Last week, President Putin’s special representative admitted that his country was sharing intelligence information with Taliban commanders about the terrorist activities of so-called Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan. Mr Zamir Kabulov told the Interfax News Agency that the Taliban’s interests coincide with the fight against IS: “I have said before that we have communication channels with the Taliban to exchange information.” On October 8, 2015, Russian Television (RT) aired Mr Zamir Kabulov’s statement about IS training camps. “IS is training militants from Russia in Afghanistan as part of its efforts to expand into Central Asia,” Mr Kabulov told a security conference in Moscow. He added that US and UK passport holders of Pakistani and Arab descent train these terrorists inside Afghanistan. This statement prompted a violent reaction in Afghanistan where the reconciliation process with the Taliban is underway. The Afghan parliament demanded a thorough investigation of his statement while the two presidents remained silent. These revelations were a great shock for the US, NATO and British intelligence agencies operating in Afghanistan.
IS recently threatened to attack Russia’s territory: “We will make your wives concubines and make your children our slaves,” IS commanders warned. However, Vladimir Putin vowed that Russia would destroy IS infrastructure. Speaking at a meeting with senior commanders, he said that additional aircraft and air defence weapons were shifted to a Russian base in Syria. To sternly counter the terrorist group, Russia also adorned Kyrgyzstan’s forces with modern weapons and deployed an additional force in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The Putin administration is trying to use the Taliban against IS. A couple of years ago Russia had warned about growing IS strength in Afghanistan. Once IS fighters enter Central Asia, they will destabilise the region, a Russian police commander has warned.
The recent rapprochement between Pakistan and Russia is considered by military experts to be a positive development but the changing attitude of the GHQ and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) sometimes disappoints China and Afghanistan. According to the recent Indian Defence Review, five battalions of Northern Rifles were maintained in Gilgit and thence in Skardu during the Kargil conflict in 1999. Moscow and Beijing have also ordered their intelligence agencies to closely monitor Afghanistan’s borders with Central Asia as Russian intelligence recently claimed that IS has planned attacks in Central Asia. “Citizens from 100 countries are currently fighting in the ranks of the terrorist structure and the recruits constitute up to 40 percent of their forces,” Moscow intelligence chief Alexander Bortnikov warned.
The abrupt jump of Russian and Chinese intelligence agencies (MSS, FSB) into the unending war in Afghanistan and the shifting priorities of Pakistan’s ISI have further complicated the task of Afghan intelligence (NDS) to effectively counter all these powerful players. Indian intelligence (RAW) is also trying to maintain its networks inside Afghanistan. The agency is trying to counter Chinese and Pakistani influence in the country on the one hand and secure its political and military influence on the other. However, China’s longstanding concern that Afghanistan might turn into a safe haven for the Uighur Islamic Movement is now coupled with worries about the security of its economic corridor project. In a series of meetings with the Taliban leadership, China has tried to persuade it to come forward for a permanent reconciliation with the Afghan government.
With the exacerbation of the security situation in Afghanistan, Chinese and Russian intelligence agencies have begun translating their efforts against IS into a practical form and have extended their networks to all districts of the country. China is engaged in counter-intelligence efforts through the MSS and has employed various tactics including cyber spying to obtain sensitive information about the activities of IS near its borders. Recent research reports documented the proxy war between the US and China because the increasing Chinese influence in Afghanistan and Central Asia, together with the aggrandisement of the Russian economy and military industry, has caused unending torment for the US. The establishment of a new military intelligence agency, the Defence Clandestine Service (DCS), by the US and its focus on global threats and emerging economic and military powers means that the Pentagon wants to contain and confine both China and Russia to specific regions.
The DCS, according to the Pentagon’s report, will work closely with both the Pentagon and CIA, recruiting spies from defence intelligence agencies and deploying them in most parts of South Asia to closely watch the military and economic movements of communist China in South and Southeast Asia. In the presence of all these foreign intelligence agencies and their designs, Afghan intelligence is unable to play its role professionally or keep the balance of mutual relationships intact. NDS is too incompetent and corrupt to counter terrorism and foreign espionage effectively. The Afghan army has also warned that due to the lack of intelligence in the battlefield, the Afghan army has weakened. During his five-year tenure, the former intelligence chief, Mr Rahmatullah Nabil, held Pakistan responsible for the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan. Misidentification of targets and abuse of intelligence has been a weak aspect of the NDS mechanism. There is a lack of compatibility between the unity government and the NDS management. The politicisation of the NDS’s intelligence infrastructure has also caused its failure. Chiefs of the agency are acting like politicians, criticising the president and his foreign policy. However, the recent battles in Kunduz and Helmand have proved the incompetence of the NDS’s intelligence units. The ministers of defence and interior recently warned that cooperation between security forces is in shambles.