Photo: News Central Asia

Central Asia Voice Terrorism Concerns as US Projects Confidence in Taliban

Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbors say they are growingly worried about terrorism threats emanating from Afghanistan and their regional implications. Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon highlighted the increase in activities of terrorist groups inside Afghanistan at the 5th Consultative Meeting of the Heads of States of Central Asia, held on Thursday, September 14, in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan.

“In recent years, we have encountered attempts by various terrorist groups to break through and illegally cross the state border,” Tajik president, Imam Ali Rahmon was cited in a Tajik media saying, “Not long ago we prevented two attempts by militants to break through the border. They aimed to commit a series of terrorist attacks in the capital and other regions of Tajikistan.”

Mr. Rahmon was referring to an incident earlier this month in the country’s southeastern province of Badakhshan where Tajik security forces reportedly killed three militants of the banned Jamaat Ansarullah who had illegally entered Tajik territory from Afghanistan.

Tajik authorities said the militants intended to carry out “terrorist acts” after smuggling explosives and weapons—including American assault rifles and night-vision goggles purportedly left behind by the US during the Afghanistan exit.

These security concerns come after the US authorities said earlier this week that their analysis shows the Islamic State–Khorasan Province (ISKP) is incapable of mounting operations in the foreseeable future. The Washington Post reported on Thursday that the US shares counter-terrorism intelligence with the Taliban.

In last week’s SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure Council, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization members also expressed concerns over the rising threat of terrorism from Afghanistan. Kazakhstan’s Deputy Chairman of the National Security Committee said there have been at least 80 high-profile terror attacks in SCO member countries in the last three years, adding that threats from the ISKP are rising in the region.

Despite mounting fears among the Central Asian states of a potential spillover into borders they share with Afghanistan, the Taliban says it has contained the ISKP threat in Afghanistan and will not allow its territory to be used against any country.

The UN Security Council monitoring report stated that the Taliban maintains a robust relationship with terror groups, including Central Asian outfits i.e., the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, and Jamaat Ansarullah, as they continue to expand their operational activities and enjoy “greater freedom of maneuver” in Afghanistan.

In his remarks, Mr. Rahmon also highlighted the surge in the drug trade and said that Tajik authorities seized about five tonnes of narcotics along the border with Afghanistan, signaling a 22% increase compared to 2021.

Earlier this month, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported that Afghanistan supplied 6,200 tons of opium in 2022, an estimated 80% of global opiate production, despite the Taliban ban on plantation and trade announced in April 2022    

Central Asian countries consider Afghanistan’s cooperation critical to their security and growth. Uzbekistan, which has maintained relatively friendly diplomatic ties with the Taliban, touted ample potential to develop trade relations through the landlocked Afghanistan.

Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev said it is very important to restore Afghanistan’s internal transport routes along with promoting the Trans-Afghan Railway project.

He also underlined the importance of dialogue with Afghanistan on security, water issues, and trade developments. Afghanistan’s Qush Tepa canal under construction has spurred concerns over Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan downstream, raising risks of scarcity in their water supply. Mirziyoyev said the canal will radically change the water balance in Central Asia.