The link of the Taliban in Afghanistan with Al-Qaeda and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) remains "strong and symbiotic" and the free movement of terrorists in Taliban-controlled territories has raised the terror threat in the region, according to a United Nations (UN) report.
The 14th Report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team of the 1988 Taliban Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council (UNSC) also said that contrary to statements to not allow Afghan soil to be used for attacks against other countries, the Taliban has harboured and allowed active support of TTP. Previously, the UN has described the TTP as an "persistent threat" to Pakistan.
The TTP is a banned terrorist organisation in Pakistan and has been waging a bloody campaign against the Pakistani state. In January, a bombing attributed to the TTP in Peshawar in Pakistan killed at least 100 and injured around 200, most of whom were police personnel.
The UN report noted that while the Taliban has carried out operations against the ISIS and its regional affiliate ISIS-K, it has not taken action on the provisions of the agreement signed with the United States.
What did the UN report say?
As per the report, while maintaining links to numerous terrorist entities, the Taliban has lobbied member states for counter-terrorism assistance in its fight against the ISIS-K, which it perceives as its principal rival.
"The link between the Taliban and both Al-Qaeda and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) remains strong and symbiotic. A range of terrorist groups have greater freedom of manoeuvre under the Taliban de facto authorities. They are making good use of this, and the threat of terrorism is rising in both Afghanistan and the region," said the report released on Friday.
The report added that while the Taliban has sought to reduce the profile of these groups and has conducted operations against ISIS-K, in general, the Taliban has not delivered on the counter-terrorism provisions under the Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the United States of America and the Taliban.
Further, there are indications that Al-Qaeda is rebuilding operational capability, that TTP is launching attacks into Pakistan with support from the Taliban, that groups of foreign terrorist fighters are projecting threat across Afghanistan’s borders and that the operations of ISIK-K are becoming more sophisticated and lethal (if not more numerous), said the report.
The report added that the Taliban harbouring and supporting TTP evidences a threat projecting beyond the borders of Afghanistan and negates the group’s numerous assertions that Afghanistan’s soil will not be used for carrying out attacks against other countries.
"The relationship between the Afghan Taliban and TTP, like the Taliban’s relationship with Al-Qaeda, is tightly bonded and unlikely to dissipate," the report said, adding that there is an ideological anomaly in the nature of the historical dynamic between TTP and ISIL-K, now the main threat to the Taliban within Afghanistan borders.
The ISIS, short for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, has also been referred to as ISIL, short for the Islamic State in Iraq and Lavent. The Lavent is the name of the historic region in which these modern-day countries are located.
The UN report further said, "Continued Taliban support to TTP seems likely to test Pakistan’s powers of restraint and risks a return to increased levels of violence on both sides of the border."
Taliban leadership showing no sign of being pressured: Report
The present Monitoring Team report, the first in which the Taliban have been in power for the entirety of the reporting period, finds that the Taliban leadership shows no signs of bending to pressure for reform or compromise, in the hope of earning international political recognition.
"They are unchecked by any meaningful political opposition. During the reporting period, the presence of foreign terrorist fighters harboured by the Taliban has become an increasing security threat to many neighbouring countries," it said.
The report added that this anxiety did not lessen with the killing of Al-Qaeda leader Aiman al-Zawahiri in a Kabul guesthouse connected to Taliban acting Interior Minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani in July 2022.
"To many of the interlocutors consulted for this report, that single event speaks volumes as to the credibility of Taliban commitments to break with terrorist groups as stated in the Doha Agreement," it said.
The report said that the relationship between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda remained close and symbiotic, with Al-Qaeda viewing Taliban-administered Afghanistan as a safe haven.
"Al-Qaeda still aims to strengthen its position in Afghanistan and has been interacting with the Taliban, supporting the regime and protecting senior Taliban figures. Al-Qaeda maintains a low profile, focusing on using the country as an ideological and logistical hub to mobilize and recruit new fighters while covertly rebuilding its external operations capability," it said.
It added that Al-Qaeda seeks to increase its capacity to guide and direct its affiliates and infiltrate its members into the ranks of the Taliban, TTP and ISIL-K. The group funds its activities from the Al-Qaeda core and donations, including through hawala services and cryptocurrencies.
ISIS-K most serious terror threat in Afghanistan: Report
Members States assessed ISIL-K as the most serious current terrorist threat in Afghanistan, neighbouring countries and Central Asia. Over the past year, the group has benefited from increased operational capabilities and freedom of movement inside Afghanistan.
It seeks to maintain the intense pace of attacks, mostly low impact, combined with sporadic high-impact action to provoke sectarian conflict and destabilize the region in the medium to long term.
Since 2022, ISIL-K has claimed more than 190 suicide bomb attacks against soft and hard targets in major cities, leaving some 1,300 people dead or injured.
It added that ISIL-K also failed in serious attempts to assassinate Sirajuddin Haqqani and Mullah Yaqub in 2022. Those operations reportedly included successfully entering the homes of both targets, demonstrating access and the possible use of insider information.
Overall, ISIL-K attacks demonstrated strong operational capability involving reconnoitre, coordination, communication, planning and execution. Furthermore, attacks against high-profile Taliban figures raised ISIL-K morale, prevented defections and boosted recruitment, including from within the Taliban’s ranks.
The report said that AQIS (Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent) has approximately 180 to 200 fighters, with Osama Mehmood being the emir of the group, Atif Yahya Ghouri the deputy emir and Muhammad Maruf responsible for recruitment.
AQIS is located in Kandahar, Nimruz, Farah, Helmand and Herat Provinces and is actively supporting TTP, enabling it to work around restrictions placed upon it by the Taliban.
The number of ISIL-K fighters is estimated to range from 4,000 to 6,000 (including family members), including Afghans and nationals of Azerbaijan, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Türkiye and Central Asian countries and a small number of Arab fighters who travelled from the Syrian Arab Republic to Afghanistan in the past year.
ISIL-K training camps and strongholds are located mainly in the north (Baghlan, Balkh, Jowzjan, Kunduz and Faryab Provinces), northeast (Badakhshan and Takhar) and east (Kunar, Nangarhar, Nuristan, Paktika, Paktiya and Khost), with at least five new ones built in 2022.
The group has created a network of sleeper cells in the centre of the country (Kabul, Kapisa and Parwan); elsewhere ISIL-K operate in cells of 5 to 15 people.
The estimated strength of TTP in Afghanistan is 4,000 to 6,000 fighters, based mainly in the eastern provinces of Nangarhar, Kunar, Logar, Paktika, Paktiya and Khost. Its leader, Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, and deputy Qari Amjad Ali are based in Paktika and Kunar Provinces, respectively.
Since the reunification with several splinter groups, TTP has aspired to re-establish control of territory in Pakistan after being emboldened by the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, it said.
The TTP is an umbrella group of Sunni extremists fighting the Pakistani state.
"Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is an alliance of militant networks formed in 2007 to unify opposition against the Pakistani military...TTP leaders also publicly say that the group seeks to establish an Islamic caliphate in Pakistan that would require the overthrow of the Pakistani Government. TTP historically maintained close ties to senior al-Qa‘ida leaders, including al-Qa‘ida’s former head of operations for Pakistan," says the US National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC).
(With PTI inputs)