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With Al Qaeda down but not out, killing Zawahiri is symbolic

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President Joe Biden was not wrong when he declared that “justice has been served” with the killing of Al Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri in a US drone strike.

The problem is that’s only half of the truth; the other half is that Mr. Zawahiri was more a has-been than a power to be reckoned with on the jihadist totem pole. In death, he may have scored his most significant achievement since becoming head of Al Qaeda as the symbol of the failure of decades of war in Afghanistan.

Mr. Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul in a house owned by Sirajuddin Haqqani, Afghanistan’s de  facto deputy head of state, will be touted as evidence that Afghanistan has reverted to being a base for terrorist groups. Mr. Haqqani’s son and son-in-law are believed to have also died in the drone strike.

In addition, the killing will likely become a partisan issue in domestic US politics, with Republicans pointing to Mr. Biden’s bungled withdrawal a year ago of US troops from Afghanistan.

In anticipation of the criticism, Mr. Biden said the killing demonstrated the United States’ post-withdrawal ability to protect Americans without “thousands of boots on the ground.”

Even so, the withdrawal resulted from a war that the United States and its allies could not win and a fundamentally flawed US-Taliban agreement negotiated by the administration of former President Donald J. Trump that helped the Taliban regain power.

Since succeeding Osama bin Laden after the United States killed him in 2011, Mr. Zawahiri, the man who helped shape Al Qaeda from day one, could not garner the stature of the group’s former leader. Nor was he able to impose his will on Al Qaeda franchises in Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere in Africa.

Researcher Nelly Lahoud argues in a recently published book based on computer files confiscated in the US raid that killed Mr. Bin Laden that Al Qaeda had lost much of its operational capability in the immediate years after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.

The Islamic State, the foremost jihadist organization locked into a bitter fight with the Taliban, increasingly overshadowed Al Qaeda, showcasing Mr. Zawahiri’s inability to fill Mr. Bin Laden’s shoes.

In fact, the Islamic State today poses a greater threat to the United States than Al Qaeda. Equally importantly, the Islamic State also constitutes a more significant threat to Central Asian states like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, as well as Russia and China.

If Mr. Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul raises questions about the Taliban’s willingness and determination to prevent militant groups from operating from its territory, repeated Islamic State attacks on domestic Afghan targets, and the firing of rockets into Tajikistan and Uzbekistan call into question the group’s ability to do so.

To be sure, granting Al Qaeda leaders shelter does not by definition amount to Taliban acquiescence of the group launching attacks from Afghan soil.

The questions are particularly acute given that Mr. Zawahiri was killed days after the Taliban engaged with representatives of 30 countries at a conference in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent in a bid to unfreeze some US$7 billion in Afghan foreign currency reserves.

Days later, Tashkent hosted foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Council (SCO), who had Afghanistan high on their agenda. The SCO groups India, Russia, China, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

The Taliban regime has yet to be officially recognized by any country. Countries across geopolitical divides have insisted that the Taliban first demonstrate their willingness and ability to control all of Afghanistan and curtail militant groups.

The international community also required the Taliban to form an inclusive government and ensure women’s rights. The Taliban have yet to deliver on any of its promises.

Reporting to the United Nations Security Council in January, UN Special Representative for Afghanistan Deborah Lyons noted that “the existence of numerous terrorist groups in Afghanistan remains a broad international and especially regional concern. The desire of the de facto authorities to take on this threat across the board remains to be convincingly demonstrated.”

Ms. Lyons’ remarks have seemingly gone unheeded in Kabul. In response to the Islamic State attacks on Tajikistan, home to Russia’s largest foreign military base, the Taliban are building a watchtower on the two countries’ border with the help of a Tajik group bent on changing the regime in Dushanbe.

Adding insult to injury, graffiti near the tower celebrates Muhammad Sharipov, aka M. Arsalon or Mahdi Arsalon, a Tajik national wanted by authorities for the past eight years on terrorism charges.

During talks last month, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon cautioned his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, against a possible recognition by Moscow of the Taliban regime. Mr. Putin insisted that he would consider Tajik concerns about ethnic minority rights in Afghanistan.

While ethnic minority rights may be a Tajik concern, the opposite may be true for China. China fears that the militant Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP), also known as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), hardened by the war in Syria, may want to use Afghanistan as a launching pad for attacks in retaliation for China’s brutal crackdown on the Uyghur Turkic Muslim minority in the northwestern province of Xinjiang.

A United Nations Security Council report said last month that the  group had built strongholds in Badakhshan near the Chinese border in northeast Afghanistan, where it had “expanded its area of operations and covertly purchased weapons, with the aim of improving its capabilities for terrorist activities.”

The Taliban suggested that they had moved the estimated 1,000 Uyghur fighters away from the Chinese border to other parts of Afghanistan last October. China has long pressed the Taliban to curtail the group’s activity.

Creating distance between Uyghur militants and the Chinese border may not be good enough. The Islamic State sought to make that clear when it employed an Uyghur as a suicide bomber in an attack last October on a Shiite Muslim mosque in the Afghan city of Kunduz.

The message was: Uyghur militants have alternatives. The Taliban may not be their best bet.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africaas well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

Terrorism

Role of Pak-Military in Combating Terrorism: Post-2017 Analysis

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Over the past 20 years, Pakistan has continued to be a target of terrorism. It has endured a great deal of hardship as a frontline nation in the fight against terrorism being led by the United States. In the past 20 years, the bloodstained war against terrorism has claimed thousands of lives, including both civilians and security force members. Pakistan adopted a comprehensive plan and carried various operations to eradicate terrorism from its territory. The importance of Pakistan’s military cannot be overstated, especially given how successful that country has been in the last five years in combating terrorism.

In reaction to an increase in “terrorist attacks,” The Pakistani government declared a nationwide military operation with the codename Radd-Ul-Fasaad on February 22, 2017. This operation was not restricted to one area, but had been carried out across whole Pakistan and succeeded in driving out terrorist elements from Lahore, Sehwan Sharif, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the former FATA. The operation included the involvement of Pakistan’s air force, Pakistan’s navy, Pakistan’s police and other civil armed forces however, the Rangers performed special tasks ‘to operate in Lahore and different parts in the province of Punjab.

Similar to this, the Pakistani army began Operation Khyber-IV in July 2017 to purge the Rajgal Valley of militants in the Khyber tribal district. The primary objective of Khyber-IV was to eliminate the threat of IS in the tribal district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. the declared the Operation  was concluded On August 21, 2017.

According to sources (PIPS), systematically compile data on militant and anti-state violence in Pakistan claim that 2018 saw an improvement in the overall security situation compared to previous years. The total number of raids and operations carried out against militants in 2018 were 31 as compared to 2017 i.e. 75. In addition to these operational assaults, security forces and militants engaged in 22 armed confrontations in 2018. This represents a 68% drop from 2017 levels.

In accordance with data from the Global Terrorism Index, terrorist attacks have decreased in Pakistan since 2018. The total number of terrorist incidents decreased from 369 in 2018 to 279 in 2019. While the number of terrorist deaths in Pakistan I.e.300, reached its lowest annual total since 2006.

The nature of the violence in 2018 was diverse the figure below presents a breakdown of the nature of violent incidents and the number of casualties’ recorded in 2018:

Source: PIPS, Pakistan Security Report 2018, 6 January 2019, p. 20

In comparison to 2018, the security situation was even better in the first half of 2019. Numerous counterterrorism operations captured several top commanders from various militant organisations, including the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP). According to the data, the security forces engaged in 23 operations against militants in the first seven months of 2019. In addition to these operational assaults, security forces and militants engaged in 15 armed encounters. 

Source: 2019-EASO-Pakistan-Security-Situation-Report.pdf

There were 276 total violent incidents in the first seven months of 2019. As a result, 403 people died and 702 were hurt. A breakdown of the types of violent incidents and the number of fatalities reported in 2019 can be seen in the figure above.

In 2019, the Pakistani government also contributed positively to the US-Taliban negotiations. Moreover, the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) collaborated to develop Pakistan’s Action to Counter Terrorism (PACT) with a specific focus on Sindh in order to equip the criminal justice systems with the tools necessary to prevent and combat terrorism in a proactive manner. The goal of PACT Sindh is to improve the capabilities and coordination processes of national and local counterterrorism and criminal justice institutions. PACT Sindh’s primary goal is to enhance the criminal justice system’s investigation, prosecution, and adjudication procedures. By working with other departments, it will increase the ability of the police, prosecutors, and judiciary. These counter terrorism efforts of the security forces and especially Pakistan Army are significant indeed, considering the ratio that Pakistan faced in the last two decades.

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Terrorism

Terrorism intensifying across Africa, exploiting instability and conflict

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A soldier from Burkina Faso stands guard along the border with Mali and Niger during a military operation against terrorist suspects. © Michele Cattani

The growth of terrorism is a major threat to international peace and security, currently felt most keenly in Africa, the deputy UN chief told the Security Council on Thursday.  “Terrorists and violent extremists including Da’esh, Al-Qaida and their affiliates have exploited instability and conflict to increase their activities and intensify attacks across the continent”, Amina Mohammed said on behalf of Secretary-General António Guterres.  

“Their senseless, terror-fuelled violence has killed and wounded thousands and many more continue to suffer from the broader impact of terrorism on their lives and livelihoods”.  

Spreading terror 

With misogyny at the core of many terrorist groups’ ideology, women and girls in particular, are bearing the brunt of insecurity and inequality.  

And over the last two years, some of the most violent affiliates of Da’esh have expanded, increasing their presence in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger as well as southward into the Gulf of Guinea.  

“Terrorist and violent extremist groups aggravate instability and human suffering. And they can plunge a country emerging from war back into the depths of conflict”, reminded the senior UN official. 

Threatening States 

Meanwhile, terrorists, non-State armed groups and criminal networks often pursue different agendas and strategies, fuelled by smuggling, human trafficking and other methods of illicit financing – sometimes impersonating legitimate armed forces.  

And as digital tools spread hate and disinformation, terrorists and other criminal groups are exploiting inter-communal tensions and food insecurity triggered by climate change. 

Globalization of terrorism  

In today’s hyper-connected world, Ms. Mohammed remined that the spread of terrorism in Africa is “not a concern for African Member States alone”.  

“The challenge belongs to us all. Countering international terrorism requires effective multilateral responses”, she flagged. 

From the climate emergency to armed conflict and poverty and inequality to lawless cyberspace, and the uneven recovery from COVID-19, she also pointed out that terrorism is converging with other threats.  

For a holistic, comprehensive approach, the deputy UN chief cited the New Agenda for Peace – part of the Our Common Agenda report.  

Amidst increasing polarization, she maintained that it proposes ways to address risks and revitalize our collective peace and security system. 

Pushing back on terror 

Outlining five suggestions to advance counter-terrorism efforts in Africa, Ms. Mohammed reminded that “prevention remains our best response”. 

“We must address the instability and conflict that can lead to terrorism in the first place, as well as the conditions exploited by terrorists in pursuit of their agendas”.  

Secondly, she called for community-based, gender-sensitive “whole-of-society” approaches.  

Noting “complex links between terrorism, patriarchy and gender-based violence”, she said counter-terrorism policies needed to be “strengthened by the meaningful participation and leadership of women and girls”.  

She underscored in her third point that “countering terrorism can never be an excuse for violating human rights or international law” as it would “only set us back”.  

Fourth, she stressed to importance of regional organisations which can address challenges posed by terrorist and violent extremist groups in the local context. 

Finally, Ms. Mohamed called for “sustained and predictable funding” to prevent and counter terrorism.  

From economic deprivation to organized crime and governance challenges, “the magnitude of the problem calls for bold investment”, she told ambassadors.  

In closing, the Deputy Secretary-General welcomed the planned October 2023 Summit on counterterrorism in Africa as an opportunity to consider ways to strengthen the UN’s efforts across the continent overall.  

She expressed confidence that today’s debate would offer insights for the summit, and “help to build peaceful, stable communities and societies across the continent”. 

Restoring authority: Ghanaian President 

Chairing the meeting with his country assuming the presidency of the Council for November, Ghanaian President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, attested to the importance of restoring effective State authority and promoting inclusive governance across the continent. He also urged the Council to support AU-led counter-terror operations, including with predictable funding. 

African Union (AU) Commission Chair, Moussa Faki Mahamat, drew attention in his briefing, to the daily physical and psychological damage caused by terrorism and reminded that conventional responses and old models are no longer relevant to counter evolving threats on the ground. 

And as terrorism extends to new parts of the continent, Benedikta von Seherr-Thoss, Managing Director for Common Security and Defence Policy and Crisis Response with the European Union’s diplomatic wing (European External Action Service) noted the need for security support while underscoring the role of sustainable development for nourishing peace. 

Comfort Ero, President and CEO of the International Crisis Group, also briefed the Council, and maintained that technical and military solutions would not end terrorist threats on their own, calling for a new counter-terror toolkit that includes more dialogue with armed groups and can promote local ceasefire arrangements. 

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Crime and terrorism thriving again in Afghanistan amid economic ruin

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photo:. © UNICEF Afghanistan

Two-thirds of Afghans are going hungry, with girls’ education subject to “random edicts” of the Taliban, while crime and terrorism are thriving once more buoyed by a large spike in opium production, warned the President of the UN General Assembly on Thursday.

Csaba Kőrösi painted a near apocalyptic picture of ordinary life in the Taliban-ruled nation that has endured almost five decades of “relentless conflict”, urging the international community to make up the $2.3 billion shortfall in the UN humanitarian appeal for $4.4 billion.

‘Moral imperative’

In a powerful speech to ambassadors in New York, during a full session of the UN’s most representative body, he said that there was “a moral and also a practical imperative for the international community to support an inclusive and sustainable peace in Afghanistan.”

The resolution expressed deep concern over Afghanistan’s current trajectory and the volatility there since the Taliban takeover.

It urges Afghanistan to honour and fully respect and implement all treaties, covenants or conventions, bilateral or multilateral, which is has signed up to.

Drugs and terror

Beyond the disastrous humanitarian and human rights situation, he said the country was now “awash with heroin and opium.”

“Organized crime and terrorist organizations are thriving once again. Afghanistan is facing complex and interlinked challenges that the Taliban have shown they cannot – or would not – solve.”

Now is the time to come up with some concrete solutions that put the Afghan people first, he said, suggesting one concrete way the General Assembly could help right away:

“I encourage the country’s reengagement with the international science community. And to allow women who used to be respected members of the country’s science community, to resume their research and their studies.

Alone in denial

Afghanistan is now the only State in the world, denying girls the right to a full education, he added, noting that their prospects are totally uncertain, “amid seemingly random edicts from the Taliban.”

For even the most powerful women in the country, “dreams of becoming President have been replaced by the reality of child marriage. Arrests if women and girls leave their home without a male chaperone.

Protect all Afghans

“I reiterate my call for the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms of all Afghans, especially women and girls.”

Mr. Kőrösi urged the Taliban to ensure the safety of all Afghans – regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion or politics – protection for journalists and civil society members, and the unhindered delivery of aid.

Amid the economic meltdown, he pointed out the shocking fact that narcotics constitute the biggest sector in the country, with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, revealing a 32 per cent growth in illegal opium cultivation. 

“We know where these drugs are sent. And we know who profits from these drugs. The threat from drug trafficking is linked with the threat of terrorism, regional and global security.”

Get serious

He said Taliban leaders needed to engage in serious dialogue about counter-terrorism to reverse the flow of foreign extremists into the country – and prevent their own from becoming foreign terrorist fighters elsewhere.

Afghanistan must never again become a breeding ground and safe haven for terrorists. I call on the Taliban, other Afghans and members of the international community to cooperate with the Special Representative (for UN Assistance Mission, UNAMA) as she implements the Mission’s mandate.

After debating the resolution, it was adopted by the General Assembly with 116 votes for, and 10 abstentions – Belarus, Burundi, China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russia and Zimbabwe.

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