The meeting of the intelligence chiefs of Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran in Islamabad was an event of extraordinary importance as it laid the foundation for greater security cooperation in the region, specifically against the growing threat of the terrorist group that calls itself Islamic State and is also known by its Arabic acronym Da’ish.
The meeting somehow did not get the kind of media attention it deserved. It could be partly because Pakistan, as a host, did not want to play it up and cause unnecessary anxiety among other stakeholders in the region. Had it not been for the Russian intelligence agency, there was a chance that we would have never got to know about the meeting. An official of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service Sergei Ivanov told TASS, the official newswire of Russia, that his organisation’s director Sergei Naryshkin represented Russia at a meeting in Islamabad that was also attended by intelligence chiefs from Pakistan, China and Iran. “The discussions focused on the dangers arising from a build-up of the Islamic State on the Afghan territory,” he said.
The meeting involving spymasters from these countries is the first of its kind.
Da’ish has been a mutual concern of all these countries and they also seem to have a consensus that the terrorist group was being relocated to Afghanistan from Syria and Iraq for destabilising the region. The ungoverned spaces in Afghanistan provide the right conditions for terrorist groups like Da’ish to establish their sanctuaries, but the group’s focus in eastern and north-eastern Afghanistan, which borders Pakistan, western province of Farah and Nimruz along Iranian border and the northern parts of the country next to Central Asian Republics reaffirms the worries that the agenda is not confined just to Afghanistan.
Da’ish, one ought not to forget, calls itself Wilayat-e-Khorasan and the boundaries of this province includes areas of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Moreover, the groups that are allied with Da’ish, including the Pakistani origin terrorist groups Jamaatul Ahrar, Lashkar-e-Islam, and Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, which are based in Afghanistan, and Dai’sh’s linkage with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi inside Pakistan is enough to cause a scare here. Moreover, Da’ish in Afghanistan boasts connections with Iran’s terror group Jaishul Adl and Iranian Kurdish, Chinese Uyghurs, and Central Asian fighters in its ranks.
The seeds of this cooperation were laid in multiple bilateral interactions Pakistan had with all these three countries over the past few months. A major push came at the trilateral meeting of the National Security Advisers of Pakistan, Iran and Russia in Iran in April. Pakistan’s then NSA Lt Gen (r) Nasser Janjua, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) Rear Admiral Shamkhani, and Secretary of the Security Council of Russian Federation Nikolai Platonovich Patrushev had on that occasion agreed on holding a meeting to chart out a mechanism for comprehensive cooperation.
It still remains to be seen how effectively these four countries can cooperate against the emerging threat. Much of it would depend on the degree of clarity they have about their objective. Russia and Iran and to some extent China have already cooperated against Da’ish in Iraq and Syria and they have hence developed some sort of synchronisation. Pakistan is the new element here and therefore, several other geo-political considerations would also be at play.
However, it is a good start and probably not too late. This week’s Da’ish attack in Sayyad district of Sar-e-Pul in the north and UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan’s (UNAMA) assertion that of the nearly 1,700 civilian casualties in the first six months of this year, 52 percent were caused by Da’ish attacks underscore the importance of a wider regional counter-Da’ish alliance.
Pakistan, too, had its reminder about the urgency of dealing with the Da’ish threat in the form of the Mastung attack on an election gathering of Balochistan Awami Party in which about 150 were killed. The attack was claimed by Da’ish. Pakistan, unfortunately, has so far been in sort of a denial mode about existence of Da’ish even though a major military operation was carried out in Mastung against the group last year.
It is further interesting to note that while these four spy chiefs were meeting in Islamabad, CIA Director Mike Pompeo was on an unannounced trip to Afghanistan. After Pompeo’s visit there are indications that US could be softening up its position on directly engaging with Taliban, which has remained a key Taliban demand along with exit of all foreign forces from Afghanistan for joining any political process aimed at ending the conflict. The US has so far not made any official announcement in this regard, but, diplomatic sources insist that the idea was being weighed by Trump administration. US had earlier also suggested that it was ready to talk about the future of foreign troops in the country.
It would seem farfetched to state that the latest US moves were in response to the emerging security cooperation in the region. But that said US would be nervously watching the development. Washington’s position on Pakistan is clear. US officials have time and again insisted that the terror sanctuaries (which they allege are present on Pakistani soil) are source of problem in Afghanistan. They strongly suspected Russian and Iranian role in undermining their effort in Afghanistan. Therefore, the Americans would be doubly worried to see all of these countries come together although their stated objective of controlling Da’ish is something in line with Trump administration’s stated policy.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad