A paradigm shift in jihadist thinking suggests that the US invasion of Afghanistan may turn out to have achieved more than many counterterrorism experts would have policymakers and military strategists believe.
Likewise, the paradigm shift also hints at the possibility that the presence in a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan of various militant Islamist and jihadist groups could prove to be an advantage in efforts to prevent and contain political violence.
Changing tensions and unfolding differences in the world of Afghan militancy will be a litmus test of change and how history ultimately judges America’s eternal 20-year war in Afghanistan in terms of counterterrorism. .
Change implies an abandonment of cross-border and transnational acts of violence towards local activism and popular mobilization through good governance based on an ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam. It is a difference in strategy that constitutes one of the ideological and strategic differences between Al Qaeda and the Islamic State..
“It is not because the ideology (of the jihadists) has softened: it is because they have learned that inviting overwhelming retaliation from the modern military is the fastest way to give up their conquests, to waste their influence and to be forced to start all over again, “he said. academic and journalist, Hassan Hassan, in a rare long piece of reportage on jihadist militancy.
“Contrary to how some understand the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the lesson that extremists learn from the Taliban’s success is not simply that jihad works, but that diplomacy and engagement are a necessary part of the process,” which includes reassuring the West about external threats emerging from their domains. What can be gained from the Doha talks is more important and more lasting than any terrorist attack, ”Mr. Hassan continued.
The change is tantamount to a return to the model of Islamic militancy which, historically, is rooted in local grievances and conflicts. Mr. Hassan also describes ISIS transnational jihadism targeting the West, long embraced by Al Qaeda, as an aberration of that story.
Mr Hassan’s analysis is supported by research published by The Soufan Group, a research organization created by Ali Soufan, a former FBI agent who played an important role in the interrogation of captured Al Qaeda officials. and has been involved in related affairs in the United States. and elsewhere.
Analyst Abdul Sayed noted that Al Qaeda, in an effort to prevent the United States from driving it out of Afghanistan and Pakistan, has “shifted the focus of global terrorist attacks and foreign operations to supporting local jihadist groups across South Asia and fueling the narratives that underpin their goals. This change helped build resilience, allowing Al Qaeda to survive despite massive blows inflicted by the United States and its allies. “
The loss by the Islamic State of its proto-state in Syria and Iraq and the victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan seem to justify this paradigm shift.
Clarissa Ward, CNN correspondent said she walked away from an August interview with Abdu Munir, the name used by a commander of the Islamic State-Khorasan, two days before he attacked Kabul airport, with the impression that “ISIS-Khorasan is very different from ISIS… in Syria and Iraq. Ms Ward was referring to the Afghan affiliate as well as the Islamic State itself using Western abbreviations common to them.
Ms Ward said that “the conversation I had with this commander did not lead me to believe that they had the same level of transnational ambitions… They are much more focused on the Taliban, honestly, than they are. are not trying to blow up a plane … and they are much simpler, less sophisticated.
The jihadist shift in strategy would be more justified if the Taliban victory also strengthens ultraconservative religious tendencies in neighboring Pakistan.
Ultraconservatives and jihadists could welcome recent opposition from Muslim clerics, including Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special representative for religious harmony, to bill banning forced conversions.
As a result, the change could become one more argument to justify a possible future decision by President Joe Biden to withdraw US troops from Iraq and Syria initially sent to fight the Islamic State, as part of the emerging contours of a Biden doctrine.
“There is no doubt that GWOT did not go as planned… Yet it would still be wrong – and thoughtless – to simply dismiss GWOT as a strategic failure. The fact that consecutive presidents have found it so difficult to extricate the United States from ongoing operations in the greater Middle East reflects the reality of a continuing threat emanating from extremist organizations and their allies … GWOT has been considerably more successful than it first appearsSaid analysts Hal Brand and Michael O’Hanlon, referring to President George W. Bush’s global war on terrorism launched in 2001 following the September 11 attacks.
MM. Brand and O’Hanlon may be painting an overly optimistic picture. At best, Taliban-ruled Afghanistan will only partially meet their criteria for success outlined in a recent newspaper article. Taliban policing of the jihadists may prevent them from targeting the United States and others, but will continue to provide them with a safe haven, allowing them to recruit.
“Be a refuge for global jihadists and serving as a launching pad for attacks against the West are not the same thing. As part of the Doha deal, the Taliban pledged to prevent attacks from Afghanistan, but they did not pledge to completely sever relations with foreign jihadist groups, nor to expel them from Afghanistan. “Said Antonio Giustozzi, Afghanistan specialist.
Nonetheless, overall, this might prove to be less of a problem provided the Taliban can control the Islamic State, the only jihadist group that refuses to accept its takeover of Afghanistan or do Tehrik-i- Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Pakistani Taliban, adopt the change of strategy. The fata morgana of a Taliban 2.0 could be shattered if large numbers of Taliban fighters surrendered to ISIS to protest the group’s police against militants on Afghan soil and / or embrace degrees of social liberalization, in particularly with regard to women’s rights.
This could turn out to be a big one though. Question marks over the Taliban’s ability to control the groups that hailed his victory and / or pledged allegiance to him have already started to emerge. Mr. Giustozzi reports that unlike Pakistani activists Lashkar-e Taiba and Lashkar-e Jhangvi and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan; TTP and Al-Qaida refused to negotiate agreements this would strengthen the control of the Taliban by moving them to different parts of the country. Lashkar-e Taiba and Lashkar-e Janghvi are groups believed to have close ties to the Pakistani secret service.
The proposed deals were reportedly complemented by demands put forward by China that the Taliban ensure that militants on Afghan soil are prevented from training, fundraising and recruiting.
Suhail Shaheen, spokesperson for the Taliban in Qatar, seemed to recognize the requirements in an interview with the World time, a newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party. “First, we will not allow any training on our territory. Second, we will not allow any fundraising for those who intend to run a foreign program. Third, we will not allow the establishment of any recruiting center in Afghanistan. These are the main things, ”said Mr. Shaheen.
Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s chief spokesperson in Kabul, however, left the door open last month on the Taliban’s relations with the TTP.
“The The TTP issue is an issue Pakistan will have to deal with, Afghanistan not. It is up to Pakistan, and Pakistani Islamic scholars and religious figures, not the Taliban, to decide on the legitimacy or illegitimacy of their war and to formulate a strategy in response, ”Mujahid told a report. Pakistani TV show. The spokesperson stopped before saying whether the Taliban would comply with a decision of the scholars.
It is believed that the TTP is responsible for recent spike in attacks on Pakistani security forces, including a suicide bombing in Pakistan that killed three paramilitary soldiers and injured 20 others. The intensification of attacks prompted the New Zealand cricket team to drop first tour of Pakistan last week in 18 years and suddenly leave the country while England canceled his visit which was scheduled for next month.
Likewise, behind the facades, cracks had already opened up between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda before the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, prompting the group, like the TTP, according to Mr. Giustozzi, to refuse to negotiate an agreement with the United States. Afghans and build support. among the factions of the Taliban more sympathetic to the jihadists.
Al Qaeda was wary of what the Taliban’s deal with the United States would mean for the group and suspected the Afghans had been involved in the murder of several of its senior members in recent years. Al-Qaeda further fears that the Taliban’s agreements with China and Russia will further jeopardize its freedom of movement and / or existence.
Apparently anticipating a failure of the Taliban to control all jihadists on Afghan soil and / or the adoption of the strategic paradigm shift by some large jihadist groups, the US intelligence services officials predicted al-Qaeda would be able to reconstitute itself in Afghanistan and be able to orchestrate attacks inside the United States in one to two years.
Their predictions were reinforced by the return to Afghanistan of Anwar ul Haq Mujahid, a former “Black Guard” leader of Osama bin Laden, who allegedly helped plan and orchestrate the jihadist leader’s escape in 2001. that the United States was bombing his hideout in Tora Bora. Mr. Mujahid, no family of the Taliban spokesman, is said to have returned to Jalalabad to command Taliban forces and foreign fighters in eastern Afghanistan. Several of his associates are also said to be back.
However, Mr. Mujahid’s return does not by definition deny the potential shift in Al Qaeda strategy which is supported by the Taliban. This could be the Taliban’s way of appeasing the group as well as the more militant within its own ranks.
“Despite the persistence of the relationship… Taliban have a vested interest in controlling al-Qaeda… It is not difficult to imagine a scenario in which the Taliban provide space and financial support for Al Qaeda to operate while restricting the group’s activities to planning and organizing attacks, ”said researcher Cole. Bunzel.