Monday, July 13, 2015

Daily Times Editorial July 13, 2015

IS targeted A US drone strike in Nangarhar province near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border has killed the Islamic State (IS) chief for Afghanistan and Pakistan along with 30 militants. Hafeez Saeed, a former Pakistani Taliban commander, was named the IS chief for the region dubbed 'Khorasan' by IS in January 2015. He had initially declared the Tirah Valley as his headquarters but was forced to flee to Afghanistan under the pressure of Operation Zarb-e-Azb. Nangarhar province was the scene of clashes of late between the Afghan Taliban and IS, with the latter finally pushing the Taliban out. The Taliban are rattled by the defections to IS from their ranks and have warned IS to stay out of Afghanistan. The drone strike that killed Hafez Saeed and 30 other terrorists targeted a meeting of the group in Achin district of Nangarhar province. His death and that of the other terrorists were confirmed by Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security and two militant commanders who were eyewitnesses to the strike. Hafez Saeed is the fourth ex-Taliban joining IS to be killed in drone strikes in the last week. Three others killed included Gul Zaman and Shahidullah Shahid, former spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. The residual US military in Afghanistan is concerned about the rise of IS in the area and is using its remaining military strength to target IS and prevent its rise in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the US military's view, the elimination of Hafez Saeed will prove a major blow to the embryonic presence of IS in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theatre. The blow comes less than six months after a drone strike killed Abdul Rauf Khadim, the IS number two in Afghanistan. These targeted blows to the Taliban-turned-IS militants reflect a number of current realities. First and foremost, the defections from the Taliban, both Afghan and Pakistani, to IS should serve as a wake up call to the Pakistani authorities, who remain in denial about the emerging IS threat. Second, the taking out of this newly emerging IS's top commanders through US drone strikes can be considered the fruits of the close collaboration emerging between the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Such collaboration may have been inconceivable during Karzai's tenure. It is the advent of President Ashraf Ghani that has paved the way and opened the door to cooperation, at considerable political risk domestically to President Ghani. The realisation by President Ghani that a negotiated political settlement with the Taliban could only come about through reaching out to Pakistan laid the foundations of this collaboration. On Pakistan's part, its own Taliban war has focused minds in Islamabad and Rawalpindi on the common threat from terrorists to both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan is combating its own Taliban terrorists, which has put the 'good' Taliban, 'bad' Taliban binary finally to rest and made clear the nexus between the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, especially since the latter have found safe havens across the border in Afghanistan, hosted by the Haqqani network. Some of these Pakistani Taliban, as is evident from the case of the slain Hafez Saeed, have now gone over to IS, posing thereby a graver threat given the expansion, growth and capture of vast territory in Iraq and Syria by IS. The old adage holds that nothing succeeds like success. This certainly seems to be the reason why IS is managing to attract Taliban militants to its ranks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The terrorists have in practice an informal international platform, loose as it may be, which has proved in practice that it is no respecter of national boundaries. On the other hand, states afflicted by the IS presence have still to come together to jointly combat the IS menace. The exception that is emerging is the trilateral cooperation amongst Kabul, Islamabad and Washington. The recent successes stemming from this cooperation, particularly the targeting of the looming IS presence/threat, could be seen as a role model for other neighbouring and allied states throughout the region, particularly in the Middle East, on how to meet the IS challenge.

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