The impact of the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan on the terrorism issue in Jordan
Expert Saud Al-Sharafat examines the impact of the rise of the Taliban movement and its control of Afghanistan on terrorism and extremist groups in Jordan, as well as the security risks associated with them, using a broad and in-depth analysis
by Dr. Saud Al-Sharafat
- Publisher – STRATEGIECS
- Release Date – Oct 28, 2021
The Rise of Taliban
During the Afghan civil warin in the mid-1990s, the Taliban emerged as one of the most influential political forces in the country. Their ideology is a blend of hard-line Islamism rooted in the Deobandi movement, as well as Pashtun tribal and cultural practices, as Pashtuns make up more than 40% of the Afghan population.
It is widely believed that the Taliban originated from Hanafi and conservative religious institutes such as the Deoband Institute of Islamic Thought in India, and there is a consensus that many Afghans who founded or joined the Taliban received similar education in religious institutes in Pakistan.
As many historians and political observers of Afghanistan point out, the emergence of the Taliban, whose majority members are Pashtuns, in Afghanistan can be traced to the year 1994, following the chaos and grinding civil war between the Mujahideen factions who fought the Soviets. By 1996, the movement controlled almost three-quarters of Afghanistan and the capital, Kabul, and began imposing its strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia.
On the ground, the emergence of the Taliban movement was a natural and inevitable consequence of a long period of rapid changes in global politics and the wide-ranging and deep-rooted geopolitical shifts that affected the political structures before the Cold War; the Soviet military defeat in Afghanistan in 1989; the end of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall; as well as many other changes that led to the process of globalization we are currently experiencing.
I had previously discussed this historical process in an article titled "Contemporary Global Terrorism between Fragmentation and Merger", published by Mominoun Without Borders in 2018: “It is not a coincidence that some words such as: after, end, disintegration, demolition, and modernity convey high hopes and dreams of a new beginning as well as promises of prosperity and peace. However, being resurrected after the end of the Cold War; the dissolution of the Soviet Union; the Balkan wars; the ethnic cleansing massacres in Bosnia and Herzegovina; then the US-led military intervention between 1993 and 2001, which was a time when US interest in globalization was at its peak, these promises met with disaster, as terrorism struck in the first fatal blow to the process of globalization: the attacks of 9/11.”
After the 9/11 attacks, the Taliban movement gained global attention as the sponsor and protector of al-Qaeda, providing the organization with a safe haven, until the international coalition led by the United States ousted the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, the remnants of al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders were hunt down, and a number of them were arrested.
However, this movement, with its extremist national-religious dimensions, remained steadfast despite pressures, prosecution, and military operations from US and the NATO.
On August 30, just a few days before the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the last American soldiers in Afghanistan packed their bags and headed for the international airport of Kabul along with thousands of American soldiers and civilian servants. With the departure of the American troops, the Taliban took over the country in a dramatic way, which was covered live by international media everywhere.
Jordan’s position on the Taliban’s control of power
Following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban's takeover of the country on August 10, concerns arose over the possibility that the "Taliban" infection would spread to other areas of conflict between Western powers and Arab and Islamic countries that suffer from the presence of terrorist and extremist groups. Jordan is one of these countries, and has openly expressed its concern about the Taliban regaining power in Afghanistan.
As a first reaction to the Taliban's taking control of Afghanistan, Jordan's Foreign Minister, Ayman Safadi, expressed “Jordan’s concern about what is happening in Afghanistan” at a press conference with his Turkish counterpart on August 17. “The priority is to ensure security and stability as well as preventing chaos,” Safadi added. Furthermore, he called for cooperation in ensuring safety and stability in Afghanistan, protecting citizens' rights, evacuating all foreign nationals, and preserving their safety. “Things in Afghanistan are accelerating rapidly,” Safadi said. “However, we all have a stake in maintaining security and stability and achieving a consensus government in Afghanistan so that we do not see things deteriorate.”
Clearly, the statement by the Jordanian Foreign Minister is the only official response from the government. Nevertheless, it is still a diplomatic response to a danger that Jordan's authorities and security services will never underestimate, as they are aware that the repercussions will not be immediate, but it will take some time for all the consequences and repercussions to become clear and show results, especially in light of the level of anticipation surrounding the movement's position and the shape of its future behavior.
Jordan is concerned because of its previous experiences with so-called Afghan Arabs. Since the so-called Afghan jihad against the Soviets, Jordan has been affected by the sparks of fire coming from Afghanistan. Eventually, the “Afghan Arab” phenomenon emerged, leading to the formation and consolidation of the Salafi-jihadist movement in the early 1990s. It almost coincided with the geopolitical changes that occurred in the Middle East and affected the international system and world politics following the Iranian Revolution and the rise of Imam Khomeini to power in Iran in 1979. The Creation of a religious political regime was a direct incentive for Salafi-jihadist groups to take similar action.
The events unfolding in Afghanistan and Jordan may seem unconnected to some, but there are a number of clues, evidence, and events that prove the depth of this connection on several levels, which can be unclear to those who are not closely following them. These clues and evidence include, for example:
1- The ideologue of the Afghan jihad phenomenon, as well as the Afghan Arabs, was Abdullah Azzam, a Jordanian, who, through the Maktab al-Khidamat he established in Peshawar, Pakistan, was able to establish the phenomenon of global jihad, and to develop the general framework for the approach and ideology of al-Qaeda.
A large number of young Jordanians rallied behind Azzam for a variety of reasons which are difficult to list here, the most important of which is their pursuit of economic benefits. According to a Crisis Group report, “most of the Jordanians who joined the mujahidin appear to have done so more out of economic opportunism than religious conviction.”
2- Many of the well-known Jordanian leaders involved in the Salafi-jihadist movement and the terrorist groups were trained by Abdullah Azzam or his students in the “School of Jihad” in Afghanistan. According to Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, they received training on combat, weapons use, and the manufacture of IEDs, as well as gaining international expertise. Many of them were killed on the battlefield, and others are still fighting in Syria and Iraq.
The most prominent of these is Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi (born Isam bin Muhammad bin Tahir al-Barqawi), who was admitted to Abdullah Azzam's Sada camp, where he received martial training before disagreeing with Azzam. He then joined Al-Qaeda's camps in Khost, where he was appointed a Sharia official in the Jihad Wad camp.
So did al-Maqdisi's student Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (born Ahmad Fadeel al-Nazal al-Khalayleh), who took part in the Khost campaign against the Russians. He and his organization, Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, targeted Jordan with 13 terrorist attacks between 1994-2017, some of which failed, while others succeeded. And one of the most serious attacks was the 2005 hotel bombings in Amman. In June 2006, Al-Zarqawi was killed in an American targeted attack in Baqubah, Iraq. The Taliban founder and leader, Mullah Omar, mourned him at the time in a statement that said: “Our brother Mujahid Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is a hero of the Islamic nation and a knight of the Islamic Emirate…”
3- The emergence of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 1994 was soon felt in Jordan when a group known as the Jordanian Afghans carried out a terrorist attack after receiving support from Al-Qaeda. In the same year, Al-Maqdisi and Al-Zarqawi were accused of orchestrating the “Bay'at al-Imam” operations, and in 1997 the “Islamic Renewal” and “Reform and Challenge” parties were formed. In 2000, a plot, dubbed as “the Millennium Plot", to target sites in Jordan on the eve of the new Millennium celebrations was thwarted.
4- It was in Afghanistan where the most important terrorist figures, the second generation of al-Qaeda, and the Jordanian Salafist groups met, especially al-Maqdisi and al-Zarqawi, who were present in all the terrorist operations carried out in Jordan since the emergence of the Taliban.
The impact of the rise of the Taliban on groups and ideologues loyal to Al-Qaeda and ISIS
In the short term, it is extremely difficult to gauge the impact of the rise of the Taliban on groups and ideologues loyal to Al Qaeda and ISIS. The reason is the state of general anticipation regarding the Taliban, which intentionally and significantly influenced this situation, when the movement reaffirmed the commitments it made during the Doha talks with the United States that it would not serve as a haven for terrorists, as well as its commitment to the terms of the peace agreement, preventing armed groups from using Afghanistan to plan attacks on the United States and its allies.
In general, observers have noticed that al-Qaeda and its affiliated organizations around the world, as well as "Hayat Tahrir al-Sham" in Syria, which split off from al-Qaeda, have congratulated the Taliban for their victory in Afghanistan. However, ISIS has severely attacked it, seeing no distinction between the movement and its enemies, except in terms of degrees and types of infidelity. The group did not delay in attacking the Taliban with terrorist operations, either directly, as in the double explosion at Kabul's airport on August 26, or indirectly by attacking Shiite mosques and trying to destabilize and undermine the Taliban's authority.
In Jordan, it is expected that the prominent figures of the Salafi movement, including Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, will observe the Taliban's behavior and its stance toward jihadist groups in the world with anticipation, caution, and vigorous follow-up, especially its position on the fighting in Syria, Iraq, the Sahel region, North Africa, as well as other arenas in Europe and Asia. Will the Taliban, for example, condemn terrorism and the terrorist operations that these groups are still carrying out, especially in Africa, and the lone wolf operations in Europe? Will it really cooperate and coordinate with America, deal with the international community, abide by international law and international treaties and conventions, especially on women's rights, freedom of opinion and media, democracy, and minorities?
All of these issues are extremely sensitive for the Salafi-jihadists, whether al-Qaeda or ISIS, and it is expected to destroy the relationship between the Taliban and the rest of the Salafi-jihadist groups that reject democracy and women's rights. Hence, Al-Maqdisi expressed his conservative view on Twitter, saying: “We did not say that the Taliban is a caliphate by the method of the Prophethood, but we need any power we can get for the Muslims at this time of weakness.”
Are there real concerns and threats?
“The nostalgia for a past that never existed and a nation that was interconnected pushes Islamic groups to portray the Afghan Taliban victory as an international victory," said Orwa Ajoub, a Syrian researcher and political analyst who focuses on jihadist groups. “What some members of these groups don't realize, or maybe ignore, is that the Taliban today has become a local political project, like many other Islamic groups which sympathize with the nation's problems. However, they only use their political interests to determine the shape of its international alliances,” he added.
Given of the old and deep connections with the Afghan school, which was established by Jordanian Salafi-jihadiststs led by Abdullah Azzam, in addition to the fact that all terrorist operations that have affected Jordan since terrorism began with the phenomenon of the Arab Afghans, were all positively linked to Afghanistan as a source of inspiration, for "Salafi Jihadism ", Afghanistan was considered a haven for gaining expertise in preparation for the same experience of establishing a caliphate by the method of the Prophethood.
An example of this was the last terrorist attack against Jordanian interests and targets, the Khost attack in December 2009, when Hammam Khalil al-Balawi (aka: Abu Dujana al-Khorasani) of al-Qaeda blew himself up at the Forward Operating Base Chapman, an American military base in Khost region of Afghanistan. The Operation led to the killing of 7 American intelligence officers (4 officers and 3 contracting security guards), in addition to captain Sharif Ali bin Zaid of the Anti-Terrorism Unit in the General Intelligence Department, besides wounding 6 others.
To demonstrate this deep connection, al-Balawi said in a video recorded before the operation that it would be revenge for the leader of the Taliban Pakistan, Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed by the American army in the same year.
Therefore, the threat is not imminent or in the short-term, but it is real and likely to occur when the conditions, time, and place are right for it, because terrorism has not ended in the country yet, and neither will it within the foreseeable future. Also, the scenario of inspiration and motivation that lies beneath the so-called "Taliban victory" cannot be ignored. It gave hope to all extreme political groups around the world that armed struggle or terrorist operations could be used to achieve their goals.
Added to this is the fact that the most important Jordanian Salafi-jihadi ideologists, such as Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, Abu Qatada al-Filistini and Iyad al-Qunaib, are still involved in propaganda, recruitment for Salafi-jihadi groups, and support terrorist groups in Syria. More importantly, they did not make any intellectual revisions to their extremist ideology. Instead, they carried out an unparalleled activity through various social media platforms (especially al-Maqdisi and al-Qunaibi) encouraging Jordanian youth to jihad, rejecting the authority of the ruler and the state and its institutions, and calling for the creating an Islamic caliphate by the method of the Prophethood.
This combination of factors makes the Taliban's return to power in Afghanistan a real danger and a potential threat to Jordan's security in the medium and long term. This calls for security services to continue monitoring the domestic arena and to track the movements of leaders and members of Jordanian jihadist movements, whether in ISIS, Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham or Hurras al-Din in Syria, especially with the continued pressure of the Syrian army, coalition forces, and the Russians who are seeking to eliminate these groups and drive them out of Syria and Iraq, as there is a possibility that the jihadist leaders could flee to Afghanistan.
The opinions expressed in this study are those of the author. In no way does Strategiecs take responsibility for the views and positions of its author on security, economic, political, social, and other issues, and such views and/or positions do not reflect those of Strategiecs.
Dr. Saud Al-Sharafat
Researcher Specialized in Globalization and International Terrorism