The intensified challenge of terrorism in 2022

By Sankalp Gurjar

New Delhi, January 1: The return of the Taliban to Kabul was the most important strategic development of 2021. It highlighted the growing threat of terrorism. For India, this signaled the deteriorating security environment in the region.

Even more worrying, the victory of the Taliban and the exit of American forces opened the possibility of once again transforming the Af-Pak region into a global epicenter of terror.

In Afghanistan, the power of the Islamic State of Khorasan (IS-KP) province is growing. The IS-KP is more radical compared to the Taliban in its ideological orientation and accuses the Taliban of having abandoned the path of Jihad.

Regular cases of terrorist attacks underscore the Taliban’s inability to contain the IS-KP and ensure law and order across the country. The IS-KP, like Al-Qaeda, is part of the global jihadist network and, as a result, the battle that rages between the Taliban and the IS-KP is taking on international dimensions.

Competition and rivalry between terrorist groups could lead to their attention being channeled to expend energy in their internal and factional battles. However, such an event could prompt terrorist organizations to launch more spectacular and devastating attacks to attract new recruits.

Besides the IS-KP, the presence of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) further increases the challenge of terrorism emanating from the Af-Pak region. The Taliban’s positions on the presence of Al-Qaeda, LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) remain ambiguous at best and favorable at worst.

The challenge is further compounded by Pakistan-based terrorist groups and their complicated relationship with the Pakistani Deep State. The Taliban’s return to Kabul has emboldened other terrorist groups in the region such as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The TTP signed a month-long ceasefire with Pakistani authorities in November. The ceasefire ended in December and the TTP appears to be preparing to launch further attacks in Pakistan.

The deep state of Pakistan has pledged to support the Taliban in Afghanistan and terrorist groups focused on India. However, he is opposed to the TTP and does not wish to see the IS-KP develop in the areas bordering the Af-Pak border. Squaring this circle is a challenge and will lead to a further deterioration of Pakistan’s internal security scenario.

China, although one of the key players in the geopolitical evolution of Afghanistan, will be concerned about developments in the Af-Pak region. The security of the China-Pakistan economic corridor and the spillover of radical Islam into restless Xinjiang are top interests of China.

China’s engagement with the Taliban aims in part to allay these concerns. Pakistan will remain a key interlocutor for China in Afghanistan. The China-Pak bond and their ties to the Taliban complicate India’s challenges in Afghanistan.

From westernmost Afghanistan to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, a terrorist corridor is forming, where terrorist logistics will be readily available. The failing state apparatus in Afghanistan as in Pakistan is largely permissive for the emergence of such a corridor.

Identifying friends and enemies in this corridor will be a challenge as the lines between terrorist groups will be blurred. Regional states like India and Iran, with their own set of vulnerabilities, will struggle to secure their borders and limit the spread of terrorism.

India has already seen an increase in terrorist incidents in Kashmir. In this context, engagement between India and Central Asia has intensified and efforts are being made to develop a common understanding of the challenges emanating from Afghanistan.

There are indications that signaling greater determination and willingness to work together, India will invite Central Asian states as the main guests for the Republic Day parade in January. Regional security will be a key point on the agenda of the discussions.

Meanwhile, the illicit drug trade is booming in Afghanistan. Without international financial support, narcotics are likely to be a key source of income for the Taliban. Thus, the link between drugs and terrorism will be further deepened in 2022.

The collapse of the Afghan economy and rising unemployment will facilitate the availability of labor for the construction of drug supply networks. The permissive attitude of the Pakistani authorities and the unstable Balochistan will bring a maritime dimension to this matrix.

The region from Pakistan to South Africa is emerging as a key node in the global drug supply chain. Unstable states like Yemen and Somalia and weaker law enforcement and maritime patrol capabilities will further exacerbate these threats.

Narcotics supply routes can be used to transport terrorists, as well as weapons. The presence of radical Islamist groups, including terrorists, in East and Southern Africa could complicate the terrorist challenge throughout the Western Indian Ocean region.

Therefore, developments in the Af-Pak region and the rise of a terrorist corridor will not remain limited to South Central Asia. This will have security implications for the whole region and possibly the whole world. Thus, in 2022, the Af-Pak region will remain at the center of the international security agenda.

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