Editor’s note: The following is the statement of Mr. Rahmatullah Nabil, which was delivered at the Herat Security Dialogue (HSD), organized by the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies (AISS), on 29-30 November 2022 in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Rahmatullah Nabil served as the head of the National Security Directorate (NDS), Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, from 2010 to 2012 and from 2013 to December 2015. Nabil was also a candidate in the 2019 Afghan Presidential elections.
Dear ladies, gentlemen and guests!
First of all, I would like to thank Dr. Davood Moradian, AISS’s Director General, and his colleagues at the Afghan Institute of Strategic Studies (AISS) for organizing such a dialogue. I would also like to thank the authorities of neighboring Tajikistan for facilitating this conference.
With the final withdrawal of US and NATO forces, which led to the Taliban’s rise to power, the possibility of a peaceful solution to the Afghan crisis was demolished. Although the people of Afghanistan repeatedly raised their concerns about the consequences of a unliteral peace, unfortunately these warnings were ignored, or were not paid enough attention. Now, the negative consequences of that ignorance can be felt and more serious security challenges for Afghanistan and the region are likely to emerge in the near future. It is appropriate to address the grievances of the people of Afghanistan with this poem by Hafez, which reads:
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
I mean Afghanistan’s strategic allies by ‘our friends’.
The killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri in a well-protected green zone in Kabul reveals that, along with gross violations of human rights, women’s rights, and girls’ right to access to education, as well as restrictions on freedom of expression, security threats to the people of Afghanistan, the region and beyond is on the rise.
Some countries had assumed that with the Taliban’s rise, they would reach their strategic depth in Afghanistan, but now since the skills, spheres of influence and motivation of terrorist groups have increased, it can be said that these were international terrorists who have reached their strategic depth in Afghanistan and this is a big challenge for the region.
The developments that have taken place in Afghanistan in the last 15 months could be summarized as follows:
- Terrorist groups based in Afghanistan gained access to advanced technology.
- They now have access to modern financial technologies/mechanisms such as cryptocurrencies, digital currencies, drug trafficking, etc.
- The revival of ideological goals, especially after the withdrawal of coalition forces last year, has increased not only in Afghanistan, but also in the region and beyond.
- These groups currently have a desirable and strategic territory.
- Recruiting and brainwashing young people is no longer a difficult task for them.
- There is a tendency of some countries in the region to use terrorism as a proxy or to justify terrorism as a challenge to others.
- The desire and competition of some countries in the region to use the ungoverned and under-governed territories in Afghanistan as an opportunity to exploit terrorism as a proxy and expand their domination has increased.
To better understand the potential emerging threats, I examine some of these groups as follows:
When the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) forces were changing their mission to “decisive support” and undermined all intelligence/surveillance tools means in 2014 to the Afghan borders and space, even though the Afghan security and defense forces were engaged in securing the longest and most challenging presidential election, Pakistan’s Army launched the Operation Zarb-e-Azb in Waziristan, which was the largest terrorist center, and in most cases, the passageways (which it had blocked after 2001) such as Shah Salim Artiller, Nuristan’s Kamdish and Other crossing points, which were mostly under the control of the Taliban, or Afghanistan’s National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) were not ready to cover the mentioned areas, and the core bases of regional and global terrorist groups took this opportunity to enter Afghanistan, using these areas as shelters. Although the ANDSF carried out dozens of successful operations against these groups in different parts of the country, unfortunately, after the formation of the national unity government and the tensions of the leaders and the new priorities of the political leaders of Afghanistan and political interference in the structures and affairs of the security and defense forces these newly emerged threats had been ignored.
Based on the information, thousands of members of foreign terrorist groups have moved to different parts of Afghanistan, mostly by obtaining identity cards and changing their names, due to having deep and ideological relations with the Taliban, and with their close coordination and support. In order to better understand the depth and breadth of the ongoing disaster and the threats to the region and the world, I will briefly introduce some of these groups as follows:
Al Qaeda Central Command (AQC) and its military wing known as Jaysh al-Nasr, which contains around 300-400 fighters, and their area of activity is 15 provinces, which is mostly carried out by the Haqqani network. After the death of Ayman al-Zawahiri, their fighters have not publicly chosen a new leader, and there are two options for the future leadership of Al-Qaeda, which is individual leadership or collective leadership. For the central leadership, Saif al-Adel is mostly mentioned to be selected, and for the collective/council leadership, Saif al-Adel, Sheikh Hamza, Sheikh Abdul Karim al-Mesri, Abu Ubaidah, Sheikh Abdul Rahman and Sheikh Ikrama are mentioned.
Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), which contains about 500-600 fighters from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and a number of fighters from Afghanistan and other countries, and one of its main and famous leaders is Osama Mahmood from Pakistan. Their hiding places and activities are mostly in Zabul, Ghazni, Helmand and Paktika provinces.
The Islamic State in Khurasan Province (ISKP) led by Sanaullah Ghafari/Abu Shahab al-Muhajir, has aroun 4,000-4,500 fighters, most of its areas of activity are reported in the eastern and northern urban areas of Afghanistan. By banning the activities of Hizb ul-Tehrir and Jamiat-e Islah and Salafists of Afghanistan, the possibility of a number of members of these groups joining the ISKP has increased.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which currently operates along the Durand Line under the leadership of Noor Wali Mehsud, has around 6,000-6,500 fighters. The TTP in 2008 (after the Lal Masjid incident in Islamabad during the time of General Pervez Musharraf in 2007) in order to integrate Pakistani fighters and focus their activities inside Afghanistan under the management of Pakistan’s Military Intelligence (MI) and one of its officers named Ikramuddin was formed under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud, who was also Ikramuddin’s son-in-law, and reached the peak of fame under the operative legend with the surrender of 300 Pakistani soldiers in the Makin region of South Waziristan. After Baitullah Mehsud was killed and Hakimullah Mehsud was placed at the head of this group against the will of Pakistan’s military intelligence, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan became more cohesive and after the death of Colonel Imam/Sultan Amir Tarar, the famous general of Pakistan, the hostility between Hakimullah Mehsud and Pakistan’s military reached its peak, and in coordination with some regional terrorist groups, he focused most of his targets inside Pakistan.
The Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP/ETIM) contains about 700-800 Chinese Uighur fighters, and two of their main leaders, Haji Furqan and Sheikh Abuzar, are active in the north and northeast areas.
The Imom Buxoriy Katibasi, led by Delshad Dehqanov, is active in Ghor, Badghis, and sometimes Kunduz and Badakhshan provinces, with around 100-150 fighters.
In addition to the mentioned groups, other terrorist groups related to Central Asian countries such as Jamaat Ansarullah (mainly from Tajikistan), Jundullah and Jund al-Khalifa (mainly from Kazakhstan), Islamic Jihad Group (mainly from Kyrgyzstan led by Alam Beg Mohammadov) and Tehreek-e-Taliban Tajikistan led by Mahdi Arslan/Mohammed Sharifov are active in groups between 200-300 people in the north and northeast areas.
It is worth mentioning that Pakistani terrorist groups, the main of which are Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Mujahideen al-Badr and Harakat al-Mujahideen, and most of their activities are focused on Indian Kashmir, have also freely moved and been active in the eastern regions of Afghanistan. Also, the Jaish al-Adl group is developing and becoming active by having goals inside the Iranian soil and by establishing close relations with the Taliban.
While there are many reasons that have created the current situation in Afghanistan, in my opinion the main reasons are as follows:
- We usually rely too much on copying political systems and governments from abroad, without paying much attention to the organic structures of Afghanistan.
- Unfortunately, our neighbors, sometimes international friends, rely on a very small group of so-called Afghan elites who are dependent on them and know less about Afghanistan’s problems.
- Unfortunately, some of our neighbors continue to support/promote proxy groups in Afghanistan, in particular, one of Afghanistan’s neighbors who has a long history of supporting the most extremist elements in Afghanistan and actively it has weakened civilian and civilized groups in Afghanistan.
In light of the lessons we have learned, I would like to conclude my statement as follows:
1. Extremism is not only limited within the borders of Afghanistan, but it has been proven that any unilateral peace agreement with the Taliban will not change the mindset of a generation. Without recognizing the anti-peace character of the mentioned extremist group/forces as a whole and accepting the truth, no peace project and effort will achieve the desired result. Rather, it will be a repetition of the same bloody cycle of four decades of destruction for Afghanistan.
2. I emphasize here that we cannot differentiate between “good” extremists and “bad” extremists for geopolitical purposes.
3. We must know that the political structures and leaders imposed on Afghans by foreigners do not work and we must seek to create a platform where the authentic voices of Afghans and those who have roots in the Afghan society decide on the political future of Afghanistan. The reality of this matter should be understood that the monopoly of power by any group leads to the continuation of disastrous conflicts.