Pakistan and Afghanistan need to cooperate to prevent a resurgence of the Islamic State

Pakistan and Afghanistan need to cooperate to prevent a resurgence of the Islamic State
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There’s a reason they say it’s not over until it’s actually over. Many security analysts might opine that the Islamic State’s heyday is done, but even if there’s a slightest chance of them making inroads, we must be cautious. It’s not about limiting the striking abilities of a terrorist outfit; it’s about eliminating the capacity altogether. Islamic State terrorist strikes may have receded, but this is when the counter-terror officials need to zero in.

Inactivity on the part of a terrorist group should never instill complacence ­– something Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proved true with his recent audio message, which has, once again, brought to the fore the need to launch exhaustive counter-terror efforts against the Islamic State.

With Baghdadi’s latest message, are there ominous signs ahead?

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The latest terrorist attacks in Afghanistan claimed by the Islamic State are an indication of the possible resurgence of the terrorist group there. Owing to the parliamentary elections, the Taliban might want to strike a deal with the government, leaving the dastardly work of wreaking havoc to the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISKP), the Afghanistan franchise.

Baghdadi might also be relishing the on-again off-again relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan. If ISKP is to be eliminated from Afghanistan, then a coordinated effort among the United States, Pakistan, and Afghanistan has to be envisaged. This, unfortunately, appears a dream at this point.

If Baghdadi and his men are left unchecked in Afghanistan, it may impact Pakistan too. Hence, there’s reason for Islamabad and Kabul to agree on a mechanism that could help keep the Islamic State at bay.

What could Islamabad and Kabul possibly do?

First, both should realize the dangers posed by the Islamic State. The AF-PAK border area provides an ideal breeding ground for potential terrorists. Instead of the usual blame game, the first thing the two governments could do is to launch joint operations against the Islamic State across the border area. To get this done, confidence building is the key. With a new government in Islamabad, security apparatus has to be the top-most priority, and by engaging the security forces from Afghanistan in a joint operation across the border area, the terrorists could be gotten hold of.

In terms of carrying out a joint military exercise with a neighbor, with whom you don’t enjoy cordial relations, the decision-makers in Islamabad and Rawalpindi might want to remind themselves of the just-concluded India-Pakistan joint military drill in Russia under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). If it could happen with India, it shouldn’t be a difficult feat with Afghanistan. The enemy, after all, is the same for everyone: Terrorism.

Second, don’t let the Islamic State confuse the security apparatus. The terrorist outfit tends to attack state institutions, sectarian and religious groups, and civilian targets either simultaneously, or they break the attacks up among the mentioned targets. This is to confuse the security institutions. It’s important for the concerned departments in Kabul and Islamabad not to fall prey to this. ISKP might diversify its attacks, but the authorities must not consider one particular area as a potential target. A terrorist could launch an attack anytime and against any target. Don’t let the diversification of the targets fool you.

Third, cooperation between intelligence officials from Pakistan and Afghanistan is extremely important. It might be a long shot, but it’s surely worth it. The Islamic State is eyeing resurgence, and Afghanistan offers an ideal platform. It’s now up to Islamabad and Kabul to decide whether they’d like to cooperate to achieve the common purpose of eliminating the ISKP, or let the feeling of mutual distrust take the better of both the countries.

Without a cogent intelligence sharing mechanism, ISKP can’t be defeated.

Shazar Shafqat is a counterterrorism and security analyst currently based in Islamabad, Pakistan. His research focuses on South Asian security, Middle East politics and security issues, counterterrorism strategies, and military-related affairs. His commentary has been published by World Policy Journal, Asia Times, RealClearDefense, and The Defense Post, the Middle East Eye, Middle East Monitor and others.