UNITED NATIONS - A UN Security Council report has warned that Al Qaeda-linked militant networks from Pakistan and Uzbekistan pose ‘a direct terrorist challenge’ for Afghanistan, south and central Asia and the international community.
Al-Qaeda affiliates Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi ‘regularly’ take part in attacks on Afghan forces in eastern and southern Afghanistan, according to the June report obtained by two international news agencies.
The experts monitoring sanctions against the Taliban said in the report to the UN Security Council that Afghan and international officials believe these Al Qaeda affiliated groups are unlikely to leave Afghanistan in the near future, which would keep them in the country as the US withdraws most of its troops.
Fighters from several Al Qaeda linked groups in Pakistan ‘are regularly encountered by the Afghan forces in eastern and – to a lesser extent – in southern Afghanistan,’ the experts said. ‘In northern Afghanistan, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan continues to gather strength among local Afghans of Uzbek origin and continues to operate in several provinces’
The Al Qaeda linked groups ‘therefore present a worrying, long-term security threat’ spreading from Afghanistan into the region and beyond, especially for south and central Asia which have already faced terrorist violence from individuals or groups that have trained or planned attacks in Afghanistan.
The report, which was circulated on the eve of Afghanistan’s presidential runoff election, said ‘the single greatest strategic failure for the Taliban’ was its inability to disrupt the first round of presidential elections on April 5.
Nonetheless, it said Taliban fighters remain a threat, developing more sophisticated explosive devices such as a suicide vest camouflaged as a leather jacket that would be practically undetectable by metal detectors.
The monitoring team painted a complex picture of the Taliban’s relations with the Afghan government: continuing military stalemate, stalled reconciliation efforts, and divisions within the Taliban on the value of political engagement. It said Afghan and international officials and observers agree that key members of the Taliban leadership ‘remain un-persuaded that the Afghan government security forces will continue to perform well after 2014,’ when the US will only have an advisory force of 9,800 troops in the country to finish training and equipping Afghan security forces.
One explanation is the Taliban’s view that the Afghan government will become weaker and the Taliban’s position stronger, the experts said. Afghan officials in Helmand, the major opium-producing province, estimate a $50 million yield from poppy cultivation in the harvest a month ago, with farmers expected to pay 10 per cent of product as a ‘tax’ to the Taliban, it said.’As Taliban finances have grown, the Taliban have become more of an economic actor, with incentives to preserve this income and less potential incentive to negotiate with the government,’ the expert team said. Reports that more than 50 mid-level Taliban operatives were assassinated in January and February may be another sign of growing rivalry, the UN experts warned.
Financially, the Taliban have enjoyed a ‘bumper year’ - collecting millions of dollars from drugs, illegal mining, corruption and extortion - and with growing finances comes less potential incentive to negotiate with the government.
The Taliban is increasingly changing from a group ‘based on religiously couched ideology to a coalition of increasingly criminalised networks, guided by the profit motive,’ the report said. It quoted Afghan security officials as estimating the Taliban extract $7-8 million a month from southern province Kandahar through drugs, extortion and illegal mining.
In neighbouring Helmand province, the main poppy-producing region, the May harvest could yield $50 million ‘in the worst case scenario,’ the report cited Afghan official estimates as saying. Taliban revenue from illegally mined onyx marble is believed to be ‘significantly larger than $10 million a year,’ it added.