The AfPak Terror Time Bomb

How the West's ignorance of regional geopolitics doomed its campaign in Afghanistan and invited the resurgence of terrorism.

The withdrawal of the United States and its coalition from Iraq in 2011 failed to bring stability to Iraq and the region. The momentum of insurgents, including terrorist attacks in 2012, has not abated. Unless there is steadfast and continuing international support for the Iraqi military, law enforcement and intelligence, the threat is likely to increase, grow and spill over to other parts of the Arab neighborhood in the coming months.

Will the United States, NATO and other partners withdraw from Afghanistan, leaving behind an al-Qaeda–Taliban enclave on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border? U.S. operations targeting al-Qaeda leadership in tribal and mainland Pakistan have degraded the organization’s operational capabilities, but the principal threat today is emanating from two dozen Afghan Taliban-led groups and a few hundred foreign fighters.

Without clearing the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the U.S. withdrawal will have serious consequences: the return of the Afghan Taliban to Afghanistan, reconstitution of al-Qaeda and creation of a safe haven for two dozen insurgent and terrorist groups. The return of Mullah Muhammed Omar’s Islamic Movement of Afghanistan, which hosted al-Qaeda and provided training to tens of thousands of guerrillas and terrorists, will destabilize both Afghanistan’s immediate and distant neighborhood.

History is cruel and will repeat itself. After the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan in 1989, the high-spirited Afghan veterans returned home to ignite revolutions throughout the 1990s. Similarly, a few hundred foreign fighters currently supporting the Afghan and Pakistani fighters will return, destabilizing their homelands. These fighters are from Asia, the Middle East, Africa and the West.

If the U.S.-led coalition withdraws from Afghanistan without dismantling the insurgent-terrorist infrastructure on the Afghan-Pakistan border, it is very likely that Afghanistan will be used again as a staging pad for international terrorist operations. If so, Western forces will have to return to Afghanistan to stabilize Afghanistan. Based on several visits I made to Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is evident that the Taliban will return. And a study of the insurgent-terrorist capabilities demonstrates that the current regime in Kabul will collapse if Western forces withdraw from Afghanistan in the next year or two.

A Proxy for Indian Relations

After a decade of colossal investment by the international community in Afghanistan, the security situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan has not improved. There has been a grave lack of understanding on the part of the intervening powers of the complex geopolitics of South Asia. The key to stability and peace in Afghanistan is resolving Pakistan’s geopolitical quagmire with India, its archenemy. Without a regime friendly to Pakistan in power in Afghanistan, the thinking among the strategic community in Pakistan is that its security cannot be ensured.

Today, Pakistan perceives Afghanistan as a pro-India and anti-Pakistan regime. The United States, NATO and other nations militarily fighting the Afghan Taliban and its associated groups on Afghan soil, including through drone attacks against al-Qaeda in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA), will not end the insurgency. It is a well-established fact that Afghan Taliban, al-Qaeda, Pakistan Taliban and another dozen groups are operating on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Without Pakistan’s full cooperation, the Afghan Taliban and its associated groups will continue to survive, and the threat to Afghanistan will persist.

International Implications

Global terrorism will be driven and sustained largely by the geopolitical disputes and developments in the Middle East and Asia. In the foreseeable future, the principal threats to the world will stem from four regions of concern—in order of threat: Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Levant-Arabian Peninsula, the Horn of Africa and the Maghreb-Sahel. The Afghanistan-Pakistan border is the international epicenter of terrorism, where attacks are planned and prepared for global reach.

Recent communications show evidence of the larger ambitions of terrorists in the region. In a message posted on the al-Fida' and Shumukh al-Islam forums, a jihadist incited strikes against Western embassies in Muslim countries. He claimied that the consulates are de facto governments and have the "biggest role" in ruining Muslims. Embassies act as government proxies to influence the political and socioeconomic life in the state they are situated, he argued, and the ambassador in turn acts as the leader. He also suggested that embassies are used as centers from which to plot and attack militant leaders, and they employ spies who work under the cover of diplomatic immunity and try to foil resistance groups. "Our talk about blowing up embassies and cutting their relations doesn’t mean at all that we lose sight of the Crusader military bases that are planted carefully and steadily on the lands of our Islamic world,” he insisted, claiming that “these bases . . . are the fruits of the plotting and cunning of these embassies."

Today, a few hundred foreign fighters support the Afghan and Pakistani fighters. They are from from Xinjiang (China), Philippines, Indonesia, Maldives, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Turkey, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, the United States and Europe. And as some of them travel to and from their countries of origin, they will threaten global security.

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