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Chakradhar Reddy asked: Will the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan inspire insurgents in West Asia to pursue territorial claims even stronger?

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  • Md Muddassir Quamar replies: The Taliban is a religious fundamentalist organisation with ideological roots in radical Islamism, jihadism and ethnic nationalism. The movement was nurtured in Islamic seminaries across Pakistan and came into prominence during the Afghan civil war following the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. The Taliban, with support from Pakistani agencies, subsequently gained control of most of Afghanistan including Kabul and declared the formation of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Between 1996 and 2001, when the group ruled Afghanistan, it harboured terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda, which eventually proved to be its undoing due to the 9/11 attacks in the US.

    The withdrawal of US forces after a 20-year long military mission has catapulted the Taliban back at the helm in Afghanistan. Naturally, this has made the world concerned about the possibility of Afghanistan again becoming an international hub for terrorist organisations. The presence of Islamic State (Khorasan Province) and fears of the group attracting jihadists from across the world have added to the anxiety of the international community. Afghan Taliban has sought to put these fears to rest but only time will tell what is in store in the future.

    West Asia has grappled with violent Islamism for long. The problem has become more acute since the 2011 Arab uprisings (also referred to as Arab Spring) with the proliferation of Islamist and jihadist groups. Among the Islamist groups active in West Asia, the Palestinian Hamas, Lebanese Hezbollah, Somalia’s Al-Shabab, Iraq’s Kataib Hezbollah, al-Qaeda and its various branches and Syria’s Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, among others, have welcomed the Taliban ‘victory’ and end of American ‘occupation’ in Afghanistan. Although none of these groups, except al-Qaeda and its various branches, have any direct affiliation with the Afghan Taliban, and are divided on the basis of theological and sectarian differences, they share a strong sense of anti-Americanism, thus viewing the Taliban’s return to power as an inspiration.

    Besides Islamists and jihadists, ethnic insurgent groups are also active in West Asia. Most prominent among them are Kurdish groups such as the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its Syrian affiliate the Democratic Union Party (PYD). The PKK and PYD and Kurdish groups in Iraq that are ideologically rooted in libertarian socialism and Kurdish ethno-nationalism do not see the Afghan Taliban as a model for their struggle. Nonetheless, Kurds in Iran are increasingly adopting jihadist narrative to challenge the Iranian regime, and might take inspiration from the Taliban ‘victory.’

    Therefore, fears about Taliban takeover in Afghanistan inspiring militants, insurgents and terrorist groups in West Asia, including Kurdish insurgents, are not unfounded.

    Posted on 31 August 2021

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.