighting over territory and resources.
Importantly, the primary battle ground of conflict between ISIS and Taliban is North Pakistan and Afghanistan. This also is a cause of concern for regional stability of South Asia particularly for the interests of India and the U.S.
Failing Pakistan: A Global Concern
Western money has been used to turn Pakistan into terrorism factory of the world. This double edged sword has cut deep into itself also, but it also has huge global ramifications.
Moreover, Pakistan is now helping Ukraine with military hardware. Such shifting alliances in international relations, and subsequent geopolitical strategies impacts makes the situation even more complex and unpredictable with a vicious circle of terror plots emerging directly or indirectly from Pakistan.
China in Indian Subcontinent
China is a major player in the region with Pakistan already on its leash economically and strategically and now it sees Taliban also as a potential but risky partner. The priorities of China lies in securing its investment in Belt and Road Initiatives (BRI) projects in Pakistan and copper mines in Logar province of Afghanistan. But this bonhomie is hindered by Chinese treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority in Xinjiang province, though Pakistan never shows concern about their Turk brethren in China.
Pakistan in Economic crisis
Pakistan is not only proving to be a failed economy but a failed society also. It has now surrendered to the conditions of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and burdened the already poor public with new taxes.
Balance of payments crisis, high inflation, trade imbalance, and a high amount of debt, chronic energy shortages, political instability, security concerns, and structural issues are inflicting Pakistan into a doomed country.
The extremists enjoy wide support in Pakistan and the country is facing huge humanitarian issues, including mass displacement, notably in the western regions, where it shares a long porous border with Afghanistan. There are potential security risks to international diplomatic missions terrorists can carry out attacks all across Pakistan, at will.
India had made significant investments in Afghanistan’s infrastructure, particularly in transportation, energy, and telecommunications. India’s investments in Afghanistan have been intended to promote the country’s economic development, regional connectivity, and stability. India has welcomed the Sikh minorities from Afghanistan with open hearts.
However, the Taliban approach has always been antagonistic to India, and any potential power-sharing agreement with the ISIS-K could have ramifications for India.
Taliban is also now trying to rope in India to resume the same approach. The situation in Afghanistan remains unstable, and India will need to tread carefully to preserve its interests and support regional security.
India and the U.S.
India and the United States’ collaboration in the region have grown even stronger. The relation has moved on from allies trying to counter China’s influence in the region to addressing South Asian security and counter terrorism challenges. Both the U.S. and India have their own vested interest in regional stability that is leading to greater collaboration.
The US has backed India’s ambitions to expand its regional influence, and the two nations have worked together to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific region on a variety of topics, including defense, infrastructure development, connectivity, trade, and technology.
Both the countries are concerned about regional security because economic woes and poverty might create fertile ground for extremist ideology to take hold, creating a haven for terrorists. They might use Afghanistan as a base to launch strikes against India or to help terrorist organizations active in India, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir, as well as to target the West.
Both countries have stated their intention to work with regional partners to resolve these problems. A weaker Pakistani economy may potentially jeopardize trade and economic connections between Pakistan and its trading partners, especially India and the United States. Pakistan is a nuclear-armed country with economic issues compounded by internal disputes, and on the northern front, this is believed to trigger its deep state managers at ISI allying with the highest bidder for the technical transfer of WMDs, for the worst.
India and the U.S. have time and again re-stated their commitment to promoting regional economic development and stability, and have worked to address these issues through diplomatic efforts and aid programs.
The ISIS-Taliban fight has underlined the importance of regional economic stability and prosperity, and both the US and India are striving to alleviate Pakistan’s economic issues and foster more regional economic integration and cooperation and fight terrorism in the process.
Vipul Tamhane is a counter terrorism expert and a visiting faculty with Pune University (SPPU) at Dept. of Defense and Strategic Studies (DDSS). He is also founder and Editor-in-Chief at Diplomacy Direct, a public interest Think Tank based in India.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are not necessarily those of The South Asian Times