Taliban training over 1 million terrorists for global jihad, marooned Afghanistan Ambassador warns at EGIC conference
ROME—Ambassador H.E. Khalid Ahmad Zekriya at the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in Rome is a man without a country, or at least a government, after the Taliban Regime re-took control in August 2021 following the West's craven withdrawal. “So long as I live, I will never give the keys of the Embassy of Afghanistan in Italy to the Taliban,” he said during an event of the Rome-based think tank, the Euro-Gulf Information Centre. EGIC and the Sakshi association hosted the discussion Friday “Resurgent Insurgents: Afghanistan and the Future of Global Terrorism” in the shadow of the recent 20-year history of Western and NATO intervention in the country as global terrorism was predicted to make a resurgence if concerted efforts to change course are not made.
The interplay of the diverse factions and militant groups in Afghanistan today is visceral and symbiotic, the ambassador argued. “The Taliban 2.0 is very different because they believe they’ve defeated the infidels as a religious call so they’ve become a transnational, expansionist power in motivation and tactics.” Zekriya added, “Inside Afghanistan there are now 23 terrorist groups with freedom of movement and maneuver including Al-Qaeda, ISIS-Khorasan and The Taliban of Pakistan or TTP.”
Complicating the issue is that no Afghan government has recognized the 2,640-kilometer Durand Line between Afghanistan and Pakistan as its international land border since Pakistan’s partition from the British Raj in 1947. The 1893 agreement between Mortimer Durand, foreign secretary of British India, and the then Afghan King Amir Abdur Rahman, is viewed as part of the legacy of European colonialism in Central and South Asia that divided Pashtun tribal lands in two. “For this reason, the TTP will be used as a bargaining chip in the future against Pakistan,” Zekriya affirmed. The Taliban have not been able to winkle him out of the Afghan Embassy in Rome as no country has recognized the Taliban government, meaning he continues to be tolerated by Kabul for issuance of visas and some other consular duties but has had to fire all his diplomats and half his local staff to keep the mission going.
The re-emergence of Al-Qaeda is another post-2021 reality. “Affiliates of the group have relocated to the southern parts of Afghanistan to be closer to the still existing camps to train Taliban operatives into smarter military brigades where their 40 years of intermarriages with Afghans have interwoven Al-Qeada into Afghan society,” the ambassador said. In contrast, ISIS-K has reached an accommodation with the Taliban for their fear that they may attract Taliban members disgruntled with the group’s bureaucratic ineptitude. Central Asian jihadist groups are similarly operating in the current Afghan context in pursuit of their own longer-term objectives and potential operations against China, Russia and other nations. “The Taliban gives them property rights in northern Afghanistan to project threat across the northern border,” explained the ambassador.
Despite their resurgence and return to power, the international community has not recognized the Taliban. This motivates the group to exchange resources and incentives with regional neighbors to try to gain soft recognition Zekriya argued. They’ve promised to honor Iran’s water rights, where rainwater levels from the Helmand River that flows from Afghanistan into Iran are dropping, in exchange for allowing Taliban-appointed diplomats to take over the embassy in Tehran without directly recognizing the Taliban, the ambassador explained. To Russia and some Central Asian countries, the group has even offered intelligence sharing, the containment of ethnic and religious terrorist groups and the restart of some projects like the mining of precious gemstones in resource-rich Afghanistan.
“In reality it’s difficult for any of this to come to fruition because of the security concerns of the countries involved with regard to the Taliban,” Zekriya added. Under the banner of Permissible Engagement with the Taliban, the EU and UN have allowed the distribution of aid and medical services to Afghans in exchange for not supporting opposition groups in Afghanistan. The EU has allowed the Taliban to come to conferences, he added.
Afghan missions abroad are navigating the need to provide support to their citizens in foreign countries, while ambassadors act independently of the Taliban government in Kabul.
Zekriya sat behind the tricolor national flag of Afghanistan; in contrast, the Taliban fly a white banner with black lettering of the Shahada or Islamic oath. While the militant group struggles to gain international legitimacy, the embassy staff here in Rome remain loyal to a government that no longer exists after the former Afghan government collapsed as the U.S.-led Western troops left the country.
“We are now divided into Islamic Republic of Afghanistan missions and consular entities with a self-generated income and those missions without resources to continue serving Afghans,” the ambassador said.
“The Taliban are contacting the Afghan diaspora and associations to put pressure on our embassy and to cultivate their ideology among the Afghan youth abroad, which I think is a real threat to Europe, and also to minimize the Afghan diaspora organizations against them.”
“There is enormous interest in Washington to revisit the issue of Afghanistan as well as in the regional countries like Russia, China, India, Iran and even Pakistan who do not consider the Taliban a reliable partner,” Zekriya posited. “In my opinion, the Taliban’s trajectory of power is in decline because they are in dire need of international recognition.”
Since the international community is looking for an alternative for Afghanistan, the ambassador proposes to focus on supporting the formation of a collective of Afghan technocrats with skill to run the country. He believes a conference on Afghanistan could be held in an impartial state that would gather the Taliban with other factions and the international community. The technocrats could then emerge as a viable alternative for Afghanistan. “This conference would jumpstart the peace process left off in Doha,” he said.
The event also featured an alarming intervention by Fakhruddin Kamal, former chief of staff to the interior minister under the previous government. “With the return of the Taliban in 2021, terrorist groups from around the world and their training camps have been moved inside Afghanistan and stationed in former NATO and Afghan army bases ” he said.
“The Taliban are creating the machinery of terrorist production to be used in global jihad in the region and beyond.” The teaching of extreme beliefs is now required by schools and government offices in Afghanistan, where Kamal explained that religious schools even teach in English, Russian and Arabic.
“Afghanistan is now their base for education in global terrorism and new crises have distracted the international community from this issue which is rapidly approaching incidents similar to 9/11 and why I think the ambassador’s proposal on the future of Afghanistan is so important,” he said.
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