Taliban’s defiance is yet again out in open ahead of the US Presidential polls in November. The Islamist terror outfit, known for its bloodlust on the streets on Afghanistan, has gone back on its commitment to delink itself with the al-Qaeda – the group responsible for the 9/11 attacks – which killed at least 3000 people on US soil.
While permanent ceasefire from the Taliban remains a distant dream, the United Nations observers are skeptical about the success of the peace deal, which raises several questions.
Were the negotiators of the peace deal aware that the deal was doomed to fail?
Did the US rush through the deal for domestic political brownie points? And, wasn’t the peace deal offering Afghanistan on a platter, voluntarily to the Taliban, for the most brutal and deadliest-ever Islamist rule?
What the 28-Page UN Report Reveals
The latest report of the United Nations Security Council’s Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team has further established Pakistan’s direct terror links to terrorism in Afghanistan along with the Afghan Taliban, which continues to maintain ties with the al-Qaeda even in the shadow of the so-called US-Taliban ‘peace deal’ which was signed in Qatar’s capital Doha in February 2020.
The 28-page report begins by stating how over “6,500 Pakistani terrorist fighters are currently active in Pakistan in search of a purpose and livelihood.”
The report goes on to state that, “Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba facilitate the trafficking of terrorist fighters into Afghanistan, who act as advisers, trainers and specialists in improvised explosive devices. Both groups are responsible for carrying out targeted assassinations against government officials and others. Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed were stated to have approximately 800 and 200 armed fighters, respectively, co-located with Taliban forces in Mohmand, Sarah, Due Baba and Sherzad districts of Nangarhar province.”
‘Pakistan’s Terror Links in Afghanistan’
India, which has contributed immensely to the development sector and military in Afghanistan, has long maintained its stance on Pakistan’s proxy role in most terror attacks on Afghan soil. New Delhi has helped Afghanistan with the largest humanitarian aid amidst the coronavirus pandemic, even as all eyes have remained on the peace deal and its implementation on ground.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs was quick to welcome the UN Report stating that it “vindicates India’s long-standing position that Pakistan remains the epicentre of international terrorism. That proscribed terrorist entities and individuals continue to enjoy safe havens and recruit, train, arm, finance and operate with impunity from Pakistan with state support. They inflict violence and spread terrorism in the region and other parts of world.”
The inter-mingling of the intelligence and the military wings of Pakistan with the Taliban has hardly remained a secret.
However, it’s also the fear of a stable and strong Afghanistan and India’s increasing role in Kabul which has led to discomfort and nervousness in Islamabad.
Why ‘Inputs in UN Report About Lashkar & Jaish Are Crucial’ For India
“It is striking how frequently Pakistan is referenced in the UN report – especially as the nationality of many fighters based in Afghanistan, and as a key destination for the Afghan drug trade that is enabled to a large extent by the Taliban. There’s also ample mention of Pakistani terror groups, like JeM and LeT, that are close to the Pakistani State and are facilitating activities in Afghanistan. If all this is true, it has considerable implications for a Pakistani State that has put on a full-court press to convince the international community – including the FATF – that it is shutting down its terrorist networks,” says Michael Kugelman, Deputy Director, Asia Program, The Wilson Centre, Washington, DC.
Interestingly, the report comes merely weeks after US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad met India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar in New Delhi, and sought their support in the peace process. Khalilzad went on to ask India to directly talk with the Taliban.
India, however, remains concerned about the terrorist activities by its neighbour which have resulted in violence and bloodshed both in Afghanistan as well as India.
New Delhi reminded Khalilzad about the recent attack on the gurdwara in Kabul, and attempts to target the Indian mission by the Taliban. The Indian government is likely to observe the developments from afar without directly jumping into negotiations.
“The inputs in the report regarding the LeT and JeM are important because they confirm what India has been saying for a long time about their presence in Afghanistan. The fact that they are co-located with the Taliban shows the continuing influence of Pakistan. Hence, India needs to continue to be sceptical about opening formal talks with the Taliban,” says, Tilak Devasher, Member, National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) of India.
Is US-Taliban ‘Peace Deal’ Just For Optics Ahead of US Polls?
The UN report couldn’t have come at a worse time for the United States. At a time when Washington is looking at troop withdrawal ahead of Presidential polls, the UN report has also stated that, “al-Qaeda has been operating covertly in Afghanistan while still maintaining close relations with the Taliban.” “Should the peace process fail, there could be a surge in violence and chaos in Afghanistan,” it concludes.
“The Taliban know that President Trump is eager to withdraw from Afghanistan and they are engaging in talks, not because they are interested in peace, but because they want to retake Afghanistan as early as possible, after the US withdrawal,” says Hussain Haqqani, Former Ambassador of Pakistan to the United States and Director, South & Central Asia, Hudson Institute, Washington, DC.
So, is the peace deal merely for optics ahead of the US Presidential polls?
“Anyone who is familiar with the Taliban’s ideology and has read their recent pronouncements knows their relationship with al-Qaeda. It is sad that the US negotiating team ignores the evidence of continued Taliban links with al-Qaeda just to be able to say they successfully negotiated a deal,” Haqqani says.
Kugleman agrees, “The UN report underscores the flawed nature of the US deal with the Taliban, because it shows how the Taliban is failing to uphold the one major commitment that the deal obliges it to make. In effect, this report lays bare the weaknesses of a deal that Washington likely sought more for political cover for a withdrawal than for a pathway to peace-even though the US badly wants the peace process to succeed.”
The Road Ahead
For now the UN report has questioned the sincerity of Pakistan as well as the Afghan Taliban for any kind of serious desire for peace in the region. While the attacks targeting innocent Afghans haven’t ended, Pakistan too hasn’t been cooperative enough to share the locations of top Taliban and Haqqani Network commanders who have survived on Pakistan soil for years. The lesson for Donald Trump’s administration? The road to peace in Kabul doesn’t go through Doha but Rawalpindi.
“Ironically, the US does not need a bad deal to withdraw from Afghanistan. It can withdraw if it wants. But, then current officials won’t be able to say ‘Too bad, the peace deal we negotiated fell apart’,”quips Haqqani.
Even as Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen has rubbished the UN report about Taliban’s links with the al-Qaeda, the United States will have a lot to answer in the coming weeks and months, above all to US citizens and the people of Afghanistan.
To begin with: Did the US’s war on terror in Afghanistan begin to bring to an end the bloodbath of al-Qaeda or to let it flourish with the Taliban and their regional state sponsor in South Asia?
(Aditya Raj Kaul has a decade long experience in covering conflict, internal security and foreign policy for various national media outlets. He tweets at @AdityaRajKaul. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)
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