ISLAMABAD -- Militant groups operating along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border are vying for money and power, not fighting out of Islamic altruism as they claim, say analysts.
At least 21 different militant groups, including some based in Pakistan, have a presence in Afghanistan, according to a report published by the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) January 31.
The report examines a recent wave of Taliban and "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) militant attacks in the Afghan capital that have killed hundreds of people and injured many more.
The escalating insurgency must be curbed to end the bloodshed and maintain peace in Afghanistan, the report concluded.
"Out of these 21 groups, some are carrying out terrorist attacks in both countries for the sake of money and have nothing to do with the ideology of Islam," said Brig. (ret.) Mehmood Shah of Peshawar, former security secretary for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
"[ISIS], the Afghan Taliban, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan [TTP] -- including both the Fazlullah and Mehsud factions -- al-Qaeda, the Haqqani Group, Lashkar-e-Islam, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Muhammad, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan [IMU], Ansar-ul-Islam, the Islamic Jihad Movement and other terror groups have been operating in Afghanistan for many years," he told Pakistan Forward.
Military operations in North and South Waziristan, including the 2014 Operation Zarb-e-Azb, have forced the leaders of many Pakistan-based militant groups to flee to Afghanistan, he said.
Some of those groups target security forces and civilians only in Afghanistan, while others extend their violent activities into Pakistan.
Regardless, Shah said, their actions are "solely for the money".
"Militant groups in Afghanistan are earning more than $10 billion [Rs. 1.1 trillion] a year through poppy cultivation, narcotics and weapons smuggling, extortion and the extortion of 'taxes' in their strongholds," he said.
The Afghan Taliban are at the forefront in earning tainted money as they control much of the territory where Afghan forces have little presence, said Shah.
An increase in poppy cultivation in Afghanistan in recent years has been a major source of income for the Afghan Taliban and other militant outfits. Poppies are used to create illicit drugs such as opium and heroin, which are considered haram in Islam.
The terrorist groups use the illicit funds for conducting militancy, purchasing weapons, recruiting members and supporting overall operational expenses, according to Shah.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban are active in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, while ISIS is involved in terror attacks in Nangarhar and Kunduz provinces, he said, adding that the two groups are fighting each other for power and money.
Both groups have been attacking civilian and government installations in Kabul.
Militant groups have a vested interest in destablising Afghanistan and Pakistan in order to maintain their illicit profits, security analysts say.
"The sole goal of the activities of almost all the terrorist groups in Afghanistan is to destabilise Afghanistan and Pakistan by carrying out attacks and bombings," said Col. (ret.) Ali Raza Mir, who previously worked with the counter-terrorism wing of Inter-Services Intelligence.
"Weapons are easily available for sale to militants in Afghanistan as gangs of international smugglers are capable of delivering weapons anywhere in that land-locked country," he told Pakistan Forward.
On the Pakistani side, authorities have improved border management and fenced parts of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. This strategy greatly reduced the intensity of terrorist attacks in Pakistan in 2017 and 2018, he said.
"Pakistani security forces have also carried out intelligence-based operations against militants, destroying terrorists networks and improving the security situation," Mir said.
Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa recently discussed the success of his nation's military operations during a regional security conference held February 13 in Afghanistan.
Bajwa advised the participants of the conference to adopt a zero tolerance policy to discourage militancy in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan and Pakistan must sit together to find a long-lasting peace solution in both the countries, Mir said.