TTP declares indefinite ceasefire following jirga in Kabul
fter a meeting between a 50-member jirga and the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Kabul, the militant outfit has announced a ceasefire for an indefinite period. Committees have also been formed to discuss the prospect of a permanent peace agreement between the government and the TTP.
While the government of Pakistan is using dialogue to neutralise the militants, Central Asian states are deeply concerned about their borders due to the chaos in Afghanistan. Recent attacks from Afghanistan on the border regions of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have raised concerns in those states.
Like Al Qaeda during the previous term of the Taliban, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) had set up camps in Afghanistan.
After 9/11, when the Taliban regime in Afghanistan ended, many of the foreign fighters left Afghanistan and took refuge in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Many of them brought their families with them. These Central Asian fighters mostly lived in South and North Waziristan.
When Pakistan launched its operations against Al Qaeda in the tribal regions, many fighters from Central Asian states sided with Al Qaeda.
I remember visiting these areas in those days. There was always a distance between the local population and the fighters from Central Asian states. The Uzbek and Tajik fighters tried not to interact much with the local people.
Meanwhile, the local population was closely associated with Arab warriors and Arab families and held them in high esteem. When the TTP was formed in 2007, Central Asian leaders and fighters were not part of it.
Still, some of their fighters later joined the TTP and fought alongside them. Many Uzbek and Tajik fighters carried out operations in several Pakistani cities. The Muskai area of North Waziristan was once called the ‘Little Uzbekistan’.
I had the opportunity to meet many Uzbek, Tajik and Turkmen fighters in North Waziristan. Many of them even spoke Pashto. These fighters were far ahead their Pakistani and Afghan counterparts in the use of technology. In addition, there were many doctors and qualified surgeons among them. East Turkestan Islamic Movement fighters were ideologically and politically more consistent. By comparison, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan fighters were more temperamental and violent.
When Pakistan launched the Operation Zarb-i-Azb in North Waziristan, these militants fled to Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan, these organisations had the opportunity to remain under the shadow of the Afghan Taliban. However, their movement was monitored by Central Asian states, including China. When the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) began gaining a foothold in Afghanistan, several Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan leaders took an oath of allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. However, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement preferred the Taliban and the Al Qaeda.
Afghan Taliban want peace on this front as ISIS’s local franchise, Islamic State in Khurasan Province (ISKP), is taking advantage of the situation and has carried out several attacks on bordering Central Asian states. This is a growing concern for these states.
Reports emerging from Afghanistan suggest that the IMU faced many issues and problems after leaning towards the ISIS. Because of their oath and bond to the ISIS, they were on the Taliban radar. The Taliban never welcomed the ISIS and watched it with suspicion from the beginning. The IMU also faced financial difficulties after losing Taliban support. At that time, Afghanistan was not among the top priorities of the ISIS and most of its resources were being used in Syria and Iraq.
One year before the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, when the Taliban were gaining power, the IMU chief, an Uzbek commander named Abdulaziz Yaldash, was mysteriously assassinated in November 2020. There were conflicting views in the organisation on this assassination. Some believed that the Taliban had killed him. Others said that he was assassinated because of differences within the organization due to ethnic issues. The organization has a number of Tajik fighters along with Uzbek fighters. Yaldash’s deputy Usmon Khon himself, is a Tajik. However, after the death of Yaldash, his brother Jaffar Yaldash stepped forward on his own and took over the leadership of the organisation.
Usmon Khon, who considered the leadership as his right, had the support of some militants even from outside the organisation.
Though the organisation is still active, it faces both internal and external challenges. Due to these challenges, Usmon Khon wants to balance his ties with the ISIS and the Taliban.
However, Jaffar Yaldash believes that the ISIS is a better ally. This might be on account of the Taliban being accused of murdering his brother. However, the main reason is financial. The organisation is in dire need of finances. There are reports that the ISIS has assured him of full support. However, Jaffar does not want to declare a war on the Taliban either. He knows that the head of the organisation, Usman Ghazi, was assassinated after he took the oath of allegiance to the ISIS in 2015.
Because of these difficulties, many important fighters have already left the IMU and joined Katiba Imam al-Bukhari (KIB).
Katiba Imam al-Bukhari is relatively safe in terms of funding. KIB is getting enough funding from Syria through hawala. It is interesting to mention here that the head of the organisation, Dilshod Dekhanov, alias Jumaboi, has conveyed his message to the Taliban.
Dilshod Dekhanov has called on the Taliban to unite all Central Asian organisations under his leadership to prevent internal differences and anarchy. Afghan Taliban also want peace on this front as ISIS’s local franchise Islamic State in Khurasan Province (ISKP) is taking advantage of the situation and has carried out several attacks on bordering Central Asian states. This is the growing concern for these states since the Taliban takeover.
Osmon Khon has agreed to a grand union of all Central Asian States groups. However, he has suggested the name of Ilimbek Mamatov, alias Khamidullah, leader of the Islamic Jihad Group (IJG), to lead the coalition. There is no doubt that Ilimbek Mamatov, alias Khamidullah is respected among the fighters of all Central Asian organisations. He has acted as a mediator between several organisations in the past because his advice is always valued.
Afghan Taliban too hold him in high regard. During operations in the north of Afghanistan, the Taliban asked Ilimbek Mamatov for help. Fighters from the Islamic Jihad group fought in support of the Taliban in the Imam Sahib district of Kunduz province. The Taliban took advantage of the Islamic Jihad group’s expertise in warfare, explosives and ammunition manufacturing. Therefore, the Taliban will also want to entrust Ilimbek Mamatov with essential responsibilities for the alliance of Central Asian organisations and the establishment of stability and peace on the Afghan borders with these states.
The Afghan Taliban, however, also feel trapped. These are organisations formed as a result of the state’s reaction to religion in the pro-Moscow Central Asian states. The situation in these states has changed little. Due to the absence of democracy, there is no prospect of a change in the foreseeable future. These organisations supported the Taliban in their war against the United States and the West. Now, these organisations, at least, cannot change the course. If they stay in Afghanistan and carry out operations against its neighboring states, the Taliban will face more difficulties. If they stop fighting, their fighters might leave them and join the ISKP.
The East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which targets only China, too is a big problem for the Taliban. In a propaganda video, ETIM leaders Abdul Haq and Haji Furqan were spotted at a training camp in Badakhshan. Abdul Haq has been spotted travelling in Helmand and Badakhshan on several occasions. For the time being, the ETIM has, distanced itself from the ISKP. Its strongest connections are with the Al Qaeda, Jamaat Ansarullah and Kitab al-Tawhid wal Jihad. A significant number of its fighters are located in Faryab, Kabul, Nuristan and Badakhshan. China sees their presence in Badakhshan as a constant threat. However, the Afghan Taliban cannot afford a confrontation with China.
Pakistan’s negotiations with the TTP are part of a larger picture emerging in Afghanistan. If the problems of these organisations from the Central Asian States are not addressed, the entire region might face chaos.
The writer is a Peshawar-based journalist, researcher and trainer on conflict and peace development. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org