Even as it talks peace, Taliban provides safe haven to LeT, Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, says new UN report

New Delhi: The Taliban’s leadership is providing safe havens and resources to the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups targeting India, a report produced by a United Nations expert group has revealed. “Foreign fighters continue to operate under the authority of the Taliban in multiple Afghan provinces at undiminished levels,” the United Nations’ Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team’s report states.

Intelligence and foreign-policy officials have long been warning that ongoing United States-led power-sharing negotiations with the Taliban could end up again turning Afghanistan into a hub for global Islamist terror groups.

Last week’s report, produced by the United Nations’ Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team’s report, says the Taliban “cooperate and retain strong links with al Qaeda, al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, the Haqqani Network, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, as well as nearly 20 other regionally and globally-focussed groups.”

In addition to the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is responsible for 26/11 and multiple other attacks in India, counter-terrorism officials in New Delhi see al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent, led by Indian-born jihadist Sami-ul-Haq, as a significant threat.

Facing intense international pressure, possible economic sanctions and Indian threats of cross-border military strikes, Pakistan has claimed to have cracked down on jihadist training facilities and infrastructure-but Indian intelligence officials fear at least some of that could now being relocated across the border in Afghanistan.

In recent weeks, the Research and Analysis Wing has also pointed to escalating threats Afghanistan to Indian targets, including diplomatic missions.

“From our perspective,” an Indian intelligence officer said, “it seems probable Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence is facilitating this transition since it has excellent relations with, both, the Taliban and groups like the Lashkar.”

The United Nation’s grim findings come even as United States negotiators, led by Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, have arrived at an understanding with Taliban leaders that Western forces in Afghanistan will be withdrawn in return for counter-terrorism guarantees.

Faced with a relentless Taliban campaign that has seen it take control of some 25 of the country’s 421 districts, and contest government authority in over 200, Afghan government officials have, however, been warning a withdrawal of Western troops will allow the Taliban to resile on whatever promises it makes.

“Al-Qaida,” the report warns, “has grown stronger operating under the Taliban umbrella across Afghanistan and is more active than in recent years.” In addition to strengthening its presence in Badakshan and Paktika, the report states, al-Qaida is also ” intensifying its concentration in the Afghan-Pakistan border area in close cooperation with Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Haqqani Network.”

Estimated to earn over $400 million each year from opium trafficking, the UN report says the Taliban have significantly expanded their weapons stockpiles, and raised their manpower levels to around 65,000 combatants, as well as half that number again of non-combat personnel. The Taliban’s spring offensive of 2019, which began in April, has been the most intense in two years, Afghan officials say.

In particular, the Taliban have expanded their night-fighting capabilities by purchasing black-market supplies of BAE’s OASYS thermal monoculars, as well as PULSAR and ATN ThOR-HD night thermal scopes.

The UN report makes clear international sanctions directed at the Taliban have not worked, noting members of the organisation “have undertaken visits to Gulf States to collect cash donations amounting to millions of United States dollars.”

“Individuals who maintain legitimate business interests in the Gulf States and in Balochistan also launder money for the Taliban and share profits with the Taliban,” the report adds.

The report cites, in particular, the case of Faizullah Khan Noorzai and Malik Noorzai, who it says “conduct money laundering and provide funding to the Taliban through the import and export of spare automobile parts from Japan.” Even though the Noorzai brothers have featured multiple United Nations reports, it says, they continue to conduct businesses in Japan, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan.”