The recreation of the Afghan sanctuary

Due to public domestic pressure, especially electoral compulsions at home, Western capabilities to end protracted insurgencies have diminished.

By ROHAN GUNARATNA
September 1, 2013 22:27
Nusra Front fighters

Nusra Front Fighters 370. (photo credit: reuters)

 
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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.

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Today, 20,000 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 Pakistan.

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 and advising.

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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From 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 today.

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 general.

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 beyond.

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.

Nonetheless, the 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 haven.

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 grown.

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.

The 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 ideologies.

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.

The 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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