Taliban and Al-Qaida: Future Relations and Political Activities
By Abd-ur-Rahim Saqib
The existence of both Al-Qaida and Taliban trace their origins to Afghanistan’s two different sensitive stages. Al-Qaida was founded in the wake of the invasion of the Red Army, trained, shaped and developed into a major organization under several different names.
Taliban movement, on the other hand, emerged as political and military front, following the Soviet withdrawal when Afghanistan was plagued by continued civil war and infighting among former Mujahideen groups.
The founder and other key members of the Islamic movement of the Taliban during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan were discretely engaged in Jihad against Red Army within the ranks other Jihadi parties, whereas the present Al-Qaida as Ma’sida was established as an independent military organization or command in 1984 in the Jihadi camp the Zazi Maidan district of southeastern Afghanistan’s Paktia province. Later in 1989 during Nangarhar battle its military functions expanded into the country’s eastern provinces.
Politically and ideologically, the Taliban and Al-Qaida have been distinct since the very beginning with separate policy and methodology. The recent changes in Afghanistan caused them to team up with each other in some ways as part of marginal interaction.
Taliban in the terms of ideological affiliation, follow Deobandi School of Thought and an absolute majority of the followers are inspired by Indian religious clerics like Sheikh-ul-Hind Maulana Mahmood-ul-Hasan (1851 – 1920), Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi ((1863 – 1943) and Shaikh Anwar Shah Kashmiri (1875 –1933), While Al-Qaidais distinguished for its adherence to the Salafi methodology, Sheiks and Scholars of the said school follows the ideology and views of SayyidQutb, a prominent thinker of the 20th century and Al-Qaida’s course of actions and struggles can be traced to him.
The start of Taliban and Al-Qaida relations
Yet another major distinction between Taliban and Al-Qaida is the particular nature of their activities. The Taliban have a local perspective, limited horizons, that is, Taliban believe in restriction of their activities.
Contrasted to the Taliban, Al-Qaida Network has a global perspective, expanded horizons and tends towards infinity and internationalism.
In 1996, just prior to the Taliban conquest of Kabul, Osama bin Ladin was extradited from Sudan under the pressure from the U.S. He, then, chose to leave Sudan for Afghanistan and declared his decision to Sudanese authorities which was approved by them and considered in the greater interest of every side.
In doing so Osama bin Ladin approached some former Jihadi commanders with whom he had had acquaintance and close contacts from the days of Jihad to smooth path for his return from Sudan to Afghanistan.
The commanders contacted by him included SazNur of the Ittihad‐e Islami party, Dr. Ameen and Engineer Mahmud of Hizb‐e Islami (Khalis group), and Fazl al‐Haq Mujahid of Hizb‐e Islami (Hekmatyar).
The three above-mentioned commanders had later been mysteriously martyred after the fall of the Taliban rule with exception of Dr. Ameen, who had remained in custody of Pakistani security forces for long.
The Kabul administration headed by UstatRabani was in agreement with Osama bin Ladin’s return and was brought into contact with the entire process of his arrival to Afghanistan.
In 1996, Osama bin Laden along with15 key members of Al-Qaida accompanied by the delegates of Sudanese foreign affairs flew from Khartoum through the General Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s private jet and landed in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.
A former advisor of Al Qaeda's council as well as a famous Egyptian writer, Abu al-Walid al-Masri, who also flew along with Osam bin Laden on the same plane, writes about his trip from Sudan to Afghanistan as follows.
“Osama bin Laden’s moving to Afghanistan was part of a prior deal and agreement between the United States of America and Sudanese government and we were told by the former head of Sudanese intelligence Qutbi al-Mahdi explicitly that transfer of Osama bin Ladin to Afghanistan is in the common interests of America, the Sudanese government and Osama bin Laden himself,”
Afterwards, the rest of the remembers of Al-Qaeda along with their families, including women and children numbered up to 100 were transferred through Sudanese aircrafts to Nangarhar, Afghanistan and were all housed in the particular residence of Osama bin Laden in the neighborhood of Najm al-Jihad, a housing scheme made by former Jihadi leader late Maulawi Yonus Khalis.Osama bin Ladin’s return to Afghanistan came when Taliban neared this province and seized control of Nangarhar few days after he had settled there.
It was a strange coincidence that no sooner had Osama bin Ladin arrived to Nangarhar from Sudan under the pressure from the America than his residence came under control of the Taliban.
Osama had not been previously knowledgeable about the Taliban movement, only heard what had been propagandized by the anti-Taliban elements.
Osama bin Ladin was, therefore, initially unsure whether the Taliban were friends or foes, it was a matter of concern for him that the Taliban might assist American with his capture.
To put his mind at rest, following the capture of Jalalabad city by the Taliban, Khalis Baba reassured Osama bin Ladin that the Taliban would pose no threat to him.
Later, the anti-Taliban, the armed forces of Shura-e-Mashriqi (Eastern Shura) in Nangarhar province assaulted Osama bin Ladin residence in “Khalis Families” which was foiled by the Taliban.
Taliban’s first formal meeting with Al-Qaida’s leader
In addition to Al-Qaida operatives, a large number of Arabs and other nationals were settled in the southern, especially in eastern provinces of Afghanistan following the Taliban conquest of Kabul.
To inquire about the number, residence and activities of the foreign nationals, Taliban appointed a three-man delegation led by Mullaا Abdus-Samad and sent it to Nangarhar province.
The delegation held its first meeting with Osama bin Ladin, discussing the details of his stay in Afghanistan as well as assuring him of his safety.
In In February 1997, Osama bin Ladin went to Kandahar at the request of the leadership of the Taliban and he was provided with a house to live near Kandahar airfield.
Osama bin Laden’s allegiance to Taliban
Osama was suggested by some of his advisers to pledge his allegiance to Mullah Muhammad Omar, the leader of the Taliban after his stay in Kandahar.
He nevertheless, delayed giving his personal allegiance, pretending that he would discuss it with the friends and scholars.
The reason behind the delay by Osama bin Ladin in the oath of allegiance to the head of the Taliban was that he wanted an unrestricted freedom to continue to independently operate overseas outside Afghanistan, targeting the interests of the west while on Afghan soil and it was what the Taliban never wanted to happen.
The Taliban were unwilling to become entangled in a series of conflicts with the world.
Similarly, the Taliban imposed prohibitions on Osman Bin Ladin’s external operations outside Afghanistan, insisting that he would indulge in neither political nor military activities while on Afghan soil.
Apart from the Taliban, Al-Qaida’s senior members Sheikh Saeed al-Masri (Mustafa Abu al-Yazid), Al-Qaida's finance chief, Sayf al-‘Adl al-Masri, the operational leader of al-Qa’ida, Abu Hafs al-Muritani, head of religious committee, Abu al-Khayr, head of foreign relations, Abu al-Walid al-Masri, Osama bin Ladin’s council explicitly defied Osama bin Ladin’s external operations which led to the resignations of the abovementioned members from Al-Qaida organization.
Abu al-Walid al-Masri, who was a political advisor to the leadership of Al-Qaida, insisted on Osama’s making his allegiance which was finally accepted by him.
Pressed by his council, Osama bin Ladin was finally ready to give his oath of allegiance to the leadership of the Taliban, however, it was an “acting allegiance”, that is, Osama bin Ladin refused to personally swear such an oath of allegiance to the Taliban’s leadership. He appointed his advisor, Abu al-Walid al-Masri to give the oath to Mullah Muhammad Omar Mujahid in his stead. Accordingly, Abu al-Walid al-Masri pledged allegiance to the Taliban’s leadership on behalf of Osama bin Ladin.
The requirements and meaning of Bay’at (allegiance) in the light of Sharia (Islamic law) is the allegiance-pledger, the person pledging allegiance to Sharia Amir is to personally promise and declare his commitment of remaining obedient to his sharia orders and it would be binding on him to honor this pledge in compliance with sharia.
The allegiance was carried out on November 2, 1998, while prior to which Al-Qaida had allegedly planned the attacks on U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.
Likewise, in October, 2000 Al-Qaida organization was involved in attack on a U.S ship, USS Cole in Yemen in which 17 American sailors were killed, and 39 were injured.
Moreover, Al-Qaida continued its propagation efforts besides military operations and talked to MBC, Al Jazeera satellite TV channel without the consent of the Taliban, overtly threatening US interests.
Taliban and Al-Qaida ties in aftermath of the September 11 attacks
After the September 11, 2001 deadly attacks for which the U.S. held Osama bin Ladin responsible, it offered Taliban government to surrender bin Laden, but Taliban asked the U.S to provide evidence of bin Laden's complicity in the attacks. At the same time, Taliban called for a comprehensive Shura (council) of all the prominent Ulama (scholars) across the country to reply to the issue and shed light on it from Sharia aspect.
As a result, in the light of Sharia reasons and evidence, the mentioned Shura (council) issued a fatwa (verdict) against handover of Osama bin Ladin to U.S., suggesting that Osama bin Ladin could leave Afghanistan of his own volition.
The aftermath of the September attack led to the ouster of Taliban government and the deteriorating security conditions caused the relations between the Taliban and Al-Qaida to completely break off.
Mullah Muhammad Omar Mujahid, following the fall Kandahar shifted to an undisclosed location, while Osama had already left his whereabouts prior to this and kept changing it in several different parts of Afghanistan so as to protect himself against the bombardments of the U.S. B-52 aircrafts.
He chose his final position in the mountains of Tora Bora where he had built well-fortified bunker and strongly built shelters and trenches.
In September 2001, the US forces led by General Tommy Franks launched operations on the hideouts of Osama bin Ladin in Tora Bora amid which Osama bin Ladin made it to the tribal areas in Pakistan via Para Chinar through the help Jihadi commander Zazi, and regrouped with senior members, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's chief commander, American Adam YahiyeGadahn,
the spokesman for the al-Qaeda and other senior members to coordinate operations against US.
In 2003, with the resurgence of the Taliban movement, they formally launched gradual military recruitment drive to combat US and allied forces.
Al-Qaida, then again, had a separate independent recruitment system, for example they declared Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, the chief operational commander of Al-Qaida, while there were Taliban-appointed governors in every province and operation activities against foreign forces would have to be conducted under the command and supervision of provincial governors.
Although the leader of Al-Qaida organization was well aware of the nature of the Taliban that they, in order to safeguard Jihadi unification, would disapprove of the existence of any external or factional recruitment activities or a separate group or faction apart from the Islamic Emirate’s own military recruitment policy, yet Al-Qaeda’s leader used to organize his recruitment activities independent of Taliban.
The Taliban’s relations with the Al-Qaeda organization while in combat with Americans and its allies under a united leadership in Afghanistan were limited to mere correspondence.
The activities of the members of Al-Qaeda fighting alongside the Taliban against US-Nato and their coalitions would be organized under provincial officials in harmony with the local Taliban.
Even though the Al-Qaida’s members acknowledged the leader of the Taliban to be Amir (the head of the state) yet they would view Al-Qaida as an autonomous organization and would keep operating under its command in the region.
The Al-Qaida’s autonomy was not only confined to Afghanistan, but also outside Afghanistan. They continued to operate autonomously wherever they had operatives across the world.
As an example, in 2006, the head of Al-Qaida, Osama bin Ladin appointed Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, Al-Qaida’s chief of al-Dawala al-Islamiya (The Islamic State) in Iraq andhe was declared the organization’s Amir-ul-Momineen (Leader of the Faithful/ leader of the Muslims) in Al-Qaida released videotape for whom allegiance was demanded.
From Sharia perspective when a Jundi (soldier) has already sworn bayat (allegiance) to one Amir (sharia leader), has no rights or ability to establish another Amir and demand bayat (allegiance) for him.
It impermissible to establish two Khalifas(caliphs) that is, two Amir-ul-Momineen, at the same time, which means, when one person has already been entrusted with the responsibility of leadership and while he is still in charge, another person starts calling people to accept his rule and making his own group of followers. As a consequence, the Muslim cannot establish two leaders simultaneously.
It is clearly explained in the most credible Hadith, Sahih (authinic) Muslim as follows:
عن أبي سعيد ، قال : قال رسول الله (صلى الله عليه وسلم) : إذا بويع لخليفتين فاقتلوا الآخر منهما ، رواه مسلم في الصحيح ،
And the Prophet (sallallahualayhiwasallam) said: When allegiance is pledged to two Khalifas (rulers), then kill the latter of them.”
Apart from, Sahih Muslim The above-mentioned Hadith has also been narrated in SihahSitta (The Six Authentic Books of Hadith)
The aforementioned Hadith lays great stress on unity and solidarity of the Muslims, implying that whoever tries to establish himself Amir aside from a Sharia Amir who is already in charge and demand Bayat (allegiance) from the people so as to intend to implant disintegration can only be subjected to the death penalty.
The very sharia principle was ignored in Al-Qaida’s establishing another Amir. As a result, the newly-appointed Amir neither in the unification of Iraqi Mujahideen, nor in the progress of Jihadi activities did play a major role. Instead, his appointment as an Amir led to differences and opposition in Iraqi territory.
Later, the said Amir, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, was martyred in a U.S. air strike in 2010 and the leadership of DaulatulIslamia left to his successor, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi the present Kahliphah succeeded as Amir of al-Dawala al-Islamiya (The Islamic State) in Iraq.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of al-Dawala al-Islamia (The Islamic State) before anyone else rebelled against the Al-Qaida and accused Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current leader of Al-Qaida of incompetence which was seen as first bifurcation of Al-Qaida organization.
The Taliban, due to the hospitality ethics and taking in consideration the Al-Qaida’s members’ being guests and emigrants, have always put up with some of the defiance and noncompliance by Al-Qaida organization (operatives) during the Taliban rule as well as in the ongoing Jihad and have advised them to comply with the Islamic Emirate’s codes of conduct which have been mutually beneficial for the Al-Qaida and Afghan nation.
Following Osama bin Ladin martyrdom
There have not been any formal ties between Talban and Al-Qaida organization since martyrdom of Osama bin Ladin in Pakistan. During the night of May 1, 2011 the US commandoes launched a coordinated raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan and American officials then announced his martyrdom shortly afterwards, whereas Al-Qaida organization delayed the announcement for a couple days.
Since Osama bin Ladin’s martyrdom was the most grievous tragedy and greatest loss to Al-Qaida, the organization’s spokesman and other media operatives could definitely not approach mainstream media due to security problems, and the media and news agency could not either.
Similarly, the Taliban media was repeatedly approached by almost all the international and local media, either for veracity or denial of the Osama bin Ladin martyrdom.
With a view to observe media code of ethics, making an allowance for Al-Qaida media, the Taliban media remained silent on the issue as long as the Al-Qaida organization formally announced his martyrdom.
The Taliban after the announcement by Al-Qaida issued their message of condolence.
Following the martyrdom of Osama bin Ladin, Al-Qaida’s operatives appointed Ayman al-Zawahiri as a new leader of the organization without consulting with or asking the Taliban’s opinion.
The future of Taliban and Al-Qaida
As stated earlier the Taliban and al-Qaeda remain distinct groups with different policies goals, ideologies, and course of actions. Initially, the Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaida were separate, later they were simply thrown together by unusual and compelling circumstances, causing them to interact and cooperate in some cases.
With the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and the ensuing fall of the Taliban rule that left no justifications for which the Al-Qaida Network would be compelled to deal with the Taliban to meet its own requirements, no further causes and factors are seen in the time to come that may lead to a mutual Interaction between Taliban and Al-Qaida.
Furthermore, considering the Taliban’s organizational and practical characteristics, there are certain reasons why Al-Qaida would not intend to operate and exist in Afghanistan.
For instance, the Taliban have no intention to leave the door open for self-proclaimed factions and their growth.
In fact, they are neither in favor of the multiplicity of the Afghan factions, nor do they allow them in Afghanistan not to mention the non-Afghans’ factions.
In the same way, From the Taliban perspective and their political stagey, they limit and confine their activities and aspirations to Afghanistan.
On the contrary, Al-Qaida’s ideology is that of globalism and universalisms, in the same way, Al-Qaida Network heeds or observes no one else’s restrictions to its activities.
The Taliban, during their five-year rule and current resistance and in the upcoming time wanted and want to improve their relationships with their neighbors, the world and the world community and organizations in such a way as not be in conflict with their Sharia and national interests.
In contrast, Al-Qaida, by no means, has any relations with the western countries and the countries with any ties with the western countries.
It is because of the stance Al-Qaida, as a military organization, has had in its 30-years long history, spending all its time in operational activities, combating its opponents, with no responsibility for an autonomous state, unlike Taliban who need the outside world for the political interactions in Afghanistan.
The Al-Qaida’s members, however, appear as limited military operatives in the regions they exist and they assume no responsibility for running the political system of the certain country at all. The central administration of the certain country runs it.
Secondly, when the Al-Qaida gains military influence in a particular country or take control of a particular area, the real power and authority to control the region are enjoyed by non-local operatives of the organization rather than the organization’s regional and local members, like Abu Musab al – Zarqawi, national of Jordon, who was the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki, an American citizen who was a member and leader of the organization in the Somalia and the like.
Likewise, in the other parts of the world where the Al-Qaida has influence such as Maghreb (Morocco) or Africa and so on, thepower in the region vests in the leaders of Al-Qaida, the citizen of the other countries. Nevertheless, it does not mean that they enjoy such power and authority over the certain areas and territories as to control it, like the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Accordingly, the Al-Qaida has no need to have relations with neighbors and other countries nor does it feel any need to improve ties with them.
The Taliban were practically a dominant reality in Afghanistan during their rule, controlling approximately 95% of Afghanistan, including central government, the capital, boundaries, airports, and overall, the entire control of the system of the country.
In running the country, the Taliban needed to deal and interact with the outside world to fulfill the needs of their nation which was equally in accordance with the sharia and their national interests.
Among Jihadi factions, the Taliban were the first sole sovereign Jihadi group for over five years and their political sovereignty was formally recognized by some countries. The Taliban in some cases during their five-year long rule had a good record such as for banning the cultivation of opium poppy, putting a stop to chaos, unrest and lawlessness in the country and so forth.
As opposed to this, Al-Qaida related groups active in the territories from Africa to Middle East neither enjoyed prior political authority nor they demand an authority based on political relationships. While, in some instances, the Al-Qaida’s activities due to the interpersonal conflicts end in clashes before building relations with other sides and the obvious example of which can be seen in Iraq, Syria, Somalia and Libya.
Most importantly, the present Al-Qaida organization is not what it was in 1996; it has undergone a complete transformation in the past few years. There have been several changes in the operational, political and administrative structures and formations.
The Al-Qaida organization, rather than a single entity with one centrality and leadership, has split into multiple sections. Each section has its new leader and operatives, with no common trust and interaction among themselves and no prior acquaintance and connection with the Taliban.
The main and significant reason that made Al-Qaida leadership and its operatives feel compelled to join Taliban and stay in Afghanistan was that they found it difficult to overtly operate and live in the Arab world.
The recent changes and development in the Arab word have made it possible for them to carry out their military and political activities in Arabic counties in a much better way than in Afghanistan, thus the Al-Qaida related groups feel no need to live in Afghanistan any longer.
Aforementioned are the characteristics and factors that outline the Taliban and Al-Qaida’s association, combined activities and the nature of their relations in the future.
The U.S, with an eye to extend its military existence in Afghanistan, however, goes on giving a false appearance of the Taliban’s joining force with Al-Qaida in case of the full withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan which is no more than unfounded propaganda. If the U.S. truly intends to pull its forces out of Afghanistan, then no possible justification for the existence of Al-Qaida in Afghanistan may be left.
The Al-Qaida’s objective is to kill the Americans existing in the Muslim countries who according to Al-Qaida are invaders and killing an invader is a binding-duty. If U.S withdraws, the Al-Qaida, in order to achieve its goal, will move wherever the US continues to invade.
The bottom-line is, as far as Taliban and Al-Qaida are concerned, their relations and links are on the basis of religion and belief, whereas from practical and political point of view, both Taliban and Al-Qaida remain distinct.
To sum it up, The Taliban and Al-Qaida are bound together by religion and belief, namely, every ordinary Muslim in the world, like a Muslim in America and in Afghanistan but with discrete political activities, policy, ideology and methodology.
The forces of circumstances through which they were compelled to deal with each other and had a common interaction are quite the opposite now.
It is not that the change is as a result of any external pressure, it is just a phenomenon that has occurred naturally due to the spatial and temporal causes which has provided both Taliban and Al-Qaida with the opportunity to initiate fresh activities in the new areas.