Pakistani Taliban reunified splinter groups in Afghanistan, poses threat: UN
- The report, released this week, also highlighted the Islamic State’s activities in cyberspace in South Asia, including the publishing of Voice of Hind, an online magazine in English, and efforts by the group’s members in the Maldives and Sri Lanka.
The Pakistani Taliban has worked with al-Qaeda to reunify several splinter terror groups in Afghanistan, a development that increases the threat to the entire region, according to a new report from a UN sanctions monitoring committee.
The ability of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to bring together these splinter groups, comprising mostly Pakistani fighters, has increased its strength and led to a “sharp increase in attacks in the region”, said the report from the monitoring team that helps the UN’s 1267 sanctions committee assess activities of al-Qaeda and Islamic State.
The report, released this week, also highlighted the Islamic State’s activities in cyberspace in South Asia, including the publishing of Voice of Hind, an online magazine in English, and efforts by the group’s members in the Maldives and Sri Lanka.
According to the report, UN member states “expressed concern at the rising number of ISIL sympathizers in cyberspace in South Asia” and noted that Voice of Hind was being published regularly since it was started in early 2020. “It has followers in Maldives and Sri Lanka, with the former also highlighted by member states as an arena for recruitment and operations,” the report said.
The report added that the key Islamic State operative in the Maldives, Mohamed Ameen, is trying to forge links with the Khorasan unit of Islamic State in Afghanistan. Experts believe such a connection could increase the terrorist threat for all countries in the region, including India.
Ameen’s efforts are “consistent with the Al-Sadiq office objective of enhancing cooperation across the region”, the report said. The “Al-Sadiq office” is an Islamic State unit covering India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Central Asian states that is led by Shahab al-Muhajir aka Sanaullah, a former commander of the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network.
“Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP)…was reported to have overseen a reunification of splinter groups that took place in Afghanistan and was moderated by Al-Qaida. This was expected to increase the threat to Afghanistan, Pakistan and the region,” the report said.
Five groups – Shehryar Mehsud group, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar…Hizb-ul-Ahrar, the Amjad Farooqi group and the Usman Saifullah group (formerly known as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi) – pledged alliance to TTP in July and August last year, and this “increased the strength of TTP and resulted in a sharp increase in attacks in the region”.
TTP’s fighting strength now ranges between 2,500 and 6,000, the report said. Though the report didn’t go into specifics, experts believe most members of the five groups united by TTP are of Pakistani origin.
Sameer Patil, fellow for international security studies at Gateway House, said these developments could have worrying portends for India and its security interests, particularly in Afghanistan.
“There is a history of terror attacks in Afghanistan in which elements associated with al-Qaeda joined hands with the Taliban to hit out at Indian interests in Afghanistan, including attacks on diplomatic compounds and the kidnapping of engineers. While there may not be any direct effect on Indian territory, Indian interests continue to be endangered, especially in Afghanistan,” he said.
Patil said India also couldn’t afford to let down its guard given previous attempts by Pakistan-based groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba to create networks in the territory of friendly neighbours such as the Maldives.
The UN report highlighted another issue that has been of concern to countries in the region against the backdrop of the planned drawdown of foreign troops in Afghanistan – the continuing relationship between the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda despite the peace deal signed with the US a year ago.
“Member States report little evidence of significant changes in relations between Al-Qaida and the Taliban. Al-Qaida assesses that its future in Afghanistan depends upon its close ties to the Taliban, as well as the success of Taliban military operations in the country,” the report said.
Al-Qaeda and its affiliates have 200 to 500 cadres spread across 11 provinces in Afghanistan, and the killing of several al-Qaeda commanders in Taliban-controlled territory “underscores how close the two groups are”, the report said. Among the al-Qaeda figures killed in Taliban-controlled areas was Mohammad Hanif, a deputy of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS).