Russia Wonders Whether The Al Qaeda Chief’s Assassination Will Help ISIS In Afghanistan

Russian Ambassador to Afghanistan Dmitry Zhirnov wonders whether this alleged development might actually end up being a game changer for Afghanistan in the worst possible way.

The US’ assassination of the Al Qaeda chief in Afghanistan, which can compellingly be argued was at the very least “passively facilitated” by Pakistan allowing America to use its airspace, was supposed to be a positive game changer in the War on Terror by the way that Washington presented it to the global public. Russian Ambassador to Afghanistan Dmitry Zhirnov, however, wonders whether it might actually end up being a game changer in the worst possible way. Sputnik reported that he said the following about that incident:

“The problem (of terrorism) is too complex to be resolved, for example, by such actions as the elimination of the leader of Al-Qaeda using an American drone. Such an operation was recently announced by [US President Joe] Biden. If this [al-Zawahiri’s elimination] was the case, then in the conditions in which Afghanistan was placed by the 20-year war with the United States, al-Qaeda radicals will most likely just join ISIS… I’m not even mentioning the fact that the aggressive violation of Afghanistan’s airspace by the Americans will not add to the Taliban’s trust in the United States in the fight against terrorism.”

It’s too early to tell what the ultimate outcome of that strike will be, but Ambassador Zhirnov still shared a very powerful point. First off, terrorist networks are nowadays largely decentralized and thus able to flexibly adapt to the killing of leading members, including their incumbent chief. Second, those who join such groups probably won’t have a change of heart just because someone or another was just taken out by their enemy. If anything, this might very likely embolden them to redouble their terrorist efforts, especially if they start plotting to take revenge after what just happened.

This directly leads to the third point related to the possibility of them joining other groups in the event that their own is no longer as “competitive” in the aftermath of a recent assassination like the one that the US just carried out against Al Qaeda. ISIS is the world’s most infamous terrorist organization so it therefore follows that it can easily recruit new followers, including those that already have experience fighting for Al Qaeda. Fourth, regional security is largely dependent on the Taliban cutting its ties with terrorist groups, yet Afghanistan’s de faco leaders might tacitly retain some of them to spite the US.

After all, the airspace that they claim as their own was just unilaterally violated in a brazen attack that America implied was proof of them cavorting with that country’s worst enemy who was allegedly responsible for plotting 9/11. It’s unclear whether there’s any truth to that innuendo, but it nevertheless makes the Taliban look extremely bad in the court of global public opinion, thereby likely reducing the chances that it’ll be recognized as Afghanistan’s de jure leaders anytime soon. And finally, the last point is that the Al Qaeda chief’s assassination altogether seems like it didn’t make any positive difference.

Reflecting on this insight, a few conclusions become apparent. First, this strike was almost certainly intended as a public relations stunt by Biden ahead of the upcoming midterms in which his party is expected to do poorly. Second, Pakistan’s very likely “passive facilitation” of this attack shouldn’t be interpreted as its military leaders’ conscious complicity in the counterproductive anti-terrorist consequences that might follow. Rather, as was argued in the hyperlinked piece in the first sentence of this analysis, it was almost certainly a favor bestowed to the US for economically opportunistic reasons.

The third conclusion is that ISIS indisputably gains by the US taking out the chief of its top rival. This in turn segues into the fourth one connected to the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan that thus leads to the final conclusion that Taliban – for better or for worse and irrespective of whether anyone endorses them or their worldview be it in part or in full – is the only effective anti-terrorist fighting force in that country. For this reason, its efforts to stabilize the socio-economic situation there should be supported by all regional stakeholders so that it can focus more on fighting terrorism instead.

The US is responsible for ruining Afghanistan after occupying it for around two decades, during which time the several trillion dollars’ worth of funds that were pumped into that country were largely laundered instead of being invested into its sustainable reconstruction. Washington’s decision to freeze several billion dollars of Kabul’s funds under its jurisdiction immediately provoked a humanitarian crisis that created fertile ground for terrorist groups to recruit more members. Absent the US reversing this move, which is extremely unlikely, the Taliban will continue struggling to stabilize the country.

Russia, however, isn’t going to sit back and let the situation continue to deteriorate. While it still doesn’t recognize the legality of Afghanistan’s de facto Taliban-led government since the group remains under UNSC sanctions for its ties with terrorists, Moscow nevertheless pragmatically engages with them for the purpose of helping their compatriots and ensuring regional security. The latest example of this happening coincided with the one-year anniversary of the Taliban capturing Kabul after TASS reported the day prior that the Afghan Commerce Minister will arrive in Moscow for talks on that same day.

This development proves that Russia respects Afghanistan’s sovereignty and has its people’s best interests in mind, unlike the US that just brazenly violated its sovereignty to allegedly assassinate the Al Qaeda chief, the outcome of which neither the Taliban nor the Russian Foreign Ministry could confirm apart from the fact that America carried out yet another attack against a foreign country. The anti-terrorist situation might still in any case continue worsening there regardless of whether or not that terrorist leader was truly taken out like Washington claims, hence the importance of ties with Russia.

Moscow remains committed to supporting the sustainable reconstruction of Afghanistan so that its de facto Taliban leaders can focus more of their efforts on fighting terrorism. The same pragmatic approach is also practiced by other regional stakeholders like China, Iran, and Pakistan, all of which contribute to helping the Afghan people in their own way too. These states are the most directly threatened by Afghanistan’s deteriorating socio-economic and security situations while the US is protected from their consequences by an entire hemisphere, which is why the first want to help while the second doesn’t.

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