Taliban Counterterrorism Commitments Face Growing Doubts
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Despite conspicuous differences with the United States over many issues, Russia, China and Iran appear to share Washington's concerns about terrorism threats from Afghanistan as they call on the de facto Taliban regime to fulfill counterterror promises.
Alleged terrorist groups based in Afghanistan have plotted and executed attacks against Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, according to U.S. officials. More than 20 armed groups claim to have a presence in the landlocked country.
Of particular concern is the active presence in Afghanistan of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an insurgent group that has claimed several terrorist attacks in Pakistan over the past few months.
Last week, senior diplomats from Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan gathered in Tashkent to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.
"The participants, pointing out that all terrorist groups based in Afghanistan continue to pose a serious threat to regional and global security, strongly called on the current de facto Afghan authorities to take more effective measures to eliminate terrorist groups in the country," read a statement from Uzbekistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
"Even though the Taliban committed not to host terrorists that wish other countries harm and not to allow training or recruiting or fundraising in their territory, all of that is happening," Thomas West, U.S. special representative for Afghanistan, told TOLOnews channel last week.
When negotiating U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2019-2020, the Taliban committed to taking swift action, in areas under their control, against groups and individuals that threaten the security of any country. Then the Taliban, an insurgent group, had control over no province or city in Afghanistan.
Now running a country with porous borders with six neighbors, having no established army and suffering international sanctions, the Taliban appear unable to meet U.S. and regional counterterrorism expectations, experts say.
"The Taliban did promise to stop militants from using Afghan soil to threaten any country, and they are obviously not fulfilling that pledge: everyone can see that TTP fighters are sheltering in Afghanistan and attacking Pakistan," Graeme Smith, an expert with the International Crisis Group (ICG), told VOA. everyone can see that TTP fighters are sheltering in Afghanistan and attacking Pakistan,"
The Taliban deny harboring terrorist groups inside Afghanistan and reiterate their commitment to preventing security threats to other countries.
Despite downplaying persistent threats from the so-called Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) and other armed opposition groups as insignificant and manageable, the Taliban have largely failed to prevent terror attacks inside Afghanistan.
Last week, the Taliban's governor for the northern Balkh Province was killed in a suicide attack claimed by the ISKP. In December, ISKP claimed killing a district policy chief in the northeastern Badakhshan province.
Both the Taliban and ISKP say they are engaged in an Islamic war against each other.
ISKP has also targeted religious minorities and other vulnerable groups under the Taliban rule, killing hundreds of people across Afghanistan last year, the U.N. has reported.
Between November 14 and January 31, "The United Nations recorded 1,201 security-related incidents, a 10% increase from the 1,088 incidents recorded during the same period in 2021–2022," the U.N. secretary-general said in a report to the Security Council on March 8.
For almost three decades, the United States has voiced concerns about the presence of al-Qaida militants and leaders in Afghanistan, from where they allegedly masterminded attacks against U.S. interests around the world.
In search of al-Qaida leaders, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks and engaged there in what is referred to as the longest foreign war in U.S. history.
Last year, a U.S. drone strike killed al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul.
Dodging the blame for sheltering al-Zawahiri in violation of their counterterror promises, the Taliban refuse to confirm that the al-Qaida leader was indeed found and killed in Kabul.
Even al-Qaida has not yet declared its new leader because of "sensitivity to Afghan Taliban concerns not to acknowledge the death of al-Zawahiri in Kabul," according to a U.N. report in February.
U.S. officials say al-Qaida's new leader, Saif al-Adel, a former Egyptian special forces officer, is sheltered in Iran — an allegation Tehran has strongly repudiated.
While the U.S. and Taliban accuse each other of violating certain parts of the agreement that their representatives signed in February 2020 in Doha, Qatar, it is unclear how the parties should address disputes and what consequences violations of the deal may bear.
"The two sides have expressed interest in dialogue for the sake of ensuring better implementation of the deal," said Smith of the ICG. "We have advocated for a revival of the Doha process to make sure that both the U.S. and Taliban have a shared understanding of the agreement and a common vision for what they hope to achieve through its implementation."