Afghanistan: Has the terror threat to the UK changed?

·5-min read

As the Taliban has taken control of much of Afghanistan, western nations have said the country must never again become a source of terrorist attacks.

But on Thursday western forces and Afghans were targeted, with a group widely described as enemies of the Taliban reportedly taking responsibility.

The PA news agency spoke to Raffaello Pantucci, a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a UK defence and security think thank, about how the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan may affect the threat the so-called Islamic State and other terror groups pose to the UK.

– How will the situation affect the terror threat to the UK?

“The problem for the UK is that it has a very close connection with south Asia, and it always has because of historical links, because of community links, because of everything else.

“And so that tends to mean when you see problems in south Asia, and in particular ones around militancy and terrorism, they do echo in the United Kingdom.

Afghanistan
Hundreds of people gather near an evacuation control checkpoint on the perimeter of the Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul (Wali Sabawoon/AP)

At its most extreme that is things like the 7/7 bombings, or sectarian anger between south Asian communities in the UK.

“If we transpose that into Afghanistan and what has happened there, you could see trouble in Afghanistan would echo in the UK.”

– Is there a terror threat from the Taliban?

“In all honesty the Taliban themselves don’t care about attacking the United Kingdom in the United Kingdom.

“They are focused primarily on their own business, which is Afghanistan, and that has always been their focus.

“And the problem with the Taliban has never actually really been the Taliban themselves necessarily, it has been groups that they let operate from their territory and fight alongside them.

“And those are the ones who tend to have these sort of international ambitions.

“I would worry about the Taliban in a different way, because I worry that they are going to create instability in the broader region, and that means primarily in Pakistan.

“And Pakistan is a place that we have repeatedly seen has such a close connection to the United Kingdom that we really do see echoes of problems in Pakistan show up regularly in the United Kingdom.”

– How do you assess the increase in terror risk to the UK now the Taliban has taken over so much of the country?

“I don’t think it’s a short-term risk, I’m not even sure it’s a medium-term risk, I think it’s a long-term risk.

“The reality is the bigger problems you are going to see are going to be in the region.

“I think you are going to see an escalation of terrorist threats in Pakistan.

“You could even potentially see some stuff in central Asia.

“But I think that is where the primary risk is going to be. I think to the United Kingdom it’s still a bit far off.

“But what I would say is there is a greater threat to the United Kingdom than there is to the United States or I would argue to continental Europe, I suspect.

“So I think that there is a clear danger there, and I think it is something that people need to be attuned to.

Afghanistan
A Taliban fighter in Kabul (Khwaja Tawfiq Sediqi/AP)

“But over the past week has the risk threat changed? Yes it has increased a bit, but I don’t think it has increased hugely.

“I don’t think it has changed vastly from what it was a week or two ago.”

– Could the Taliban prevent the area being used by terror groups even if they wanted to?

“It’s difficult to know. My general sense would be that it would be quite challenging for them to deliver it entirely because it’s not entirely clear that they control the whole country.

“We have just seen on Thursday brutal evidence of this in the attack on Kabul airport.

“There are groups in the Panjshir Valley that are resisting the Taliban, and undoubtedly the numbers of people who are fighting against them will grow over time.

“And so they won’t control the entire country. So can they provide guarantees to the entire country? Probably quite challenging.

“On top of that there is a question of do they really want to anyway.

“You’re asking them essentially to turn their backs, and not even just turn their backs, to actually go and do something about people who they have fought alongside for the past 20 years, and who were with them when god delivered this glorious victory against the American superpower.

“So you’re going to have to push them quite far. And these are people who have just won a war, and they think that they won it through their own achievements.

“I think they will undoubtedly try to temper groups using their territory and they don’t really want them to do that, but at the same time I think that realistically speaking it’s going to be quite difficult to force them to follow through on these guarantees all the time.”

– Is Isis-K (the so-called Islamic State splinter cell) the main terror threat that is coming out of this situation?

“No. I think IS-K is one of the threats. I think actually it’s other groups.

“There is all sorts of central Asian or Pakistani groups that use Afghanistan as a base.

“I think those are probably going to be the most immediate threats.

“IS-K as well is a threat, but I think it is more likely to be a regional threat for the time being before it becomes a global one.

“I think it will bolster the global cause, but I think it will be quite focused on its local context in the immediate term.”

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