The United States has announced the withdrawal of more than half of its troops from Afghanistan in a recent statement. In a war-torn country, where several non-state actors are carrying out extreme forms of violence, this looks horrifying. As per current estimates, United States has about 14000 troops stationed across Afghanistan. The peace agreement between US and Taliban is also under question because the representatives of present Afghan Government were never taken into the confidence. So, what would be the implications of this withdrawal, is still in dark. Also Read - 17 People Dead, 50 Injured As Twin Blasts Rock Afghanistan’s Bamiyan City
Afghanistan has a lot many stake holders. The first and foremost is the Afghanistan Government and its various elements. They control a sizeable part of the hill country but still a larger area is dominated by other forces. Also Read - India To Build Shahtoot Dam, Announces 100 High-impact Projects Worth Rs 592 Crore in Afghanistan
Second comes the forces under “Resolute Support Mission” led by United States. Since US decided to withdraw a large chunk of these forces, who will fill up the vacuum is a tough question. Also Read - Afghanistan: 3 Dead, 11 Injured as Multiple Rockets Land on Kabul City
Third stakeholder is Afghan Taliban. Though US is confident of brokering a peace deal with them but will they follow the steps agreed in the deal? No one is confident of this.
Let me explain you why? We must understand that Taliban is not an organised group. It is an amalgamation of various tribal groups including the notorious Haqqani network. Its leadership is scattered all along Afghanistan and Pakistan. Quetta Shura is no longer the decision-making body of Taliban and hence the reaction of Taliban will depend upon the area-wise reaction of these tribal groups.
Rise of ISKP in Afghanistan
The fourth and most important stakeholder which is emerging as the biggest threat is Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP). In my opinion, it’s the ISKP which is going to play a vital role in post US withdrawal situation in Afghanistan.
Rise of ISKP in Afghanistan is truly like a fairy tale. Its birth coincided with the US-Taliban peace talks. The group, which was non-existent till five years ago, is now actively present in nine provinces of Afghanistan and boasts of a size of more than 4,000 operatives.
On April 5, 2020, dreaded leader of ISKP Maulvi Abdullah Orakzai alias Aslam Farooqui along with another senior commander Munib Mohammad alias Abu Bilal were arrested by Afghan Security forces. Their disclosure revealed horrific plots. The story started immediately after the Feb 29th, 2020 pact between Taliban and United States Representative Zalmay Khalilzad in which a planned withdrawal of US Forces was proposed. Taliban promised that it will not allow Al-Qaeda to operate from areas under its control, so a well-planned strategy was formed in the ISI headquarters to create some new proxies. ISIS was facing jolts and faced almost complete annihilation in Middle East. Some of their fighters who were Pakistani Nationals returned to their country of origin and proposed revival of ISIS with the help of Pakistan in Indian Subcontinent.
Soon officials of ISI came up with a movement called “Khilafat-e-Islami Khorasan”. The primary aim of this movement was to bring in all the non-state actors under the banner of ISKP to establish Islamic control over not only Afghanistan but the entire Indian Sub-Continent after the US withdrawal.
Munib disclosed that his primary job in the ISKP was to co-ordinate with Inter Service Intelligence on a regular basis and through them connect with other terrorist groups like Lashkar-E-Taiyabba, Jaish-E-Muhammad, Sipah-E-Sahaba, Haqqani Network, Jamayat-Ul-Ulema-E-Islam and Taliban Peshawar Shura. He was tasked to bring in their fighters to the areas declared void after the 29th Feb pact with Taliban and create a strong base of mercenaries to engage with Afghan Security Forces.
So, the planning to occupy the voids after US withdrawal started more than a year back. Munib also revealed that all the ISKP units operating in Nangarhar and Kabul area are reporting and taking directions from none other than Sirajuddin Haqqani. Sirajuddin Haqqani is indeed a Taliban commander.
Linking of Al-Qaeda and ISKP with Taliban
In 2017, Jeff Stein, an Investigative journalist disclosed in “Newsweek” that Ayeman-Al-Zawahiri, the Chief of Al-Qaeda after the death of Osama Bin Laden was continuously in touch with Taliban leadership while he himself was enjoying the protection of Pakistan ISI. We must not ignore a May 2020 report of UN Sanctions Monitoring team which revealed that Ayeman-Al-Zawahiri met the members of Haqqani Network as early as Feb 2020. This was just before the 29th Feb 2020 pact between Taliban and United States. Zawahiri wanted his influence over the meeting and hence wanted to know the Taliban stance. Obviously, this meeting could have been arranged by none other than Pakistan ISI. In this meeting, Ayeman-Al-Zawahiri met Hafiz Aziz Uddin Haqqani and Yahya Haqqani, the two senior leaders of Taliban and the meeting was arranged in an ISI controlled safe haven in Pakistan.
What will be the future of Afghanistan after US Withdrawal?
In the light of all these circumstances, we can be assured that Taliban, ISKP, Al-Qaeda and Haqqani Network are the different aspects of same coalition which is working under the guidance of Pakistan ISI. While Taliban has signed a peace deal, none of these non-state actors did it. Taliban may be compelled to follow the rules, but its proxies don’t. Ironically, Afghan government is also not taken into the confidence and viability of this peace deal is worked out.
No one was bothered to check the viability and sustainability of this peace deal. No one was worried about the non-state actors like ISKP and Al-Qaeda and no one had time to look into the evil plans of Pakistan ISI in the subcontinent.
We can be sure that soon after the US withdrawal, there will be several voids in critical areas. Afghan Government with its limited resources and lack of planning will not be able to fill these gaps and hence it will project a lucrative opportunity to other groups like ISKP to come and fill these voids.
This will pave way to another civil war, bloodbath and threat to humanity. It is highly possible that after the annihilation of Islamic State in middle east, Afghanistan may become another safe haven for them. Contrary to their stature in middle east, here in Afghanistan they enjoy the support of a country who has been nurturing and supporting terrorism for over five decades.