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The Future of Afghan Taliban, ISIS Factor and Pakistan
Afghan Peace Process
Besides the development of infrastructure, education, health and social sectors, Afghan peace process could only achieve the milestone agreement with Gulbadin Hikmatyar. Mr. Hikmatyar is the soviet war veteran and a strong Pashtun warlord. After 9/11, he opposed the US intervention and joined the opposition forces to resist the influence of US-led coalition. In 2016, the High Peace Council of Afghanistan succeeded in its struggle to convince one of the most powerful resistance fighters and bring him into the mainstream politics. On the recommendation of Afghan Government, United Nations have removed the name of Hikmatyar and his affiliates from the list of international terrorists. With this move, all other restrictions have been lifted including traveling and financial embargos.
Besides opening a political office and attending the Doha peace talks in Qatar, Taliban have a categorically denied any involvement in the peace process. They are opposed to any kinds of negotiations with the United States or its allies. According to Taliban, they will join the negotiating table once all the occupation forces leave their homeland unconditionally. A decisive majority inside the Taliban movement strongly oppose any peace process with the United States government or its allies. Those few supporting the peace talks were either eliminated or silenced with decisive force.
All the peace process with Taliban is completely stalled since 2016 and. All the rumors about any peace talks were strongly denied by the Taliban officials. Taliban influence and advancements are increasing day by day. Taliban broke into the defenses of Sangin district of Helmand province this March and captured it. Helmand province is adjacent to Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban movement. Helmand is heavily fortified and exceptionally defended being a strategic location and symbolic achievement.
According to some reports, Taliban have established links with the Russian government. According to The Independent, The Russian envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov has been actively pursuing Vladimir Putin’s aggressive policy in Afghanistan Zamir was a Soviet ambassador to Kabul during the Soviet occupation and a KGB agent for the area. Last month, a high-ranking United States General in Europe stated last month that Russia might have established reliable connections with the Taliban and Russia might be supporting Taliban with sophisticated arms and ammunition. Russian authorities have denied the allegations. US Army General Curtis Scaparrotti, Nato's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, said Moscow appeared to an increasingly influential player in Afghanistan, as reported by The Telegraph.
The Rise of ISIS in Afghanistan
ISIS announced its presence in Afghanistan in 2015. After the killing of Hakeemullah Mehsud, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan started dissolving into many groups. Hakeemullah Mehsud was the diehard leader of the Pakistani Taliban who was killed in US drone strike. Hakeemullah was the mastermind of many deadliest attacks on Pakistani forces and military installations. One of the commanders of TTP named Muhammad Saeed from the Orakzai tribal area on the Pak-Afghan border was declared as the Emir of the ISIS for Khurasan. Khurasan is the ancient Islamic name of Afghanistan and adjacent areas. This was the first time ISIS expanded its presence outside the Arab world. Mohammad Saeed was supported by Maulana Azam Tariq, the ex-spokesman of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan as his deputy commander of ISIS in Afghanistan. Muhammad Saeed was killed in a US drone attack in eastern Afghanistan along with his top commanders including Azam Tariq, the deputy Emir.
ISIS has a strong presence in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan, especially in the Achin district. Other provinces with ISIS presence include Zabul, Logar, and Kunar. Kunar province is mainly dominated by the Salafi school of thought which is the core idea of ISIS. The adjacent Pakistani tribal area of Bajaur is also strongly influenced by this ideology and bears potential to support ISIS movement in the area. ISIS have claimed many deadly operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the recent few months. ISIS has vast financial resources and running training camps inside the Afghan territory. Currently, Afghan and US forces are fighting the ISIS in eastern Afghanistan.
Despite being the followers of Salafi and Wahabi school of thought, Al-Qaida and ISIS have deep differences over the allegiance. Al-Qaid supports the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan as legitimate and recognized Government whereas ISIS insists allegiance both from Taliban and Al-Qaida. Initially ISIS seemed as a big challenge to the authority of Taliban movement but later on, gradually, Taliban pushed ISIS back after some deadliest clashes. For the time being, ISIS is under immense pressure both from US-Afghan forces and Taliban. In most areas, they are on the run.
US drone strikes in Pakistan
Pakistan has lost more than 70,000 civilians in the war against terror. More than 50,000 thousand of its soldiers have lost their lives during the 16 years long war. Currently, more than 100,000 Pakistani soldiers are fighting the insurgents along the western Afghan border. Pakistan army has steadily and tactically cornered the TTP elements after successful operations in the TTP strongholds of Swat, South and North Waziristan, Mohmand, Bajaur, Khyber and Orakzai Agencies. The final and most decisive battle against the TTP element was fought in the North Waziristan Agency. TTP forces presented a stiff resistance in the Shawal valley and held for months the dense forests of the area.
Pakistan claims that all the strongholds and training camps of the insurgents have been washed out from its territory. Pakistan blames the Afghan Government for conspiring with its rival India against Pakistan. Pakistan has time and again blamed the Indian Intelligence Agency RAW for funding anti-Pakistan elements both in TTP and Baluchistan province. Last year, Pakistani agencies arrested an in-service Indian Navy commander Kalbhoshan Yadav in a counter-terrorism operation. Kalbhoshan was arrested from the border areas of Baluchistan with Iran while he was entering to Pakistan from Iran.
Pakistan has now started fencing its border with Afghanistan. After clearing Pakistani areas from TTP terrorists, all the attacks inside Pakistan are planned in Afghanistan. The Afghan Government officially does not recognize the Durand line, which is the official name of the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Durand line stretches from the northern areas of Pakistan to Baluchistan province. Afghan officials have opposed the fencing and closing of the border saying that this is a violation of the mutual treaties and Durand line agreement.
For the time being, Afghanistan Taliban are holding their ground. They have achieved many strategic advances in the recent past. Taliban are now deploying their third generation of fighters after achieving high standards of fighting against the world most sophisticated armies. Taliban have fought the world's most advanced and game-changing war technologies for the last 16 years. Taliban training manuals, weapons and tactics are surprising and inspiring. Without US support, Afghan forces will not be able to support the already restricted Afghan Government. Taliban have full control over a vast area of Afghanistan including some big cities. The only remaining safe zone of the Afghan Government is at the mercy of Taliban attacks. Taliban choose where and when to strike. Taliban have planted their operatives in the Afghan security forces that regularly carry out deadly attacks from the inside. Hundreds of western and Afghan forces have been killed in these “green-on-blue” attacks as they call it. According to careful analysis, peace process without Taliban will not be achieved, at least in the near future.