In what now appears to be an increasingly likely scenario, the Islamic State and the Taliban may unite in their efforts to bring radical jihadism to Central Asia, the North Caucasus and Turkey.
Are Syria and Iraq a kind of a proving ground where the IS is preparing for the creation of a new, truly global “caliphate”? Photo: AP
After a high-profile meeting in Paris, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced an agreement to increase intelligence sharing between the U.S. and Russia on extremist Islamic State militants. In addition, Moscow is now considering ways to provide military assistance in Iraq.
And there’s good reason for this – the Taliban recently announced its full support for the war in Syria and Iraq that has been unleashed by the Islamic State (IS). A combined terrorist organization perpetrating atrocities from the Middle East to South Asia would require greater coordination between Russia and the West.
In an email message sent to Reuters written in Urdu, Arabic and Pashto, it was stated that the Pakistani Taliban movement is in full solidarity with its “brothers” in the Islamic State and is ready to fight together with them against the anti-terrorist coalition created under the leadership of the United States until a “complete victory” over the “enemies of the IS” is achieved.
A similar statement was made by representatives of the Islamic State, saying that they are ready to unite with the Taliban, and together wage war against their enemies – especially the Western powers and members of the anti-terrorist coalition. This would expand the conflict to the AfPak (Afghanistan and Pakistan) region.
But how real is the danger that the Taliban and Islamic State will jointly conduct a terrorist jihad against the civilized nations of the world? Is this just an attempt to intimidate the West or a new challenge from the radical extremists against the international community, including Russia?
The seriousness of the Taliban and Islamic State intentions is reflected in the fact that, according to Western sources, one of the warlords of the Taliban based on the territory of the Pakistani province of Waziristan on the Pakistani-Afghan border, was designated as a representative of the Islamic State in South Asia.
According to the same sources, young radicals waving Islamic State flags were repeatedly seen in some Indian cities (including in the Indian states of Jammu and Kashmir, with a predominantly Muslim population). India is a traditional antagonist of Pakistan, and a frequent target of militants who are conducting terrorist activities – primarily radicals from numerous terrorist groups operating from Pakistani territory.
Until now, according to these sources, the Islamic State had not shown interest in the South Asia region, which borders directly (via a narrow strip of Afghan territory) with the southern flank of the Commonwealth of Independent States (the states of Central Asia).
Now we can imagine an almost apocalyptic scenario – the combined forces of the Islamic State and the Taliban leading a jihad against these Central Asian states, starting with Afghanistan. Indeed, after the withdrawal from that country of the main military contingent of NATO and American troops, a “power vacuum” will arise, and it is likely that the Afghan Taliban will once again come to power in Kabul.
This will be a big opportunity for the Islamic State. Given the fact that the IS has expressed support also for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a terrorist group based in southern Uzbekistan and located also on the territories of Afghanistan and Pakistan, the position of the Islamist terrorists will be further strengthened.
In such a situation, the future actions of the Islamic radicals might include a breakthrough into the Russian North Caucasus (especially into Dagestan and Ingushetia), and then – the organization of terrorist activities against the southern regions of Russia (Chechnya) and even the central Volga region.
It sounds incredible, and it is apocalyptic – but that is the worst-case scenario. And the likelihood of it becoming implemented is rather high.
Today, we can already say that there are not just some extremely radical Islamist groups acting alone, such as the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, IMU and the Islamic State. Rather, they are all elements of one Islamic Terrorist International.
And this organization will wage war against the civilized countries in various parts of the world – the Middle East, South Asia, South East Asia (notably in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, as well as in Muslim Malaysia), in Europe, where the support for the Islamic State is growing among local radical Islamists living in crowded Muslim communities in many European countries, including Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. Moreover, the attacks may be directed against the United States and Russia, if the international community does not take urgent military measures.
From this perspective, Syria and Iraq are a kind of a proving ground, where so far the IS, already practically in alliance with many of its former enemies from the Jabhat al-Nusra, which is active on the territory of Syria and waging a war against the state – is actually preparing for the creation of a new, truly global “caliphate.”
What is more, they have strong financial support, including money from the pirate trade in oil from the captured oil fields in Iraq and Syria, as well as virtually inexhaustible manpower. If some Western countries and Turkey, having entered the war against the IS, at the same time will achieve their task of overthrowing the legitimate Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, and it really topples – there may also be created a “power vacuum” in Syria as well.
And filling it – very possibly – will be those same radical Islamist groups from the Islamic Terrorist International, and Turkey itself will become involved in a war launched against it. Here, neither the Kurdish Peshmerga nor the Turkish Army will be able to help. This is another possible scenario, and a very real one, about which Russia is constantly warning its Western partners and Turkey.
If the united Islamic State and Taliban terrorist group expands the scope of its military operations to Afghanistan and the Central Asian states, then ground troops will need to be sent by many nations that agree to do so, including Russia, in order to repulse the united IS-Taliban forces on the borders of the AfPak Region and the Central Asian countries (Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan).
Russia could put its troops together with the Afghan Army and the troops of the Central Asian countries to conduct combat operations against the combined forces of the IS and Taliban, but operating from the territory of these countries and only with their consent and utilizing the potential of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
Only in such a case can we speak about the effective repelling of this threat to Russia and its Central Asian partners posed by the Islamic State and Taliban. Here, substantial assistance may be provided, including military, by Russia, a strategic partner in the South Asia Region. Russia of course, has its own specific interests in Afghanistan and Central Asia.
All these measures could significantly assist in the improvement of relations between Pakistan – another important Russian partner in South Asia and the AfPak Region – and India, whose army has recently engaged in successful combat operations against the Taliban in the Pakistani-Afghan border area, and which is very interested in a stable situation in and around Afghanistan.
For the same reason, Washington is very likely to agree to accept Russia into the anti-terrorist coalition against the combined forces of the IS and Taliban, especially given the fact that, by the end of this year, the bulk of American troops will leave Afghanistan.
Granted, according to an agreement with the new president of Afghanistan, 12,000 American troops will remain, as well as military bases in key strategic locations throughout the country. However, without the help of Russia – especially in case of a “breakthrough” by the forces of Taliban and IS in Central Asia – they will not be able to address this threat.
It is possible in this context to pose the following question: To what extent is this necessary for Russia? This is a question from those Russian experts who are skeptical of any Russian participation in the anti-terrorist coalition against the IS.
The answer is obvious – in the case described above – such participation corresponds to the national interests of Russia. Moreover, according to any “objective evaluation,” the fight against the combined IS-Taliban forces will need to be waged by the entire world. Only in such a case, will the apocalyptic scenarios of a future radical Islamic “Caliphate” stretching from Kashmir to the Volga and the Pyrenees will not become a harsh reality.