USIP Report: Recalibrating Counterterrorism Strategy Amid US-China and India-Pakistan Concerns

In a comprehensive report released by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) on Tuesday, the Senior Study Group on Counterterrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan has highlighted the urgent need to recalibrate the US counterterrorism strategy amidst growing strategic competition with China and the ongoing tensions between India and Pakistan. The report comes in the wake of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in April 2021 and the subsequent rise in terrorist threats in the region.

President Joe Biden’s announcement of the withdrawal underscored counterterrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan as a critical national security interest. This priority became even more pronounced after the Taliban’s return to power in August 2021 and the discovery of al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul. However, the escalating strategic competition with China and Russia has since overshadowed counterterrorism efforts on the policy agenda.

The USIP report, the result of extensive deliberations from 2022 to 2023, presents two major conclusions and proposes a recalibrated strategy to address the evolving counterterrorism challenges.

Recalibrating Focus on Counterterrorism

The report argues that counterterrorism should not be perceived as a distraction from strategic competition but rather as a crucial component in protecting the strategic agenda. Terrorist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan still possess the intent and growing capability to target the US and its interests. A successful terrorist attack would not only result in tragic loss of lives but also divert resources and attention from strategic competition, undermining America’s credibility and alliances.

Moreover, terrorist attacks originating from the region could spark dangerous regional crises, particularly between India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed states. The US withdrawal from Afghanistan has emboldened terrorist groups, providing them with opportunities to regroup and collaborate. ISIS-K, for instance, presents a growing threat with a reach beyond the immediate region, while the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has re-emerged as a significant regional security threat.

Strategic Options for Revitalizing Counterterrorism Efforts

The USIP study group suggests several strategic options to address the rising terrorism threats without compromising the focus on strategic competition:

  1. Engaging the Taliban: The report recommends publicly pressuring the Taliban to mitigate terrorist threats while maintaining communication channels for counterterrorism exchanges. This approach includes developing a public reporting mechanism to document Taliban compliance with counterterrorism commitments and building dedicated diplomatic and intelligence channels with the Taliban.
  2. Enhancing Military and Intelligence Capabilities: To deter and disrupt terrorism threats, the report suggests increasing military and intelligence resources dedicated to counterterrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This includes improving intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities and expanding the US Department of State’s Rewards for Justice program.
  3. Legal Transparency in Counterterrorism Operations: The report emphasizes the need for greater transparency in legal authorities for counterterrorism operations, ensuring actions are justified and minimizing civilian harm. This involves targeting terrorist groups planning attacks against the US and employing cyber operations to disrupt their communications.
  4. Strengthening Counterterrorism Cooperation with Pakistan: The report calls for enhanced counterterrorism-specific security assistance and intelligence to Pakistan. This assistance aims to reduce the TTP threat, secure long-term airspace access for operations in Afghanistan, and improve the overall counterterrorism relationship with Pakistan.
  5. Preparing for Terrorist Attack Contingencies: The report highlights the importance of improving preparedness for terrorist attacks in the US homeland and overseas, especially in South Asia. This includes enhancing intelligence collection and analysis, providing travel warnings, and securing emergency military operations bases in Central Asia and Pakistan.


The USIP report underscores the necessity of a recalibrated counterterrorism strategy that aligns with the broader strategic competition framework. By implementing these measures, policymakers can better safeguard US interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan while maintaining a sustained focus on addressing strategic competition with China and managing regional tensions between India and Pakistan. The proposed strategy aims to balance counterterrorism efforts with the need to address broader strategic concerns, ensuring a sustainable approach to managing terrorism threats from the region.

USIP Report: Recalibrating Counterterrorism Strategy Amid US-China and India-Pakistan Concerns