UN warns of terrorism upsurge in Taliban-run Afghanistan

Islamist militants are being freed from jails and a top Taliban official is on a terrorist sanctions list

epa07269252 Former Taliban and IS militants surrender their weapons during a reconciliation ceremony in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, 08 January 2019. A group of 16 former Taliban and eight IS militants on 08 January, laid down their arms in Jalalabad and joined the peace process. Under an amnesty launched by former President Hamid Karzai and backed by the US in November 2004, hundreds of anti-government militants have surrendered to the government.  EPA/GHULAMULLAH HABIBI

The UN on Thursday said that Afghanistan was once again becoming a “safe haven” for terrorists, with people under sanctions set for top jobs in a new Taliban government while imprisoned, violent extremists are being freed from the war-ravaged country's jails.

Vladimir Voronkov, the UN's counter-terrorism chief, urged the UN Security Council to use all “tools at its disposal to prevent Afghanistan from being used as a platform” for terrorist strikes, as happened when the group last ran the country from 1996-2001.

Diplomats met in New York as Taliban hardliners tightened their grip on Afghanistan after retaking Kabul on Sunday following a lightning offensive that took place as the US wound down its two-decade military intervention in the country.

“We will need to ensure that Afghanistan is never again used as a launching pad for global terrorism,” said Mr Voronkov. He added that several Taliban commanders are featured on a UN sanctions list.

The document includes Sirajuddin Haqqani, a deputy Taliban leader who runs an offshoot of the group called the Haqqani network. The US has offered $5 million for information leading to his arrest.

Mr Voronkov also expressed alarm over the “release of prisoners” from Afghan jails by the Taliban amid their takeover of Afghanistan — many of them imprisoned for being members of ISIS and Al Qaeda.

The regrouping of terrorists in Afghanistan is yet another serious concern for US President Joe Biden's administration, which has been criticised for a bungled military pullout that led to the US-backed Afghan government's collapse under the Taliban onslaught.

The US invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban in 2001 after the hardliners let Al Qaeda set up training camps in the country, where they planned the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Analysts say Al Qaeda has been degraded in Afghanistan but that ISIS remains a potent force there. International counter-terrorism operations, including drone strikes, will be harder now that the US has abandoned its airbases in the country.

The Taliban has said it will not allow Afghanistan to be used to launch attacks on other nations.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid stated at a news conference in Kabul on Tuesday that “we will not allow our territory to be used against anybody … we don't want any internal or external enemies”.

But experts say that the Taliban still has ties with Al Qaeda and other militant groups, including those in neighbouring Pakistan.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US envoy to the UN, said Washington was holding the Taliban “accountable for its commitments” under a deal made last year with the administration of former president Donald Trump in which the group agreed that terrorists would not be allowed to launch attacks from Afghan soil.

She urged council members to slap tighter financial curbs on ISIS to stop extremists from moving money across borders, including in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin that offer loopholes to global banking systems.

Islamist groups globally have praised the Taliban's takeover in Afghanistan. Their return to power is perhaps the biggest gain for militant Islam since the 9/11 attacks, which are approaching their 20th anniversary.

Congratulatory messages to the Taliban have come from Al Qaeda franchises, Somalia’s Al Shabab, Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad as well as Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

The Pakistani Taliban, which is not part of the Afghan group, pledged allegiance and said hundreds of its members had been freed from jails when the Afghan Taliban swept through the country in recent days.

“[Extremists groups have been] electrified by the Taliban's return,” Asfandyar Mir, a security scholar linked to Stanford University's Centre for International Security and Co-operation, told Reuters.

World leaders have cast doubt on the Taliban's moderate public pronouncements since seizing power, although some diplomats say the group may soften its strict interpretation of Islam to gain international recognition and development cashflows.

Updated: August 19th 2021, 6:41 PM