NEW DELHI: According to security sources, thousands of Pakistani terrorists from Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), and other organisations are presently fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan, in blatant violation of the 2020 peace pact struck by the Taliban and the US.
The assessments come at a time when the international world, including India, is becoming concerned about the Taliban's fast comeback in Afghanistan, which some intelligence services believe is ready to seize control of major areas of the country from the Afghan government.
According to intelligence obtained by Afghan and Indian security services, the bulk of LeT and JeM militants are active in Kunar and Nangarhar provinces in eastern Afghanistan, and Helmand and Kandahar provinces in the country's southeast, according to sources familiar with the situation. All four Afghan provinces border Pakistan, with Kunar and Nangarhar bordering the former tribal regions and the other two bordering Balochistan.
Terrorist militants from other Pakistan-based groups, such as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jamaat-ul-Arhar, Lashkar-e-Islam, and al-Badr, have also been observed fighting with the Taliban in significant numbers, according to these sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Pakistani terrorists have also been spotted in Ghazni, Khost, Logar, Paktia, and Paktika provinces in the south and southeast Afghanistan, according to the sources, citing the most recent security agency information. The number of Pakistani militants from the LeT in these locations alone has been estimated at 7,200, according to the sources.
“LeT members are being employed as consultants, commanders, and administrators by the Taliban in a variety of areas,” one of the above-mentioned sources claimed. “There has also been new recruiting of militants in Pakistan by the LeT and the JeM for combat in eastern Afghanistan,” the source added.
According to reports, Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, the Afghan Taliban's military head and the son of the late Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, is collaborating closely with LeT and JeM commanders.
Security services have reportedly learned that hundreds of Taliban militants are being trained at LeT camps near Hyderabad, a town in Pakistan's Punjab province between Faisalabad and Dera Ismail Khan in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. According to the sources, the training was carried out with the assistance of the Pakistani military.
“In Afghanistan, the LeT and JeM terrorists are deployed in groups of around 200 people, including five to eight suicide bombers. There have also been allegations of Pakistani intelligence officials embedding with these organizations, which was a technique used in the past,” added a second source.
The information gathered by security agencies is largely consistent with the findings of the most recent report by the UN Security Council's analytical support and sanctions monitoring team, which was issued in June and stated that the Afghan Taliban had shown no signs of breaking ties with al-Qaeda and other foreign terrorist groups.
“A major portion of Al-Qaida leadership dwells in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, as does Al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent. According to the UN assessment, “large numbers of Al-Qaida militants and other foreign extremist forces linked with the Taliban are stationed in various regions of Afghanistan.”
According to data gathered by the Long War Journal, the Taliban have substantially increased their grasp on Afghan territory in recent months, leaving the US-backed government in control of just more than 20% of the nation, Bloomberg reported on Saturday. The rebel organization now controls 204 of 407 districts, up from 73 at the start of May, while the Afghan government controls only 74. The rest are debatable.
According to the latest UN sanctions monitoring team report, “regular communication between the Taliban and Al-Qaida on topics relating to the peace process” in Afghanistan, according to an anonymous UN member state.
According to the study, al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), which is largely composed of Afghan and Pakistani citizens, “operates under the Taliban umbrella” from Kandahar, Helmand, and Nimruz provinces.
According to the report, AQIS is “reported to be such an ‘organic' or essential part of the insurgency that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to separate it from its Taliban allies,” and the widow of former AQIS leader Asim Umar was among 5,000 Taliban prisoners freed in 2020 as part of the agreement with the US.
According to the UN assessment, the Haqqani Network, which has extensive links with Pakistan's military and intelligence, "remains a centre for outreach and collaboration with regional foreign terrorist organisations and is the major liaison between the Taliban and Al-Qaida."
The Taliban's inability to break connections with foreign terrorists is a blatant breach of the deal struck between the organization and the US in Doha in February 2020, which cleared the stage for the withdrawal of American soldiers. Under the terms of the agreement, the Taliban agreed to take certain actions to prohibit any organisation or individual, including al-Qaeda, from exploiting Afghan territory.
According to Sameer Patil, a Gateway House fellow for international security studies, allegations of the LeT's existence in Afghanistan are not new, but the group's role in the present bloodshed is concerning.
“The presence of LeT in Afghanistan is not new. However, the withdrawal of US forces and the expansion of Taliban rule since last year have emboldened the LeT to strengthen its presence and operations. Clearly, the group is trying to ramp up its operations after a period of inactivity,” he added.