Sunday 10th of December 2023

Afghanistan as bridge in transferring ISIS to Central Asia
Mahdi Munadi
Region : AsiaSouthAsia Afghanistan,
Issue : Security, Terrorism,
Death of Mullah Omar, the leader of Taliban and possible increase of divergence among his followers, especially between Akhtar Mohammad and son of Mollah Omar and Mahaz Fadaiee. Rapid growth of Islamic State in different province of Afghanistan and affiliation of local militants to the ISIS change the condition of Afghanistan and radical militants. In as much as local militants get more ISIS oriented, they tend to take the place of Taliban in Afghanistan. By increasing the power of ISIS, the scenario of ISIS transfer to Central Asia automatically gets stranger.
In a dominant scenario, ISIS will take the position of Taliban, but with a different approach in the region. Taliban has been concentrating on Afghanistan and been recruiting regional radicals into Afghanistan since 2001. There were about seven to nine thousand radicals from Xinjiang, Fergana Valley and Chechen fighting for Taliban. While ISIS with the goal of great Khorasan cannot concentrate only in Afghanistan, rather strategically will scatter its groups to the whole region and especially to the Central Asia.
There are numerous militant groups which have been using the unstable condition of the country in favor of tribal and personal benefits. In many cases, these groups were working as soldiers or partners for Taliban, against Government. These groups, with the purpose of securing their region and obtaining money for keeping soldiers and their organization, were strategically cooperating with Taliban. With the emergence of ISIS as a rich and well organized organization, a new opportunity has been provided for these local militants to replace weak Taliban to a new strong organizer and donor. Changing the white flag of Taliban to black flag in various districts of Afghanistan proves this claim. Joining Hekmatyar to the ISIS by asking his local militants to support ISIS in combating against Taliban will facilitate a new leadership under Hekmatyar. Hekmatyar due to his experiences with Mujahidin can play a serious role in organizing local militants.
In one hand, by increasing ISIS recruitments, the remaining leaders of Taliban get more concerned about losing their dominance and fighters. This process will lead to a new confrontation between Taliban and ISIS in near future. On the other hand, Taliban, by losing their power and fighters, will get more serious to participate in peace process. However Molla Akhtar Mohammad Mansor strategically denied peace process for the purpose of unifying Taliban on the base of hostility with government and obtaining ISI support. By the way in a difficult scenario in long term, there will be peace between Taliban due to the exhaustion of Taliban fighter. Peace with the government will bring changes to the structure of power between ethnical groups inside Afghanistan. Taliban looks a portion of power in government, which will reduce the ethnical portions of power, which it is difficult or the other ethnical groups to accept. Overall, it is a difficult task for all sides to reach an agreement in peace process. In the long run, remaining Taliban does not have any other choice except agreement in peace process. In a best-case scenario if Taliban change to Political and military government oriented wing, ISIS is forced to scatter in the region.
Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the radical wing of Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan led by Sheriff Hemat Zade, the most important groups of this region, have the capacity to work with ISIS. Islamic Parties due to the none-Islamic policies of Tajikistan and the totalitarian policies of Islam Karimov have facilitated the emergence of anti-structural groups which increases the possibility of their coordination with the radical parties and ISIS. This internal radical source inside Central Asia can easily be affiliated by the ISIS. Thus, Afghanistan’s insecure areas which are wide-spread and culturally suitable to be used as soft and hard bridge for ISIS. ISIS can take this opportunity to transfer their weapons and forces and idea to different radical sources of region, especially to Fergana valley in Central Asia.
At the same time, Central Asian countries’ relations, due to the water, border and ethnical problems, are mostly based on competition diplomacy. Competition between these countries not only prevents working together against terrorism, but sometimes they use radical groups against each other. Internal situation in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan is dangerous because of the low standards of living and education and distrust of the authorities. The only power capable to maintain security and peace in the region is a Russian-lead SCTO military alliance, comprising Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Belarus with the support of China and Iran. China and Russia are connected with The Shanghai Cooperation Organization combating against terrorism, separatism and extremism. These organizations are not well organized in working together against Islamic State oriented militants in the region. However recent news on Russia's plan on fighting terrorism, might change the condition, but still we need time to that.
Although president of Turkmenistan had called ISIS as great fiction, but currently, Radical militants have been preparing for an attack on Turkmenistan from two main directions: Murhaba and Amu-Darya. Advance from Murhaba direction threatens Galkinish and advance from Amu-Darya threatens the whole gas infrastructure of Turkmenistan supplying China, Bagtyryalyk field on the left bank of the Amu Darya and transitions across the river. Probably, Islamic State don’t have plans for full scale intervention because of the complicated situation in their home front in Afghanistan. However, territory of Turkmenistan will be systematically hit by break-ins. These circumstances will probably stop developing of TAPI and TUKC gas projects.
Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kirghizstan and Turkmenistan will be at risk. The most possible actions of militants for Tajikistan are taking of Badakhshan, attack on Horog, intervention into Hatlon region, taking of border settlements and raids on Kurgan-Tube. Also, there is capacity of movement into Kyrgyzstan by Tahar-Tavildara-Garm direction. The one more opportunity for militants is to exercise mass disturbances and establish an independent Islamic State in Badakhshan. Maybe IS starts water blockade of Turkmenistan by attacking on Karakum channel.
These threats can affect Central Asia from Afghanistan. Hereby if these countries do not work with Afghanistan government to defeat Islamic State, insecure places and the militants in this country will play the best role as suitable bridge to transfer Islamic State to central Asia.

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of FORE India.

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