It has been four weeks since the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. As much of a botched exit that was, the Taliban’s entry back into leadership positions in the region was not. Indeed, the takeover just goes to show how organized and determined the Taliban were to pick up where they left off. But it isn’t just them that are seeking to do this – Islamist terrorists are also seeking to use this as an opportunity to reestablish themselves in a region famous for the beginnings of transnational Jihad.
During the 1980’s when the Soviets mounted their offense in Afghanistan, it was Abdullah Azzam – the charismatic Palestinian Islamist – who inspired and mobilized Arabs to come to Afghanistan to fight. The battle against the Soviets wasn’t just a resistance against a hostile power, it was also an opportunity to establish an Islamist force ready and prepared to fight for Muslims and Islam. Indeed, this conflict exacerbated an already dichotomous relationship between western values and Islamic cultures in the east.
Famous amongst the Islamist Jihadists to have travelled to Afghanistan was Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks on America. Hailing from a wealthy family in Saudi Arabia, bin Laden saw Afghanistan as his calling. A place where he could establish himself as part of the resistance against the Soviets. Bankrolling the mujahideen offensive, bin Laden quickly made a name for himself and thus formed the terrorist organization Al Qaeda.
Later in the 1990’s the Taliban came into existence. They promised to restore peace and security in the mainly Pashtun areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, this was not their only purpose. The Taliban also sought to enforce their own interpretation of Sharia law as a way to govern and rule the region. The Taliban and Al Qaeda had shared interests and goals in this sense, so it is not surprising that this marriage of convenience would quickly flourish.
Al Qaeda and the Taliban are both driven by a narrow interpretation of Islam, inspired by Salafi jihadism. This provided them both with the underpinnings to determine who was and who wasn’t an enemy of Islam and Muslims. Strategically it meant that dedicating time, resources and personnel was more effective because they were able to streamline their attacks in a way that was organizationally effective. But it wasn’t just the ideology that helped them to grow from strength to strength, but other factors.
Afghanistan has a history of poor state governance, however, that is not solely because of successive governments, but rather because it is embedded in the fabric of the society there. Unlike many western countries, Afghanistan has an endemic culture of patronage politics, bribery and corruption that not only does a disservice to its law abiding citizens, but also to the longevity of stable and well thought out policies. This turbulent environment is suited to the likes of Al-Qaeda who see this as a way to continue their plots of terror unchecked and unchallenged.
This environment provides fertile ground for terrorist organisations like Al Qaeda to plant themselves in the region and grow. However, it is not only them that see this area as the perfect place to lay down their roots, others like IS-K see the benefits and are vying to do the same.
Why will Islamist terrorism thrive in Afghanistan? The answer is quite simple. The region is suited for it. It is a place where dark money can be pumped in to prop up the Taliban and the Haqanni network. Terrorist organisations such as Al Qaeda have shared values and interests with the ruling Taliban. Islamist ideology is as strong as ever. But the most important aspect why Afghanistan will remain a hotspot for Islamist terrorism, is because the west is no longer there.
Embarrassingly after withdrawing from the region, the US are now seeking to set up bases in neighboring countries. Not only is this strategically difficult, given that the Russian state will block this at every opportunity it can, but it is also a demonstrable failure and lack of commitment the west had for the innocent people of Afghanistan caught up in the Islamist experiment spearheaded by Al Qaeda and supported by the Taliban.
The fact of the matter is that until the west takes a more long-term view of dealing with transnational jihad, we can be sure that Afghanistan will remain a hotspot for Islamist terrorism.