Policy differences between al Qaeda and the Taliban?

March 20, 2008

Thanks to openDemocracy for highlighting this piece on EurasiaNet about a row between the Taliban and al Qaeda which it says has surfaced among bloggers on a website in Egypt.

“Islamic extremists who regularly post messages to a pro-Al-Qaeda website in Egypt are accusing Afghanistan’s Taliban of straying from the path of global jihad,” it says.  “Internet criticisms of the Taliban follow a February statement from Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar announcing that his movement wants to maintain positive and ‘legitimate’ relations with countries neighbouring Afghanistan.”

Aerial view of mountains near Afghanistan/Pakistan borderIt caught my eye since it linked into comments in the Pakistani and other media about the relationship between pro al Qaeda Arab fighters and the Taliban based on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and its implications for Islamist militancy now spreading into the heartland of Pakistan.  The usual argument is that while elements in the Pakistan army and the ISI, the country’s powerful intelligence agency, might have some sympathy for the Taliban — a legacy of the days when they worked together to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan — they blame al Qaeda for turning on Pakistan. 

In a blog on this earlier this month I highlighted a feature on Salon.com headlined Killing ourselves in Afghanistan in which the writer accused the ISI of working against American interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This had begun to change, however, said writer Matthew Cole, with the attacks on Pakistan itself. 

“Of late, however, the foreign-led Taliban factions in the Tribal Areas, the ones believed to shelter al-Qaida’s Arab leadership, have begun focusing more attention on destabilizing Islamabad than Kabul,” he wrote. “Now Pakistani intelligence has reason to work with the Americans, at least when it comes to some jihadis, including those known locally as ‘the Arabs’. Many of these insurgents were once aligned with the ISI, but no more.”

Is there a pattern emerging here? Is there a split between the Taliban and al Qaeda that could be exploited by the Pakistan army and the ISI? Or is this just more smoke and mirrors about an invisible enemy that nobody can either understand or control?

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