UN Security Council Report: The Taliban Have Maintained Their Relations with 20 Terrorist Groups

By: Amin Kawa

The fourteenth analytical report on Afghanistan has been released by the United Nations Security Council. According to the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee, the Taliban maintains ties with Al-Qaeda, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and other regional terrorist groups. The report highlights the increasing threat of terrorism in Afghanistan and the region, granting these groups more freedom. Additionally, it reveals that ISIS has four to six thousand fighters in Afghanistan, while senior Al-Qaeda leaders are present there. The UN Security Council acknowledges the return of the Taliban to the authoritarian Pashtun-centric policies of the 1990s. Although visible disagreements exist among the Taliban leadership, the group prioritizes loyalty to its supreme leader to maintain unity. This report suggests that there are no immediate or foreseeable changes in the Taliban’s stance. Furthermore, the power is concentrated in Kandahar, and the failure to implement the Doha Agreement has diminished the influence of Kabul-based Taliban members on decision-making in Kandahar, as stated by the UN Security Council.

On Friday, June 9, the 14th analytical report on the situation in Afghanistan was published by the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee. This recently released 27-page report, prepared by the UN Security Council team, focuses on the Taliban’s relations with Al-Qaeda, The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and other regional terrorist groups. It also addresses the freedom of foreign fighters in Afghanistan, disputes within the group, and the monopolistic behavior of Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada. Additionally, the report highlights the involvement of Taliban members in drug cultivation, production, and trafficking, as well as the escalating and intricate attacks by ISIS. Hernán Pérez Lopes, the head of the UN Security Council’s Committees, signed the report on June 1, in accordance with Resolution 1988 (2011).

The UN Security Council Sanctions Committee has highlighted the Taliban’s relations with Al-Qaeda, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and other terrorist groups. According to the latest report by the Security Council, member countries have reported the presence of nearly 20 groups with freedom of movement under the Taliban’s control, despite the Taliban’s denial of the presence of any foreign terrorist group in Afghanistan.

The report indicates that Al-Qaeda is actively rebuilding its operational capabilities. Despite the killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the former leader of Al-Qaeda, neighboring countries remain concerned, and the Taliban continues to maintain its traditional ties with Al-Qaeda. The assassination of Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul on July 3, 2022, has fostered distrust among certain Taliban leaders. The United Nations Security Council affirms that the Taliban’s relationship with Al-Qaeda hampers unity and creates divisions within the group’s leadership. Some Taliban officials believe they were “deceived” regarding al-Zawahiri’s presence in Afghanistan following his killing. The report suggests that certain elements within the Taliban “betrayed” al-Zawahiri to further foreign interests, according to some Taliban members. However, the report also acknowledges Sirajuddin Haqqani, the acting Minister of Interior of the Taliban, who claims that Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada was aware of this issue. Meanwhile, foreign fighters express concerns that if the Taliban can betray al-Zawahiri, they too may face betrayal by the group.

In this report, the United Nations Security Council states that Saif al-Adel, the current leader of Al-Qaeda, traveled from his base in the Islamic Republic of Iran to Afghanistan in November 2022. One member state believes he is currently present in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is home to around two thousand members of the Al-Qaeda network. The group operates training bases in Badghis, Helmand, Nangarhar, Nuristan, and Zabul provinces. Additionally, there are approximately 20 to 25 Arab foreign fighters residing in Kunar and Nangarhar provinces, where one of the network’s camps is located. Some of them possess Afghan identity documents and serve as advisors to the Taliban in various cities.

The report highlights that most regional terrorist groups, including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM/TIP), and the Jamaat Ansarullah Tajikistan, receive support from the Taliban and maintain connections with multiple terrorist organizations. The East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM/TIP) is estimated to have a fighter count ranging from 300 to 1,200. According to reports, in 2022, the group acquired weapons, established new bases, and received passports and visas from the Taliban.

The UN Security Council Sanctions Committee also reports that the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has between four and six thousand fighters in Afghanistan, mainly concentrated in the eastern provinces of Nangarhar, Kunar, Logar, Paktika, Paktia, and Khost. Alongside this group, several splinter factions of the TTP aim to expand their territory, emboldened by the Taliban’s control in Afghanistan. The report highlights that the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), with support from the Taliban, carries out attacks in Pakistan.

Regarding ISIS, the report mentions a decline in its peak power between 2014 and 2019 but notes that the group has managed to weaken Taliban security through various actions. The closure of diplomatic institutions, attacks on the Pakistani embassy, and limited major investments are cited as indicators of ISIS’s growing influence in Afghanistan. The UN Security Council considers ISIS the most significant current terrorist threat in the country. The report reveals that ISIS has increased its operational capabilities and freedom of movement in the past year. It has claimed responsibility for over 190 suicide attacks in 2022 and is estimated to have between four to six thousand fighters. ISIS funds itself through activities such as drug trafficking, taxing drug smuggling, ransom kidnappings, mineral smuggling, extortion, and transportation.

According to the report, judging the Taliban’s commitment to combating drug trafficking, cultivation, and production is premature since there has been an increase in drug prices and production. The Taliban gains significant benefits from methamphetamine and its members are engaged in drug smuggling. The UN Security Council report highlights that sanctions have not influenced the decision-making of Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, and countries interacting with the Taliban are advocating for the lifting of sanctions. Additionally, the report mentions that the presence and spread of weapons throughout Afghanistan have undermined arms embargoes.

Additionally, in this report, the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee considers the recent order that bans women’s employment in the United Nations as inconsistent with the principles stated in the organization’s charter. The report notes that this order was issued one week after Amir Khan Muttaqi, the Foreign Minister of the Taliban, made a renewed request to the UN Security Council to transfer Afghanistan’s permanent representation seat in the United Nations to the Taliban.

The report by the United Nations Security Council on internal divisions within the Taliban states that although the group remains cohesive, internal disagreements have created conditions for their weakening. Ongoing power struggles among different factions lead to instability and armed clashes. The conflict between rival factions poses a significant threat, and this unity is predicted to last for at least 12 to 24 months.

In addition to addressing other aspects, the report focuses on the structure of the Taliban regime. It notes that the governance structures of the regime are predominantly Pashtun-centric and characterized by various forms of repression. Among the Taliban cabinet ministers, only five are non-Pashtuns, while 25 out of the 34 provincial governors are of Pashtun ethnicity. The report emphasizes that, at the time of writing, the Taliban has shifted the center of power from Kabul to Kandahar, replicating the situation seen in the 1990s. The UN Security Council Sanctions Committee Team highlights that the Taliban of today is the same as in the 1990s and maintains its insurgent nature. According to the report, the Taliban’s mindset remains committed to “unchangeable theological politics,” with only a small number of members utilizing modern media tools like Twitter. It further states that while Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada remains secluded, he has become more assertive, consolidating his control and authority. He handpicks loyal individuals from within the close circle of clerics in Kandahar province, enhancing his role through unilateral decision-making as an “Amir.”

The report reveals that the Taliban leader recently relocated special suicide units to Kandahar province. It cites a local source stating that while the Taliban supreme leader survived two bouts of COVID-19, his respiratory system has weakened. The report also highlights the efforts of Sarajuddin Haqqani, the acting Minister of the Interior for the Taliban, to replace Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob Mujahid, the acting Minister of Defense. Haqqani aims to undermine the religious legitimacy of Mullah Hibatullah and persuade the Taliban’s Council of Scholars that Akhundzada is not a “suitable” supreme leader. However, the scholars advising Hibatullah have urged him to respect the opinions of other members of the group. Despite this, Hibatullah has decided to dismiss both Sarajuddin Haqqani and Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob Mujahid. The report indicates that this decision has not been implemented due to the “challenge to Hibatullah’s authority.” Previous sources had disclosed the attempts made by Mullah Hibatullah to dismiss these two Taliban officials, but Mohammad Hasan Akhund and other prominent figures in the leadership chose to maintain group cohesion and unity by not acting on Hibatullah’s decision.

The United Nations Security Council’s fourteenth report addresses the escalating terrorist activities and the growing complexity of ISIS operations in Afghanistan. Various countries, including the United States, Russia, and Tajikistan, have previously issued warnings about Afghanistan becoming a safe haven for terrorism. Recently, the Russian Foreign Minister stated that northern Afghanistan has transformed into a “nest of terrorists.”