Rashane Jude Pintoe

Rashane Jude Pintoe is a researcher on international and national security. He is a research analyst at the Global Peace Institute, UK. He was formerly attached to the Institute of National Security Studies under the Ministry of Defence, Sri Lanka. He specialises in global insurgencies, Islamist extremism and counterterrorism. Having multiple pieces of research publications to his name, Rashane also writes on topics relating to terrorism, peace and the status quo of the political attributes in both Sri Lankan and foreign aspects.'

Dictator Biden’s Double Standard

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As blood-red lighting stained the backdrop, the dark black sky rendered an eerie aura of despotism. Members of the military stood guard clutching their weapons in a show of power. Like a tyrannical allocution, US President Joe Biden lifted his hands clenched tightly into a fist and condemned his political opposition as being extremists and a threat to democracy. He propagated words of division to an already heavily-polarised population split along lines of party, politics and ideology.

Joe Biden took to the stage in downtown Philadelphia to issue a speech of mere opprobrium pointed bluntly toward the rivals of his political camp. His clenched fists thrown into the air complemented by his bared teeth and glare of hostility reminded the world of Hitler’s speeches at the Nazi conventions in WWII Europe.

By declaring that former President Donald Trump and his supporters are a threat to American democracy, Joe Biden essentially promulgated that over 77 million of his own people are extremists. “Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic”, Joe Biden raged.

The timing of his schismatic speech is politically felicitous as it comes a few weeks before the 2022 mid-term elections – an event that could witness a return of the Republican party to control the House or Senate. The botched military withdrawal from Afghanistan, the immigrant crisis on the Southern border and the devastated economy are some of the principal talking points of the Republican camp.

White House officials termed Biden’s address as the ‘battle for the soul of the nation’ and Biden claimed that he speaks to America on ‘sacred’ ground. This sort of language reminds any political reader of the authoritative attributes of the famous Big Brother, in George Orwell’s classic; 1984. This is of course complemented by the widespread censorship of opposing political views on mainstream media and big tech platforms as well as the rampant cancel culture that seems to have infiltrated social life across the globe.

As the Biden-Harris administration plummets to become the second least popular duo in office, White House officials work hard to put on a dazzling show before the mid-terms. However, being flanked by Marines complemented by Nazi-like lighting behind the president is probably the worst backdrop that the strategists could come up with.

Biden’s comments on his political opponents come as a result of the forced entry of Trump supporters into the US Capitol on 06 January 2021 – for which court cases and trials are open to date. The US judiciary, politicians and legal system have arrested, are trying and will sentence scores of Trump supporters for storming their government buildings.

Yet the very sanctimonious posturing lies in the hypocritical statements of Western representatives with regard to the Sri Lankan Aragalaya regime change operation. While Biden condemned insurrectionists as ‘extremists’ threatening American democracy, his ambassador to Sri Lanka, Julie Chung, hailed the Sri Lankan insurrectionists as ‘peaceful protesters’. Why is it that the insurrectionists of Sri Lanka were defended as peaceful yet when America is threatened in the same way, their insurrectionists are castigated as a threat? Perhaps post-colonial neo-imperialism is the underlying impetus.

The Aragalaya movement in Sri Lanka was the propulsion of mob violence driven by behind-the-scenes political strategists. Kumar Gunaratnam’s Peratugami and the Anthare played pivotal roles in the planning, organising and executing of the protest-riot compilation. The raging mob violence left millions of rupees in damages in Galle Face alone. The same mobs burned down over sixty homes of lawmakers, destroyed over fifty public and private vehicles and waged incendiarism in the current President’s residence – but yes, according to Ambassador Chung, they are ‘peaceful protesters’.

When Sri Lanka attempted to protect her national assets by making the insurrectionists leave the invaded government buildings, including the Presidential Secretariat, Presidential Residence and Prime Minister’s Residence, the US and Western officials released tweets and reports against President Wickremesinghe’s actions. Yet when their own Capitol building was invaded by insurrectionists, the US government deployed over 26,000 National Guard troops to quell the demonstrations. The double standard in handling crises is not just appalling, but rather vituperative in the larger sense of geopolitical regard.
Of course, this sort of hypocrisy is not new to the table as the same Western governments that unfoundedly accuse Sri Lanka of unsubstantiated war crimes and manipulated ‘genocides’, enjoy immunity from condemnation for their crimes in wars across the world, especially during the Invasion of Iraq and the conflicts in Afghanistan and Syria.

Biden’s antagonist-like monologue lambasted the Trump-aligned population of America as being “a clear and present danger” who placed “a dagger at the throat of [American] democracy”. Does the US diplomatic community suggest that Sri Lanka is not in ‘clear and present danger’ from the politically charged regime change operation that transpired here?

The American state and people have been a friend of Sri Lanka for decades. The political bond that was enjoyed during the JR-Reagan period is one of diplomatic brilliance and political prosperity. Likewise, the US military has always had a cordial relationship with its Sri Lankan counterparts. Amongst several instances, the US Navy Pacific Command provided intelligence to the Sri Lankan government of LTTE terrorist activity to hunt down terrorist ships and crew during the war. Alternatively, the Sri Lankan military provided Jungle Warfare training to foreign troops. The potential inconvenience to this politico-militaristic relationship stems from mishandled diplomacy on both sides of the spectrum; including the double standard view of the US government as well as the failure of the Sri Lankan diplomatic corps in building a stronger relationship with its Western counterparts.

The LTTE international network carries out its compelling strategy of lobbying, litigation and lawmaking in the global arena. By lobbying foreign politicians with funds and votes, the LTTE international body attempts to achieve the vision of separatism through international geopolitics after having failed to achieve it through sheer brutal terrorism on the island. At the same time, the ongoing shift in US foreign policy away from the political ecosystem of the Middle East and towards the Indo-Pacific region signals a potentially intense power play in the region.

The Sri Lankan government and diplomatic corps must immediately understand the severity of this impending materialisation and prepare themselves at the earliest. The economic condition of the country and the failing political stability have rendered the nation a regional punching bag, as rightly commented by President Wickremesinghe. A punching bag will not survive the storm – only a ship with a sturdy sail and adept steering can make it through. It is time Sri Lanka builds her sail and firmly lays her hands on the helm. The storm is coming.

War on Terror: 9/11 in Retrospect

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As the hands of the great chronograph of time strike to symbolise twenty-one years since that day of sheer terror in downtown New York, the world reflects upon the new type of war that has enkindled the world for all these years. As the haunting wails of victims pulsated across the globe, the extremist Islamist brand of terror took the centre stage of destruction.

9/11 marks a tragic memory of loss for the American people. People gathered at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in Lower Manhattan to observe an annual ritual of remembering the nearly 3,000 lives that were lost in the terror attacks. The crowd raised the popular slogan, “Never Forget” to pay tribute to the precious lives lost and to the resolve of the American nation against terrorism. Army General Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, remembered it as “an attack on the American nation as a whole” and the failure of terrorists in destroying the freedom of the nation. The attacks on 9/11 reflected a growing threat to the peaceful community of the world.

Bin Laden’s model of terror resembled an idiosyncratic fusion of politico-religious fundamentalism as well as anti-Americanist sentiment. The newspapers on 9th September 2001 reported, “America is under attack”. People watched in disbelief as the most powerful country in the world seemed vulnerable and helpless in the face of such blatant provocation. The unipolar world power of the 90s was struck in the heart by an ideological fiend of terror. The very magnitude of severity with which the mighty Global Power was assaulted shocked the ends of the earth. 9/11 is still regarded as the single deadliest attack on US soil.

As al-Qaeda openly and brazenly provoked the US, the latter vindictively declared a counterattack against al-Qaeda and their organisational haven in Kabul – the Taliban. Then-President George W. Bush announced that the US will “make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbour them”. This announcement materialised through the launch of Operation Enduring Freedom on October 07 of the same year, when US Army Special Forces, colloquially known as the ‘Green Berets’ were deployed into Afghanistan to decimate the al-Qaeda operational infrastructure and network. The operation also aimed to oust the Taliban government from Afghanistan due to the very national security threat that the country posed to the US. This operation which was launched with a clear aim in mind, soon turned into an ambiguous and controversial war – famously dubbed the War on Terror.

The War on Terror became the longest war ever fought by the US spanning over twenty years. The Taliban regime collapsed a month after the attack and Bin Laden fled Afghanistan and remained in hiding for close to a decade. When the war completed its first ten years, Bin Laden was finally struck down by Seal Team Six (DEVGRU) in 2011 in Abbottabad, Pakistan. With that, the primary goal of the US was accomplished which was to rout both Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. At this stage in 2011, the US had planted the pro-US government of Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan.

The remainder of their operations in Afghanistan was fought without any particular goals to accomplish – something that had been up for debate for several years with multiple high-profile figures advocating for withdrawal. The US claimed that its goal was to create a strong democratic government in Afghanistan so that the Taliban can never roll back into power. Fast forward to 2021, the Taliban rolled back to power stronger than before and with the mighty brunt of the US arsenal courtesy of the Biden-Harris administration.

The War on Terror was jointly supported by many countries. Although combat operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and other affiliated regions have greatly ceased, other aspects of the war like the prevention of financing terrorism persist. The successes of this war are plentiful on the operational dimension; however, it has also garnered multitudes of criticism on accusations of aggravating the threat. Various proxy campaigns, especially under the Obama administration have led to Made in USA weaponry getting into the hands of insurgents, terrorists and radicals. In the Syrian theatre, US funding and weapons strengthened rebel groups against President Bashar al-Assad, yet it irresponsibly led to the arming of the Islamic State in the region.

Due to the War in Afghanistan, the US not only faced external condemnation but internal criticism as well. As the war prolonged, the cost of the war increased over time, in the form of both human and financial losses. The US spent over USD 2.31 trillion with over 243,000 deaths in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theatre, neologistically referred to as AfPak within US foreign policy circles. This made the American public ‘war-weary’ and the war goals were seen as unworthy in the face of human and financial costs. On the other hand, the international community started calling out the US as this war had no end in sight. One of the most criticised aspects of war was the use of drones by the US. UN experts expressed this concern by calling drone strikes ‘counter-productive’ as they do more harm than good owing to heavy civilian casualties. Obama’s warfare strategy incorporated the launching of thousands of drone and air strikes in war zones in the Middle East and Central Asia, killing scores of civilians in the process. In addition, the countries whose territories were used in waging this war became the frontline against terrorists. For instance, a report by Nobel prize-winner concluded that around 80,000 people were killed, both directly and indirectly, in Pakistan alone as a result of the war on terror.

On the positive side, 9/11 and the War on Terror rapidly mobilised the Western security community to realise dormant terror cells within their borders. This enabled the dismantling of various foreign terrorist networks including Sri Lanka’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). In the mid-2000s, the Western security apparatus dismantled multiple funding links between the LTTE international network and the LTTE terrorists in Sri Lanka’s North and East. Numerous LTTE front organisations that disguised as cultural and charity institutions were raided, investigated and proscribed for terrorist financing, arms procurement and war taxes. Among these, the World Tamil Movement (Canada) and World Tamil Coordinating Committee (US) received much of the limelight.

The underlying impetus that al-Qaeda used to garner support from Muslim countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia was the prevalence of anti-Americanist sentiments. The Muslim world sees the US as a foreign force that attempts to enforce its rule over smaller nations. The unilateral invasion of Iraq, wars in Afghanistan, and the non-resolution of the Palestine issue are some of the major reasons for such sentiments. When the propagation of the thesis of ‘Clash of Civilisations’ was carried out by Western intellectuals and disseminated across Western media, a natural aura of insecurity engulfed the Muslim world, which was vaguely isolated in the world.

The US fighting wars in Islamic regions of the world was perceived as evidence of ‘US vs Muslim’ sentiments – something that was and is capitalised on by extremists across the world. Osama bin Laden exploited these sentiments to achieve his ulterior ambitions, just as Zahran Hasheem did in order to launch the 2019 Easter Sunday Attacks. Although the violent activities of terrorists should be unquestionably condemned, distorted strategies by the Western security community – especially the invasion of Iraq – should be condemned as well.

Even after fighting the beasts of terror for twenty long years, the US failed in its attempt to militarily stop the Taliban from gaining power in Afghanistan. The Doha Peace Deal between the US and the Taliban in 2020 was seen as the acceptance of this failure. By sitting at the same table with the Taliban and accepting them as major stakeholders in Afghanistan, the US fundamentally declared that the two decades spent on the war were a lost cause. After all this time, the Biden-Harris administration handed over the reins of power back to the Taliban – the very group that was denied rule in 2001. The relations between the US and the Taliban have seen many surprising changes; from being the supporters during the Soviet War in Afghanistan from 1979-1989 to being the cut-throat enemies after 9/11, the relationship evolved. Finally resulting in the most current development where both parties showcase a feigned acceptance of the co-existence of each other.

The Doha Peace Deal led to the total withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. After this withdrawal, Kabul fell on 15th August 2021 without any resistance from the US-trained Afghan army. US-backed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled Kabul before the Taliban terrorists entered the capital. This raised many eyebrows across the world as the CIA had predicted otherwise. Reports suggested that the United States has spent almost $83 billion on the training of the Afghanistan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF). Thus, the Marshall plan by the US to develop and equip the Afghanistan government’s resilience against terrorist organisations fell headfirst into the ground. Despite thorough attacks that often resulted in civilian casualties, the top militaries of the world were unable to dismantle a terrorist network that primarily operated from Afghanistan cave systems. Alternatively, the Sri Lankan military was able to decimate the most dangerous and deadly extremists in the world (FBI statement 2008) and that too after conducting the world’s largest hostage rescue mission by rescuing approximately 200,000 civilians from the trappings of the LTTE’s human shields.

Although 9/11 raised an outcry for action from every section of American society, the retrospective view of the decisions taken by the Bush administration reveals the very inefficiency and miscalculations of some of those actions. A very prominent example is the Patriot Act, which was passed 45 days after the attacks. It was passed under the cloak of combating terrorism but is accused of jeopardising the civil rights of people in America and proved that the ambitious US government even used 9/11 as an opportunity to achieve its goals.

9/11 is rightly described by analysts as the most striking event of the century that reverberated across space and time. Afghanistan became a war-torn country; Pakistan faced the spillover effect of terrorism in the neighbourhood and multiple affiliated regions were stuck in the vicious cycle of terrorism. On one side, 9/11 reinvigorated an exceptional sense of unity among the people of the US. On the other hand, it created havoc in Afghanistan that lost any semblance of stability and prosperity.

The Legacy of Gorbachev: International Peacemaker or National Resentment?

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Another influential figure passes from the genus of the living and into the memories of the lost. As the month of August completed its timely lapse, the final leader of the Soviet Union passed away at the ripe old age of 91.

At the news of his death, political leaders of the West remembered Mikhail Gorbachev for his distinguished character, his unflinching faith in peace, and his tiring efforts for reformation. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres paid tribute to the Soviet leader commenting that he was ‘a one-of-a-kind statesman who changed the course of history’, while US President Joe Biden hailed him as ‘a man of remarkable vision’. Nevertheless, while he is being praised by the ascendancies of the Western political camp, he was even denied a state funeral in his own nation for his responsibility in the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Gorbachev led a distinguished and unconventional life that earned him international reverence but national revilement. When he acceded to power as General Secretary in 1985, he presided over one of the most powerful countries in the bipolar world order of the 1980s. However, when he resigned, he left a disintegrated and weak Russian state that had become the fallen pole in the emerging unipolar world of the 1990s.

The rise of Gorbachev was glorious and unprecedented in the history of the USSR. This dynamic and charismatic leader was to bring the idea of reformation to the rigid administrative structure of the Union. His famous slogans ‘perestroika’ (rebuilding) and ‘glasnost’ (openness) were the fundamental ideologies used as the guiding tenets that were to bring the Soviet edifice to heightened prosperity and opulence. The United States and its allies welcomed him with open arms as they foresaw the opportunity that the capitalist machine could reap from a communist leader having democratic ideals.

The ideals of Gorbachev, however, were no doubt based on the noble principles of well-founded intentions. He visioned the bringing of a peaceful reformation from within, yet his ideas proved too idealistic to be true. The effort to hold the Empire together without the regressive control of central authority was a futile attempt. As the Empire opened up, multiple European and Baltic satellite states under the Kremlin began calls for independence. When Gorbachev refused to use force to repress the protests, the fall of the Empire became inevitable – a drastic similarity to the fall of Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the face of the JVP-led regime change operation in Sri Lanka.

As Gorbachev’s biographer William Taubman wrote; ‘he was a good man, he was a decent man. I think his tragedy is in a sense that he was too decent for the country he was leading’. The failure of Gorbachev remains an example of how a top-down approach for a rapid transformation of an oligarchical system is not possible along a peaceful road. Such efforts to pressurise change more often lead to violent push-back from the status quo even if the proponent of that change is one of them.

The strategy of Gorbachev worked in the international sphere where he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 for playing a leading role in ending the Cold War between the US and USSR. But of course, wide speculation exists on whether the Peace Prize was given as a ‘Thank You’ token for allowing the United States to win against the Soviets. The nuclear arms race was a leading concern in the 1980s as the looming risk of nuclear war between the world powers was a constant possibility that could cause unimaginable destruction across the world. The combined efforts of Gorbachev of the USSR and Ronald Reagan of the US helped in the voluntary reduction in nuclear arsenals of both countries. The Reagan Foundation and Institute looked back and described Gorbachev as ‘a man who once was a political adversary of Ronald Reagan’s who ended up becoming a friend’.

On the global stage of diplomacy, Gorbachev was praised as a peacemaker. However, in his homeland, he faced scathing criticism. The political career of Gorbachev could not survive the disintegration of the USSR as it was seen as a humiliation brought upon the people of the former Soviet Union. He was not only blamed for the hyperinflation and food insecurity that followed, but also for the very failure to uphold the tenets of the Empire that were structurally in place for more than half a century. Soon after he resigned in 1991 on the eve of the Soviet collapse, the Kremlin was once again reclaimed by the Russian hardliners. In his resignation speech in December 1991, Gorbachev proclaimed that the ‘old system collapsed before the new one had time to begin working, and the crisis in the society became even more acute’. When he tried to return to power in 1996, it was too late and he received only 1% of the vote from the constituents of the collapsed Union.

The death of Gorbachev comes at a disoriented juncture for the Russians as it remains deep in war against its former republic state of Ukraine. The failure of Gorbachev to become the linchpin for the Soviet Empire resulted in the perceived victory of the Western camp in winning the Cold War. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Union, the United States and its allies began inundating former Soviet states into the Western sphere of influence. Highly influential former Soviet republics began switching teams with the United States. Poland, Hungary and the Czechs joined the American NATO in 1999 while Bulgaria, Latvia, Estonia, Romania, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia joined in 2004. The ever-creeping US ideological machine continues to thrust Eastward. America’s attempt to bring Ukraine into its direct sphere of influence triggered Putin’s war machine that launched its invasion of Ukraine to thwart any attempts to install a NATO power in Russia’s backyard.

The policy adopted by hardliners like Vladimir Putin is the opposite of Gorbachev’s so-called peace policy. They blame Gorbachev for the Soviet Union’s fall from grace. While Gorbachev attempted to rule in the American style of governance that led to failure, Putin appears to remain vigilant and downright rejects the Americanisation of the former Soviet Empire. This is in no way to opine that the Russian style of governance is superior to its American counterpart, but simply a comment on the rather colossal ideological confrontation that continues to burn. In 2005, the Russian president called the break-up of the USSR ‘the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century’.

Gorbachev’s life and the collapse of the Soviets continue to stand as examples of the use of Western liberal practice in non-Western nations as a style of governance. Like the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD, the disintegration of the Union transpired as a result of replacing stalwart control with liberal-backed suspended governance. The legacy of Gorbachev will remain a silent reminder of a somewhat liberal Russia – one that encouraged individualism and accepted the limitations of collectivism. Yet the question persists if the overwhelming praise of Gorbachev in Western media could ever conceal the marginal ostracism that he suffered on the home front. Gorbachev’s life will remain a consequential pillar in the annals of history in the great East-West control for influence. Rest easy, Mr Gorbachev; rest easy.

Hunting Down al-Zawahiri – A Step towards Peace or a Move towards War?

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As two raging hellfire missiles fired from a US military drone slammed into the balcony of a compound in Kabul, the world grew less dark – another terrorist was slain. The death of al-Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri rang alarm bells across the world and the shock waves from this incident will be heard for time to come.

Al-Zawahiri rose to become the supreme leader of al-Qaeda after the assassination of Osama Bin Laden in 2011. Even during the life of bin Laden, al-Zawahiri was seen as his ‘right hand’ in terror attacks against the US and the world at large. Being one of the masterminds of the 9/11 attacks alongside Khalid Sheik Mohammed and bin Laden, al-Zawahiri was placed on the FBI’s ‘Most Wanted’listand suffered a $25 million bounty on his head. After 9/11, al-Zawahiri operated underground hiding in tribal Pakistan and Afghan hideouts.

The US security apparatus tracked him for decades as he was seen as the only 9/11 leader who had not yet been brought to justice. The US was desperate to hunt down al-Zawahiri as this would give (some) solace to the families of the victims of 9/11. US President Joe Biden announced after the strike that ‘justice has been delivered’ and that this was ‘one more measure of closure’ – something that must be answered by the very fragments of victimhood from the devastating attacks and not by someone reading a pre-written script off the teleprompter – but that’s a story for another day.

Like Anton Balasingham was the ideologue behind the LTTE, al-Zawahiri was the ideologue and theoretician that drove the al-Qaeda terror machine to wage international operational capabilities. While bin Laden was considered the ‘cave man’ leader, it was al-Zawahiri that pushed for international militancy and global jihad. Before and after the death of bin Laden, al-Zawahiri continued to function as one of the most influential leaders of al-Qaeda – or any terror group for that matter.

Al-Zawahiri hailed from a prosperous family in Egypt but fell into the ideological trappings of religious extremism – a haunting similarity to the stories of almost all Islamist suicide bombers who spilt innocent blood on that sad Sri Lankan Easter morning. Al-Zawahiri walked into the trap and then functioned as the trap by baiting tens of thousands of Islamists to fight for a rugged ideology of hate and destruction – including founding leader of the Islamic State, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Portrait of the Terrorist as a Young Man: Egyptian-born Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahiri, shown here in an undated photo published by London’s Al-Hayat on Oct. 10, 2001

Prior to becoming fixated on the Afghan-Pakistani window of war, al-Zawahiri functioned as the head of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, a terror cell in North Africa that also aimed to assassinate Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in the early 1980s. Having served briefly in the Egyptian military, al-Zawahiri rivalled against Abdullah Yusuf Azzam, who was a theoretician and advocate for defensive jihad in attracting the Mujahideen to fight the Soviets. After Azzam was assassinated in Peshawar, Pakistan in 1989, al-Zawahiri joined bin Laden as his physician and ideologue.

Al-Qaeda has always been a close ally of the Taliban. For years, the members of both groups have worked collectively against their ‘outsiders’, starting with the Soviets and then the Americans. Al-Qaeda was the primary bone of contention between the Taliban and the US which ultimately led the US to fight its longest war in Afghanistan. After bin Laden launched the 9/11 attacks, America made sure that the Taliban paid the price for harbouring the group. History seems to repeat itself as once again the US is hunting al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, while its Taliban rulers are oblivious to international pressures.

From the perspective of geopolitical power play, the slaying of al-Zawahiri in Taliban-controlled territory questioned not just the legitimacy of the Taliban government but also the commitments of the US to establishing peace in Afghanistan. This incident has revealed a deepening gulf between the key stakeholders of the Afghan war. As per the Doha Agreement signed between the US and the Taliban, the Taliban provided assurances that Afghan territory would not be used as a launch pad for al-Qaeda – but who trusts the terrorist?

The simple fact that the leader of al-Qaeda was relaxing in the capital of the Taliban underpins how the Taliban continues to function as a state sponsor of terror. The Taliban government has repeatedly denied knowledge of al-Zawahiri’s presence. But who doesn’t realise a top-notch jihadist sitting in your living room? Can the international community ever trust terror groups or their proxies? Of course not. While the LTTE international network banks on widespread misinformation and falsehoods, the Taliban leadership attempts a fabrication strategy of their own, in hopes of taking a step closer to international acceptance. The Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance remains vigorous in the face of their Western adversaries and antagonist terror factions.

Experts claim that the killing of the al-Qaeda leader on Afghan soil will not bode well for the Taliban government, which is already struggling to stay afloat on multiple fronts. The potential failure to gain international ratification and an almost non-functional economic functionality places the Taliban in an even tighter position. However, it could be opined that the al-Zawahiri problem could actually benefit the Taliban. The assassination of al-Zawahiri, whilst punishing the Taliban, would also equip and strengthen its pragmatists who seek to move away from fundamentalist jihad and return to its original Pashtun roots. The negative international reaction that emanates from this incident will favour the sectionalisation and sidelining of hardcore al-Qaeda defenders within the Taliban ranks. The killing of al-Zawahiri thus presents a dual benefit of dismantling current al-Qaeda leadership, as well as providing a rude awakening for the Taliban to step back and move again – a blessing in disguise with a splash of terror.

Ayman al-Zawahiri led a life of malice, hatred and utter belligerence. His death could serve as an unclimactic end to the highly influential al-Qaeda network if proper leadership fails to ascend to the thrones of terror. However, the favourable situation in Afghanistan and shifting global focus away from the Middle East and towards the Indo-Pacific allows al-Qaeda and its allied cells to be nurtured, harboured and sustained.

The level of influence and intensification contributed by al-Zawahiri to the contemporary wave of terrorism that continues to plague the world remains unmatched. Although al-Zawahiri is assassinated and the world is a much better place without that epitome of terror, his teachings, writings and speeches will continue to radicalise and convert innocents into extremists and extremists into terrorists across the globe.

Like the attack on Pearl Harbour catapulted the US into the forefront of the Second World War, the September 11 attacks propelled America to launch its global War on Terror. However, the re-emergence of the Taliban in Central Asia under props the feared possibility of al-Qaeda’s return to its tyrannical despotic rule of Islamist fundamentalism. The killing of al-Zawahiri remains one of Biden’s few successful trophies to date, but it is the next moves of the intelligence and security communities that will actually determine the future of the global Islamist threat. The threat will not cease but its operational capabilities could be greatly dismantled by much-need intelligence sharing mechanisms in the Indo-Pacific and Central Asia.

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Future of Islamist Terrorism in South Asia

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5 mins read

Time turns a page to mark a year since the re-emergence of the Taliban in Afghanistan through the colossal failure of the Biden administration’s botched military withdrawal. The threat that the Taliban now emanates to Asia and the world is not pristine but rather a neo-mandate of its former leadership. This is not to say that its leadership is weak or incapacitated as the same leadership is ultimately responsible for kicking the Americans out whilst largely being operational out of Afghan cave systems. It is simply to say that there exists a visible shift in Taliban strategy towards international acceptance and ratification.

During the pre-9/11 days of Taliban control in Afghanistan, the country hosted a profusion of training camps run by al-Qaeda and other terror groups.During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the late 1970s and 80s, thousands of fighters from the Muslim world flocked to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets. Young fighters that formed the Afghan Mujahedeenincluded Osama Bin Laden from Saudi Arabia and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi from Jordan who would ultimately form al-Qaeda and the Islamic State respectively.

As passenger airliners flew into the majestic towers in daytime New York, Bin Laden became a more influential entity than any other government, leader or organisation in modern history. As the towers fell to dust, America fell to its knees, thus triggering the global War on Terror – an ongoing conflict that has snatched millions of lives and dismantled countless communities across the world.

Twenty years down the line, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan is a major political win for the Taliban cementing their return to power in Central Asia. This return to power is not merely a Taliban comeback but rather the aggravation of the al-Qaeda alliance in the region.

With the Taliban’s phoenix-like rise to power, dozens of terror and non-terror groups across the world sent them their congratulations and praises – including Sri Lanka’s Tamil National Alliance. Naturally, groups like al-Qaeda and Islamic State cells are bolstered in their international politico-religious agendas as Afghanistan has once again become a haven for threat groups. The highly unstable and ever-changing political situation in Afghanistan clearly illustrates how tribes and government groups have often switched sides and backed terror groups to ensure their own survival.

The Taliban had emerged through the Afghan Mujahedeen as a defensive group that assembled to form a bulwark of sorts against Soviet assault on the traditional Pashtun culture. This initial stance by the Taliban has cemented their popularity among the Pashtun people for decades. However, the Taliban’s historic ties, familial relations and shared outlooks with other groups had resulted in a slow infiltration of the Taliban to function as a jihadist group. The Salafi Wahhabi ideologies that emanated from the Gulf had ideologically penetrated the Taliban ranks to shadow its Pashtun roots and embrace fundamentalist and violent Islamist perceptions.

Although twelve months have passed after the rise of the Taliban, the world has not seen the violent consequences of Biden’s failure – yet. A momentary glimpse of the boiling pot was made when it was revealed that Ayman al-Zawahiri had taken refuge in the capital of Taliban-controlled Kabul. Al-Zawahiri remained al-Qaeda’s most consequential leader after Bin Laden was shot in Abbottabad, Pakistan eleven years ago. The very fact that al-Zawahiri was given refuge in a villa belonging to Sirajuddin Haqqani, the deputy leader of Taliban’s Afghanistan, underpins the threat that the Taliban posits to the world at large.

The Taliban in itself may not necessarily be a threat to global security as its neo-mandate appears to focus on national governance and international ratification – however, the group’s emergence to power creates a black hole in Afghanistan that functions as a terror haven for other terror groups to train, bolster and consolidate. Groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba threaten regional security especially in India, while groups like al-Qaeda threaten the status of global security. Both groups operated training camps during the Taliban’s previous phase of power and are likely to run camps under the new Taliban.

The Taliban and al-Qaeda were linked to the killing of Maldivian journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla back in 2014 and have sowed seeds of discord in the country since the 1990s. Terrorist networks in South Asia do not stop at borders and easily transcend them. This is especially true of international global terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State brand of terrorism.

The Taliban/AQ alliance and Islamic State, however, are rivals. Although Salafi Wahhabism has infiltrated the ranks of the Taliban, the top leadership of the Islamic State and al-Qaeda have deep-rooted long-standing disputes. Operational as Islamic State Khurasan Province (IS-KP), its attacks have become frequent in targeting Taliban efforts in a tug-of-war fight for power, dominance and authority in the region and amongst the population. The two groups frequently engage in propaganda campaigns against each other that easily divide and sow discontent.

Sri Lanka, at present, is a figurative sitting duck amidst a massive geopolitical powerplay between the US, Russia, China and India while the threat of terrorism looms from the black hole in Central Asia. A unified Islamic State and Taliban/AQ alliance would spell doom for South Asia and other regions of the world.

Two of the deadliest Islamist terror attacks that occurred in South Asian history are tied to the Islamic State. The 2019 Easter Attack killed more than 270 people in Sri Lanka and was the largest IS attack outside of Iraq and Syria and the 2016Dhakaterror attack killed 22 people. This acts as a clear indication of the propensity for the Islamic State brand to be adopted by local bad actors to gain political advantage and recognition for their terror attacks globally. Earlier this year, Indian authorities arrested two terrorists belonging to the al-Qaeda-affiliated Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. The two men, according to the arresting officers, were planning to conduct deadly attacks in the state capital of Lucknow. In the same month, three were arrested in connection with setting up terror networks in Kolkata. The overall risk of the Taliban and its affiliates inspiring regional conflict is significant and growing.

Many high-ranking officials of the Islamic State cite South Asia as an important region for their activities. Even though they have enjoyed success of sorts in the form of successful terror attacks, they have not gained a strong foothold there yet. With the largely successful decimation of the IS caliphate in the Middle East, IS has not been able to appoint a charismatic leader, build a strong chain of command in the region or sustain coordinated operations in South Asia. However, after the US killing of al-Qaeda’s al-Zawahiri in Taliban-controlled territory in July 2022, the possibility looms of a temporary truce between al-Qaeda, Taliban and IS working together. If this fusion transpires, the threat to global security will rise significantly.

As the US shifts its foreign policy from the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific region, intense conflict and deep-rooted crises could materialise within South Asia.With the Taliban firmly ensconced in Afghanistan and enjoying political freedom from the lack of pressure the United States previously applied, this possibility is strongly underpinned. Training facilities, recruitment efforts, and offensive staging capabilities could all be protected under this terror ecosystem being redeveloped in Central Asia.

This is of course coupled with the ignominious failure of the Biden-Harris administration in abandoning billions of dollars worth of state-of-the-art equipment – something that now gives the Taliban and its allied terror factions greater access to launch mid- and high-level operations across South Asia. The high-tech equipment has effectively equipped the Taliban to be a force to be reckoned with.

Sri Lanka, at present, is a figurative sitting duck amidst a massive geopolitical powerplay between the US, Russia, China and India while the threat of terrorism looms from the black hole in Central Asia. A unified Islamic State and Taliban/AQ alliance would spell doom for South Asia and other regions of the world. The establishment of intelligence-sharing mechanisms among regional and international agencies will significantly reduce the threat that emanates from Afghanistan. Likewise, strict monitoring of online spaces, especially social media and chat rooms, is paramount to a strong defence capability against an ideologically-charged terrorism threat. Sri Lanka must brace herself for impact.