The IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) government (since mid-2021) is still trying, and still failing, to get official recognition that it is the legitimate government of Afghanistan. Most nations consider the IEA a Pakistan-backed Islamic terror group that took control of the government with the help of Afghan drug cartels Few nations are willing to provide foreign aid and the most common criticisms are about IEA providing sanctuary for Islamic terrorists, drug cartels and all manner of outlaws. Another point of contention is the way the IEA mistreats women, blocking them from obtaining higher education or working outside the home. The reality is that not all IEA members go along with the sanctuary policy or the limitations on women. Enough members of the government support these policies to prevent these unpopular policies from being eliminated. As long as that goes on the IEA will not be recognized or receive much needed foreign aid. The IEA complains that the lack of foreign aid leaves many Afghans hungry and in poverty. Aid donors don’t trust the IEA to use foreign aid as intended, particularly by instead diverting it to personal use by members of the government.
Afghanistan has become a sanctuary for at least for at least three Islamic terror groups. The largest is al Qaida, which moved dozens of its leaders and specialists to Afghanistan and established residence in Kabul and a few other locations. On August 1st an American armed UAV fired several missiles at al Qaeda supreme leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was operating openly in the well-guarded neighborhood that contained embassies and other diplomatic facilities in Kabul. This led al Qaeda to disperse its personnel widely, including to towns outside Kabul.
The IEA accused Pakistan of allowing the Americans to cross Pakistani territory to reach Afghanistan. Pakistan responded that the IEA has no proof. The IEA also says they have not found Zawahiri’s body but have not claimed that Zawahiri was not there when the missiles hit. Local witnesses noted that the missiles did little damage to the balcony Zawahiri was seen on or the room behind the balcony. No one has claimed that Zawahiri was not dead. The U.S. may have used the R9X version of the Hellfire missile. This one contains no explosives but instead depends on rapidly deploying and fast-moving metal blades to penetrate a vehicle and chop up the passengers. If R9X were used on Zawahiri he might have been chopped to pieces without doing any obvious damage to the building he was in.
Pakistan is trying to mend its frayed relationship with the Americans. In 2011, when al Qaeda leader and founder Osama bin Laden was killed in his Pakistani hideout by American commandos, Zawahiri took over and continued operating from temporary hideouts on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghan border. His mentor, bin Laden, had obtained sanctuary in a residential compound in a Pakistani military city. After the death of bin Laden the Pakistani military insisted that they had no knowledge of where bin Laden and his family were hiding out. No one believed them and the same degree of sanctuary was not offered to Zawahiri. That led Zawahiri to depend on a decades old relationship with Iran, which provides some sanctuary for prominent al Qaeda members, but under restrictive terms dictated by Iran. This arrangement gives Iran some leverage in getting al Qaeda to ease up on attacks on Shia Moslems. When the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan in late 2021, Zawahiri felt it was safe for him to move to Kabul and live there with his family. He misjudged the situation. Meanwhile his second-in-command and successor was apparently safe in Iran. This new head of al Qaeda will have to leave Iran and reveal his identity to assume control of al Qaeda. Al Qaeda has two choices. It can name the new leader but keep him carefully hidden, but not to the extent that it is difficult to make frequent announcements and communicate with subordinates. Zawahiri did not live in an obscure location in Afghanistan and other al Qaeda officials in Afghanistan are finding more obscure residences, if they didn’t already use one. A second option is to use a figurehead leader, preferably a noted Islamic cleric or scholar. The real leader would seek to remain anonymous and live in a secluded location. Al Qaeda has still not announced a successor and the organization appears disorganized. That has been a problem since bin Laden was killed in 2011. Despite that al Qaeda remained the largest Islamic terrorist franchise in the world, even though its radical offshoot ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) has attracted more media attention and personnel losses because of all the attacks it makes. The ISIL branch in Afghanistan is ISK (Islamic State Khorasan), which was formed in Afghanistan during 2015, with the help of ISIL leadership in Syria, to handle ISIL activity throughout the region (Central Asia, Iran, Pakistan and India). ISK found they were most effective if they confined their operations to Afghanistan and Pakistan, which they have been doing since 2019. Other Islamic terrorist groups are attacked along with the usual government and religious targets. If you want to be a hardcore Islamic terrorist, you join ISIL. To obtain official sanctuary in Afghanistan you must agree to make no attacks in Afghanistan and, if IEA asks, not attack a neighboring country.
There are two other active Islamic terror groups in Afghanistan, the TTP (Pakistani Taliban) and ISK (Islamic State Khorasan), which is also the local ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) affiliate. The more immediate problem is the TTP. Many TTP factions operate independently, often contrary to orders from TTP leadership. In contrast the Afghan Taliban was always more disciplined because they were dependent on the Pakistani military for a sanctuary and other essential aid. This included cash payments from the Afghan heroin cartels that also depend on the Pakistani military for essential supplies and services. The Afghan Taliban help protect cartel operations inside Afghanistan. Now that the Afghan Taliban once more (after 20 years in exile) controls the Afghan government they find they have a lot in common with the TTP. Both Taliban’s see the Pakistani military as the enemy and that is causing major problems for the Pakistani military and Pakistan as a whole. So far TTP still has sanctuary in Afghanistan and is regularly sought out and attacked by Pakistani UAVs.
When the IEA took over, they found China was demanding that the IEA confirm that ETIM (East Turkestan Islamic Movement) was gone from Afghanistan. ETIM was composed of Turkic Uyghur Moslems fighting Chinese efforts to turn them into obedient Chinese citizens, even if they lose their Islamic faith in the process. EITM has been around since the 1990s and had a hard time finding a sanctuary in the region. At the same time Chinese efforts in northeast China, where most of the Uyghurs lived, cut off links with the outside world. In 2009 ETIM survivors in Afghanistan and Pakistan renamed their group as the Turkistan Islamic Party (or Movement) and survived by working for al Qaeda or the Pakistani-supported Taliban. TIP also got involved with the Afghan drug cartels. These Uyghurs often married into the Pushtun tribes that provide most of the manpower for the drug cartels and the Taliban. These new family links took more of the remaining Uyghurs away from TIP itself. China pressured the IRA (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) that ruled Afghanistan from 2002 to 2021 to eliminate any remaining Uyghurs in Afghanistan. China also had a lot of influence in Pakistan and pressured Pakistan to do the same. The Uyghurs who had married Pushtun women were either caught and deported back to China or allowed themselves to be absorbed into Pushtun culture and cease to be identified as Uyghur. Some of the Uyghurs were working for, and protected by, the Afghan drug cartels. These Uyghurs stopped identifying themselves as Uyghurs and learned local languages, often by marrying inti a Pushtun tribe. This is how many Uygur Islamic terrorists managed to disappear. When the IEA took over in 2021, China demanded that any remaining Uyghurs be found, identified and China notified. The United States put ETIM on their Islamic terrorist list in 2002 and removed ETIM/TIP from the list in 2020 because the ERA government and American counter-terrorism forces in Afghan agreed that ETIM/TIP was gone. China requested that the new IEA government double check on the status of ETIM/TIP and were told that no trace of these Uyghurs could be found. While some of these Uyghurs may still be around, they were no longer interested in China or Islamic terrorism. Some TIP Uyghurs showed up in Syria about the same time ISIL was created there in 2014, joined ISIL or al Qaeda and were gradually eliminated. Some Uyghur TIP veterans showed up in Russia, but these were involved more in the drug trade that Islamic terrorist violence. Chinese efforts had eliminated the Uyghur Islamic terrorists and the Chinese continue to monitor Islamic terrorist groups worldwide that accept foreign veterans as members. Some are thought to have been Uyghurs but none could be taken alive to verify that.
China went after these Islamic terrorist Uyghurs with such persistence and intensity that other Islamic terror groups have been discouraged from trying to operate against Chinese economic operations around the world. That has made overseas Chinese safer but not immune to attack. In southwest Pakistan Baluchi tribal separatists still attack Chinese workers and Pakistan has to devote a lot of resources to limit and eventually try to eliminate these attacks. In other parts of the world there are similar problems and China has been resourceful in coming up with solutions.
Islamic terrorist groups in Afghanistan (and elsewhere) found that if you do not attack the Chinese, China will leave you alone. Al Qaeda, the TTP and even ISK have all left the Chinese alone in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda, TTP and ISK are still subject to attack in Afghanistan by Pakistani counter-terrorism efforts. This now involved armed Pakistani UAVS entering Afghanistan to search for any anti-Pakistan groups (like TTP and ISK) with bases near the Pakistani border. Al Qaeda is less of a problem because it is in Afghanistan to rebuild the “base” for Islamic terrorists that founder Osama bin Laden founded in Pakistan during the 1980s to train and equip Afghan refugees fighting the Russians occupying parts of Afghanistan. In the 1990s al Qaeda moved their base to Afghanistan where they trained new members and organized many attacks, including the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States which a month later brought American retaliation that drove the Taliban and al Qaeda out of Afghanistan by the end of 2001. Now the cycle repeats itself with the Pakistanis doing most of the attacking.
The Shia Crisis
A larger problem is the ISK attacks on Afghan Shia has led Iran to threaten support for an armed Afghan Shia resistance manned by the thousands of Afghan Shia who served as mercenaries in Syria. Some still do, because the Afghan mercs were the best fighters and demanded higher pay than Arab mercenaries. These armed Shia fighters would work with their 1990s Northern Alliance allies, which has reassembled as the NRF (National Resistance Front) and become a major problem for the IEA. That is more than the IEA can handle. Some of the NRF leaders are sons of successful Northern Alliance commanders. Iran threatens to provide more support to the NRF (National Resistance Front) than they gave the Northern Alliance. So far this year NRF dominated Panjshir province (northeast of Kabul) has come under attack and IEA forces have been fighting back but not making a lot of progress in eliminating armed NRF members and their unarmed local supporters. NRF forces have put IEA forces in the Panjshir Valley on the defensive. The 1990s Northern Alliance dominated the Panjshir Valley (a 90-minute drive from Kabul) right up to the defeat of the Taliban government after September 2001. Northern Front leaders became members of the IRA government and now their sons have reassembled as the NRF (National Resistance Front), once more controls much of the Panjshir Valley and has resisted IEA forces sent to gain control there. The NRA uses mines, roadside bombs and ambushes to attack IEA forces as well as their supply convoys. The NRA men (and women) know the valley but few IRA troops do. IEA soldiers and police who have spent some time in the valley learn to be wary just to survive. That means exercising caution when attempting to arrest locals suspected of supporting the NRA.
The IEA is also having problems on the Iranian and Pakistani borders because of disputes over exactly where the border should be, or because of Iranian efforts to block Afghan drug smugglers, or because of Pakistani efforts to go after TTP operations on the Afghan side of the border. It’s a tough life being a criminal terrorist government.
October 4, 2022: A Pakistan aid group delivered 18 tons of aid supplies to Afghanistan and the IEA assured the Pakistan group that the aid would go to those who needed it. Pakistan controls several IEA ministries and can audit some aid shipments and report back to the donors. Other non-Pakistani donors have no way to audit distribution.
October 2, 2022: In the west (Herat City) IEA security men used warning shots and beatings to break up a demonstration by nearly fifty women protesting the IEA restriction on Afghan women.
September 30, 2022: In Kabul no one took credit for a bombing of a Hazara education center that left 53 dead and 110 wounded. Most of the victims were young Shia Hazara women preparing for university entrance exams. This led to a demonstration by about fifty Hazara women to protest the violence against Shia and especially Shia women. The IEA security forces observed the demonstration but did not seek to stop what is now an illegal activity for women.
September 23, 2022: In Kabul a car loaded with explosives was detonated outside a Mosque where members of the IEA government were worshiping. The explosion killed at least seven people and wounded 41.
September 22, 2022: In the east (Jalalabad), IEA security forces detained a Pakistani diplomat and his staff and accused them of selling fake Pakistani and Afghan passports to whoever could pay. This is something Pakistani diplomats often do because they have diplomatic immunity and the worst that can happen is getting expelled from the country. That means the diplomat will have a hard time being accepted as a diplomat by other nations. In this case, some of the diplomats’ staff do not have diplomatic immunity and can be persuaded to provide additional details on the fake passports operation.
September 20, 2022: In northwest Pakistan (North Waziristan) soldiers came under fire from Islamic terrorists across the border in Afghanistan. One soldier was killed. It was believed that the attackers were members of the TTP (Pakistani Taliban). Many TTP factions operate independently, often contrary to orders from TTP leadership. In contrast the Afghan Taliban was always more disciplined because they were dependent on the Pakistani military for and other essential aid. This included cash payments from the Afghan heroin cartels that also depend on the Pakistani military for essential supplies and services. The Afghan Taliban help protect cartel operations inside Afghanistan. Now that the Afghan Taliban once more, after 20 years in exile, control the Afghan government they find they have a lot in common with the TTP. Both Taliban’s see the Pakistani military as the enemy and that is causing major problems for the Pakistani military and Pakistan as a whole.
September 14, 2022: In northwest Pakistan (Kurram) Pakistani and Afghan troops exchanged fire troops agreed to move back from disputed territory on the Afghan (Paktia province) border. Afghanistan and Pakistan have long disagreed on exactly where the border is and that often leads to gunfire. Both sides suffered casualties this time but no one would reveal how many.
September 5, 2022: In Kabul an ISIL suicide bomber attacked the well-guarded Russian embassy, killing two of the embassy staff and four others. At least ten others were wounded. The Taliban IEA government is welcoming the reopening of foreign embassies, even though none are being used as embassies but a lesser diplomatic post staffed by consular staff. India recently joined China, Pakistan, Iran, and Russia in maintaining low-level diplomatic ties with the IEA.
In a move that means more Pakistani airstrikes in eastern Afghanistan, the United States has agreed to sell Pakistan $450 million in F-16 refurbishment for its aging F-16 fighters. There are no upgrades to the F-16s, just equipment to keep them operational. The U.S. blocked this sale in 2018 because of Pakistani support of Islamic terrorism and of failure to end that support for decades. The Taliban, with the help of Pakistan, regained control of the Afghan government in 2020 and Islamic terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan have increased because of that. Pakistan remains a major customer for Chinese weapons and supports Chinese claims on Indian territory and in other areas like the South China Sea. The Americans ignored Pakistan’s continued connections with China, Afghanistan and support of Islamic terrorism.