Afghanistan remains primary source of terrorist threat for Central and South Asia: UN report

It said that ISIL-K portrays itself as the “primary rival" to the Taliban de facto administration, with its strategic focus on Afghanistan and beyond in the historical Khorasan region

Updated - February 15, 2023 10:15 am IST

Published - February 15, 2023 10:11 am IST - United Nations

Image used for representative purpose only. File

Image used for representative purpose only. File | Photo Credit: AP

Afghanistan remains the primary source of terrorist threat for Central and South Asia, with groups such as ISIL-K, Al-Qaeda and Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan enjoying greater freedom of movement in the country owing to the absence of an effective Taliban security strategy, a UN report has said.

The 31st report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team (ISIL, Al-Qaida), was issued here on Tuesday.

The report said that Afghanistan remains the primary source of terrorist threat for Central and South Asia.

“It originates from groups including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant- Khorasan (ISIL-K), Al-Qaeda, Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, as well as ETIM/TIP (Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement/Turkistan Islamic Party), Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Islamic Jihad Group, Khatiba Imam al-Bukhari, Khatiba al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, Jamaat Ansarullah and others. These groups enjoy greater freedom of movement in Afghanistan owing to the absence of an effective Taliban security strategy,” the report said.

It said that ISIL-K portrays itself as the “primary rival" to the Taliban de facto administration, with its strategic focus on Afghanistan and beyond in the historical Khorasan region.

“Its main goal is to portray the Taliban as incapable of providing security in the country. By targeting diplomatic missions, ISIL-K seeks to undermine the relationship between the Taliban and neighbouring countries,” it said.

The report noted that the September 5 attack last year on the Russian Embassy in Kabul was the first against a diplomatic presence in Afghanistan since the Taliban took control; in December, ISIL-K claimed attacks against the Pakistan Embassy and a hotel that accommodated Chinese nationals.

“It also threatened to launch terrorist attacks against Chinese, Indian and Iranian embassies in Afghanistan. Apart from high-profile attacks, ISIL-K conducts low-level attacks nearly daily, causing fear in local communities, targeting Shia minorities to undermine Taliban Pashtun authority and challenging nascent security agencies,” the report said.

The 16th report of the Secretary-General on the threat posed by ISIL (Da’esh) to international peace and security and the range of United Nations efforts in support of Member States in countering the threat, issued last week, had also noted that ISIL-K threatened to launch terrorist attacks against the Embassies of India, Iran and China in Afghanistan and by targeting diplomatic missions, the terror group sought to undermine the relationship between the Taliban and UN Member States in the Central and South Asia region.

In June last year, India resumed its diplomatic presence in Kabul by deploying a technical team in its embassy in the Afghan capital, over 10 months after it pulled out its officials from the mission following the Taliban's capture of power.

The reopening of the embassy had come after an Indian team led by senior Ministry of External Affairs official J.P. Singh had visited Kabul and met acting Foreign Minister Mawlawi Amir Khan Muttaqi and some other members of the Taliban dispensation.

"In order to closely monitor and coordinate the efforts of various stakeholders for the effective delivery of humanitarian assistance and in continuation of our engagement with the Afghan people, an Indian technical team has reached Kabul today and has been deployed in our embassy there,” the Ministry of External Affairs had said.

The report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team added that regional Member States estimated current ISIL-K strength at between 1,000 and 3,000 fighters, of whom approximately 200 were of Central Asian origin, but other Member States believed that number could be as much as 6,000.

Core ISIL-K cells are located primarily in the eastern Kunar, Nangarhar and Nuristan Provinces of Afghanistan, with a large cell active in Kabul and its environs. Smaller groups had been detected in the northern and north-eastern Badakhshan, Faryab, Jowzjan, Kunduz, Takhar and Balkh Provinces. Since Balkh is one of the most economically developed provinces in the north, it remained of primary interest to ISIL-K in terms of revenue generation.

“One Member State reported that ISIL-K had started smuggling narcotics, which was a new development,” it said.

Member States also reported no significant change in Al-Qaida’s strength since the previous report. Despite the announcement by the United States of the killing of Al Qaeda leader Aiman Al-Zawahiri, ties between Al-Qaida and the Taliban remain close, as underscored by the regional presence of Al-Qaida core leadership and affiliated groups, such as Al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent.

“It was expected that Al-Qaida would remain in Afghanistan for the near future,” the report said. According to one Member State, Al-Qaida-linked Katiba Umer Farooq (Red Unit) was possibly being re-activated in Kunar and Nuristan Provinces following the return of Abu Ikhlas al-Masri, Al-Qaida’s operations commander who had been captured in Kunar Province in 2010. It also reported that he had resumed leadership after his release following the Taliban takeover.

Several Member States reported that the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan had emboldened Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to escalate attacks against Pakistan. In November, TTP announced the end of the May ceasefire with the Government of Pakistan following the killing of two senior TTP commanders in Afghanistan.

According to one Member State, while there had been a decrease in attacks against Pakistani security forces in the early months of the ceasefire, that number had increased gradually as TTP consolidated its presence in Afghanistan.

In August, Abdul Wali Rakhib (alias Omar Khalid Khurasani), a founding member and military commander of TTP, was killed along with two other TTP leaders in Paktika Province, Afghanistan. He was reportedly succeeded by Mukarram Shah (alias Umar Khorasani), it said.

The ISIL-K magazine ‘Voice of Khorasan’ releases propaganda in Pashto, Persian, Tajik, Uzbek and Russian languages; recent outreach in Tajik and Uzbek was “noteworthy" following a man named Rashidov, an Uzbekistan national, joining the ISIL-K media wing.

“With the goal of recruiting from ethnic groups in the region and strengthening the group’s capabilities, ISIL-K had recruited Rashidov online while he was working in Finland as a labour migrant, before moving to Afghanistan, the report said.

It further noted that the propaganda of the Tablighi Jamaat movement in Kyrgyzstan, the only country in Central Asia where it is not banned, was spreading to neighbouring countries.

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