During the recent Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting, countries neighboring Afghanistan exhibited a lack of unity and presented diverse views and approaches addressing terrorism concerns from Afghanistan. Tajikistan expressed specific concerns over “concentrated terror groups in Afghanistan,” while China has a different approach to staying engaged with the Taliban. The envoy from Tajikistan listed 6 terror organizations, including Al-Qaida, Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkistan, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Jamaat Ansarullah – that currently have presence in Afghanistan and pose a threat to Afghanistan, neighboring countries and member states.
The SCO is a defense and economic organization established in Shanghai in 2001 with 8 Member States: China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Afghanistan occupies an Observer State status. The organization focuses on regional security issues, fighting against regional terrorism, ethnic tensions and religious extremism. The SCO has established partnerships with different United Nations agencies and international organizations, including the UN Center for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia, to counter terrorism and prevent violent extremism.
During the SCO meeting, Russia and Tajikistan reported that Afghanistan has become a “breeding ground” for terrorist groups since the Taliban’s takeover in 2021. Initially, Russia handed over the Afghan Embassy in Moscow to the Taliban and maintained Russian diplomats in Kabul. They shut down the diplomatic mission in Afghanistan when a suicide attack killed two Russian Embassy staff. Today, Russia’s Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, emphasized that the Taliban’s rise to power has strengthened terrorist organizations working in Afghanistan and that these groups are now concentrating in the country to an extent never seen before. Another Russian diplomat described Afghanistan as “an epicenter for the dissemination of terrorism.” The worry is that terrorism emanating from Afghanistan poses a threat to the Central Asian region, which holds key interests for Russia.
Publicly, China has avoided criticism of Afghanistan’s security issues and instead has sought to aid the Taliban in achieving stability and economic prosperity by engaging with the de facto authorities in Kabul. Shortcomings within the SCO have caused Member States to use different back-channels in order to continue ties with the Taliban for individual security guarantees. Jiayi Zhou, an expert at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, said “differing threat perceptions of particular extremist or separatist groups, political sensitivities and sovereignty concerns, as well as lack of genuine trust among member states,” have made “concrete counterterrorism cooperation very difficult,” stagnating the immediate response and fight against terrorism in the region.
Despite Taliban leaders claiming that they do not harbor terrorist groups or pose threats to other states, their actions contradict these assertions. Shortly after assuming control of the government in Kabul, the Taliban appointed some of the “most-wanted” individuals within their ranks to prominent positions in the new cabinet. For example,
For example, one of Washington’s “most-wanted” Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan, Qari Baryal, is accused of supervising IED (improvised explosive devices) production, suicide personnel allocation and attack planning and executing was appointed by the Taliban to be governor of Kabul province. He is one of the al-Qaeda leaders listed in a UN report as “affiliated” with the Taliban. Several al-Qaeda members have been appointed to important roles within the Taliban. 400 al-Qaeda groups are reported to be in Afghanistan and it appears the group is rebuilding their operations. In a new report of the UN Security Council, the UN describes the relations between them as “strong and symbiotic.”
The presence of a well-known al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in Kabul demonstrated to the U.S. that the Taliban had broken the 2020 Doha Agreement, by hosting and sheltering the al-Qaeda leader. The Doha Agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban stated that the “Taliban will send a clear message that those who pose a threat to the security of the United States and its allies will have no place in Afghanistan.”
VoA 06/22/2023; UN-SCO; VoA 06/14/2023