With the impending withdrawal of Western forces from Afghanistan at the end of
2014, the center of international terrorism is likely to return to that country
from neighboring Pakistan.
The terrorist sanctuary created in Afghanistan
after Soviet withdrawal in 1989 is likely to recreated.
fighters are on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border seeking to enter Afghanistan.
After reestablishing the Taliban-style Islamic emirate in Afghanistan, they are
likely to attack Pakistan and create a similar regime. The stability of Pakistan
and Afghanistan, two countries that have suffered extensively from extremism,
terrorism and insurgency is likely to deteriorate with the Western draw down in
the coming months.
With the US-led coalition intervention in Afghanistan
in October 2001, al-Qaida, Taliban and associated groups moved to tribal
Although the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan led by Mullah Omar
was dismantled, its constituents and supporters reestablished sanctuaries on the
Afghanistan-Pakistan border and survived a decade long counterinsurgency by
Western-supported Afghan and Pakistan security forces.
The Afghan Taliban
led by Mullah Omar is poised to return to Afghanistan. The international
community is opposed to the reestablishment of a pre-2001-type October regime.
Nonetheless, the US-led coalition has no public support to sustain its mission
in Afghanistan. Furthermore, financial crises in the West permit neither the
maintenance nor deployment of large forces. At best the US presence in the
region will be limited to special forces, drone strikes and teams for training
Without boots on the ground, the return of the Taliban and
their associated groups to Afghanistan is inevitable. The Afghan security forces
are incapable of fighting the Afghan Taliban and a number of foreign groups
allied with them. Among these are al-Qaida and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, a
highly capable group that emerged during the past decade.
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Afghanistan, TTP will mount operations into Pakistan with the aim of creating a
regime similar to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
The global threat
landscape is likely to change after the withdrawal of USled Western forces from
Afghanistan in 2014 and the likely return of the Taliban. With Pakistan, Iran,
China, India and the US trying to influence Afghanistan, the closest
approximation to what the Afghanistan of 2014 will look like is the Syria of
The blow-back will have security implications for the entire world,
especially for the immediate neighborhood of Afghanistan. In addition to its
direct impact on South Asia, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia,
the reconstitution of the terrorist sanctuary will have major implications for
the security of the West, especially the US. The most affected by the developing
scenario will be Afghanistan’s immediate neighbor, Pakistan, and South Asia in
With an increasing fatalities and injuries of Western forces in
Afghanistan as well as a growing threat of terrorism to the US and to Europe,
there will be an increase in Western public pressure on the US and its allies to
withdraw from Afghanistan. Statements from political leaders including Obama on
timelines for withdrawal have emboldened the insurgent threat to Afghanistan and
the terrorist threat to the world, including to Asia.
At a more strategic
level, Asian governments should continue to work closely with the West to
stabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan. Without diverting the bulk of the resources
to Afghanistan, it is essential to increase the capacity of the Pakistani
government to respond to both the many economic and security challenges it
faces. The threat of insurgency and terrorism in Asia can only be reduced by
Asian governments working closely with the US and the European military, law
enforcement and national security agencies.
The Western understanding of
how to manage complex emergencies, and even US capabilities, are coming into
question. The US invasion of Iraq triggered significant politicization,
radicalization and mobilization of Muslim communities. The US pulled out of Iraq
without restoring law and order. After US and NATO intervention in Libya, the
threat has percolated to the Sahel, destabilizing Mali, Chad, Niger, Mauritania
and even Nigeria.
Similarly, US-led Western support to Syria has created
the environment for the emergence of al-Nusra, a breakaway faction of al-Qaida
in Iraq, to become the dominant threat group. This group will pose a future
challenge to the stability not only of Syria by the region and
Although situation in Somalia has improved, terrorism and
extremism remain a daily challenge.
Due to public domestic pressure,
especially electoral compulsions at home, Western capabilities to end protracted
insurgencies have diminished.
The US-led Global War on Terrorism in South
Asia (Pakistan- Afghanistan), the Middle East (Iraq- Syria) and Africa
(Somalia-Libya) has not produced the desired results.
West, especially the US, maintains an arsenal of weapons that can be used
effectively to decrease terrorist and insurgent power. Nonetheless, the threat
of terrorism persists. Although the original al-Qaida has been degraded and its
founder Osama bin Laden killed, a dozen new al-Qaidas have emerged, from
al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula to al-Qaida in Iraq and al-Qaida in the
Islamic Maghreb. Today, it is not only the Taliban and al-Qaida but a dozen
other groups on the Afghan- Pakistan border that are marking time for the US-led
coalition to pull out of Afghanistan in 2014 and reestablish their pre-2001
Withdrawal of Western forces will impact the security and
stability not only of Afghanistan, but the region and the world. The fight is
against a global terrorist ideology and a movement.
A review of the
global terrorist threat since al-Qaida’s iconic attacks on America’s landmarks
on September 11, 2001, demonstrates that the threat of terrorism has
Although core al-Qaida has suffered, the threat dispersed and
multiple al- Qaidas have been created during the past decade. In addition to the
operational threat, the ideological threat has spread, and new conflict zones
have emerged in Asia, the Middle East and recently in Africa.
dominant strategy employed by Western forces to fight terrorism and insurgency
are kinetic operations.
Kinetic or lethal operations are the Western
model of fighting terrorism.
With the failure of the US-led Western
forces to restore security and peace in Iraq and now in Afghanistan, it is
increasingly clear that we should reexamine the strategies employed to confront
terrorism and insurgency.
To fight terrorism effectively, governments
should invest in a full-spectrum response. Although the kinetic response (catch,
kill and disrupt) is the most effective end of fighting terrorism, it is not the
most efficient end. The most efficient end of terrorism is engaging communities
and preventing them from buying into extremist ideas and ideologies, and
rehabilitating those politicized and radicalized by terrorist
However, a different set of skills are needed to engage
communities and rehabilitate terrorist detainees and inmates. The neglected ends
of fighting terrorism, rehabilitation and community engagement, are the
essential tools in de-radicalization and counter-radicalization.
author is a keynote speaker at ICT’s 13th International Conference: World Summit
on Counter-Terrorism at the IDC Herzliya, and the director of the International
Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR) at Nanyang
Technological University in Singapore.
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