Fresh reports surface of Taliban-al Qaeda rift

March 14, 2010

mehsudAccording to the Los Angeles Times, a growing number of Taliban militants in the Pakistani border region are refusing to collaborate with Al Qaeda fighters, declining to provide shelter or assist in attacks in Afghanistan even in return for payment. It quotes U.S. military and counter-terrorism officials as saying that threats to the militants’ long-term survival from Pakistani, Afghan and foreign military action are driving some Afghan Taliban away from Al Qaeda.

“U.S. officials remain unsure whether the alliance between Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban is splintering for good, and some regard the possibility as little more than wishful thinking. A complete rupture is unlikely, some analysts say, because Al Qaeda members have married into many tribes and formed other connections in years of hiding in Pakistan’s remote regions,” the newspaper says. “But the tension has led to a debate within the U.S. government about whether there are ways to exploit any fissures. One idea under consideration, an official said, is to reduce drone airstrikes against Taliban factions whose members are shunning contacts with Al Qaeda.”

It quotes a senior U.S. official as saying that tactics such as drone strikes and a stepped-up campaign of targeted killings by U.S. Special Operations troops and an intensified military campaign in both Pakistan and Afghanistan have raised the risks to Taliban fighters who assist Al Qaeda. ”The arrest in recent months of several top Afghan Taliban leaders may also be leading some Taliban to reassess their ties to Al Qaeda in hopes of easing pressure from the Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s spy agency, which long allowed the Afghan Taliban to operate relatively unbothered.”

Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper followed up the report in a Washington-datelined article which quotes a senior diplomatic source as confirming the LA Times assessment. “There is a sizeable shift away from al Qaeda,” it quotes its diplomatic source as saying. “Very few are left who still support Al Qaeda. The vast majority is distancing itself from them.”  The militants, he said, would ultimately be forced to give up fighting or be eradicated. “They have nowhere to go.”

The reports are obviously impossible to verify and only time will tell if there is a lasting rift between the Taliban and al Qaeda. But some quick observations on this:

1) These reports need to be framed within the context of the arrest by Pakistan of Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and other Taliban leaders. Pakistan’s motivation for  doing this is highly contested, but among the arguments I have heard is that it will put the so-called Quetta shura Taliban led by Mullah Mohammad Omar under pressure and convince them to “be reasonable” about breaking ties with al Qaeda. Is this now happening?

2) The arrest of an al Qaeda operative in Karachi this month gave a hint — albeit a very inconclusive one — that al Qaeda may be finding Pakistan’s tribal areas less hospitable than before and starting to move out.

3) If — and that is a very big if — al Qaeda hard-core members move out of Pakistan, where do they go? Yemen and Somalia are possible destinations. Egypt, where the group has its ideological roots and where its Arab members could blend in more easily to the local population, is another.

4) If al Qaeda members  move out, what routes do they take? Via Karachi? The Pakistani port city may be becoming a less safe transit point, given that both Mullah Baradar and the al Qaeda operative were arrested there. An alternative would be to go via Iran, raising the intriguing possibility that Tehran would then hold the key to American interests, by arresting them en route.

5) Where does Mullah Omar stand in all this? Some say his loyalties to Osama bin Laden run too deep for him to break them now.  Others have argued – most recently here — that the relationship between Mullah Omar and bin Laden was far less close than assumed, even around the time of the Sept. 11 attacks.  Former Taliban ambassador to Islamabad, Abdul Salam Zaeef, also argues in his recently published book that the Taliban were willing to hand over bin Laden to a third Islamic country for trial, while refusing to give him up to the Americans. Recent statements on the Taliban website have also quoted Mullah Omar as saying the group will not allow Afghan territory to be used to harm any other country – seen by some as an indication of a willingness to deny sanctuary to al Qaeda.

6) If the Quetta shura Taliban are convinced to turn against al Qaeda, what about other groups fighting in Afghanistan, including the Haqqani network and that of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar? What also of the Pakistani Taliban and the many Islamist militant groups based in Pakistan’s Punjab province, some of whom have close links to al Qaeda? And, for the sake of completeness, given how decentralised al Qaeda has become, and the dispersal of its ideology throughout the world, how significant would a shift be of its members from one place to another? As discussed here, long before the Sept. 11 attacks European counter-terrorism officials had noticed a change in the nature of international terrorism, roughly dated to an attempt by Algerian militants to hijack a plane and allegedly attempt to crash it into Paris in 1994. And as the failed Christmas Day attack on Detroit showed,  threats can reappear out of nowhere, even if  the space for al Qaeda to operate is steadily degraded on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

 

7 comments

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The entire game in Af-Pak region is being drive by the “my enemey’s enemy is my friend” philosophy. Al Qaeda will always find friends who become enemies of its enemy. If pushed to the corner, Al Qaeda might try a last ditch effort of knocking out the double dealing Pakistani establishment. They have the capability to do it. They are a lot more sophisticated than the Taliban in planning and executing their assaults. If they have no room to hide or escape, they might simply decide to go for the jugular. They have not touched the Pakistani establishment so far because they probably believe that in the long run, Americans will leave and things will return to the old ways. But Pakistan’s actions have clearly demonstrated their duplicity and selfishness. Having been betrayed by Pakistan, they might plan vengeance as they know they will be exterminated soon. This means, they will get into the Pakistan’s hinterlands and launch an offensive against Pakistani military and civilian targets to bring a collapse and create splinters from within. Let us hope this does not happen and Al Qaeda gets completely eliminated for the good of this region. Pakistan has to be very careful so that it stays clear off the path of these marauders.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

Myra:

@…a growing number of Taliban militants in the Pakistani border region are refusing to collaborate with Al Qaeda fighters, declining to provide shelter or assist in attacks in Afghanistan even in return for payment.”

—All this is based upon the statements of U.S. military and counter-terrorism officials and ISI. How credible they are is anyone’s guess. This is preparation for the end game trying to show Afghan Taliban are not bad guys anymore so let us make them part of the governing process.

@Recent statements on the Taliban website have also quoted Mullah Omar as saying the group will not allow Afghan territory to be used to harm any other country – seen by some as an indication of a willingness to deny sanctuary to al Qaeda.”

—-Al-qaeda is not a country; so it is misinterpretation of Mullah Omar.

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive

[...] Fresh reports surface of Taliban-al Qaeda rift – ReutersTaliban distancing themselves from Al Qaeda: experts –DawnAl-Qaeda has “blown it” and is now under pressure: Holbrooke — AFPLocal Taliban officials may ignore leader’s ethics code — Miami Herald/McClatchy NewsWhite House Weighs Talks With Taliban After Afghan Successes — New York Times [...]

[...] Fresh reports surface of Taliban-al Qaeda rift – ReutersTaliban distancing themselves from Al Qaeda: experts –DawnAl-Qaeda has “blown it” and is now under pressure: Holbrooke — AFPLocal Taliban officials may ignore leader’s ethics code — Miami Herald/McClatchy NewsWhite House Weighs Talks With Taliban After Afghan Successes — New York Times [...]

[...] Fresh reports surface of Taliban-al Qaeda rift – ReutersTaliban distancing themselves from Al Qaeda: experts –DawnAl-Qaeda has “blown it” and is now under pressure: Holbrooke — AFPLocal Taliban officials may ignore leader’s ethics code — Miami Herald/McClatchy NewsWhite House Weighs Talks With Taliban After Afghan Successes — New York Times [...]

ISI is the mentor of true Taliban, Al-Qaeda has been involved in Pakistan and even as far back as 1995 the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad was bombed by Al-Qaeda a revenge attack on Egyptian government. Pakistan military supported Arab fighters as long as they were fighting the Soviets, tragedy is after that US left. There was no plan to rehabilitate the Afghan Mujahideen and everything went wrong after that. Now is the time to lure Taliban (True Taliban) away from Al-Qaeda extremists, the ideological and strategic guidance must come from ISI, Taliban must position themselves to play a constructive role in Afghan society, shun militancy. There should be alternative industry in Afghanistan replacing millitancy and drug trade. Only then Taliban can be brought back into afghan mainstream.

Posted by Umairpk | Report as abusive

Umairpk: “ISI is the mentor of true Taliban”

And it is also the mentor for LeT, JuD and many other Punjabhi terror outfits. It is turning into a sinister organization by its association with these elements and engaging with them for its strategic operations in the region. It also nurtures the Haqqani and Hekmatyar factions. The reason is simple. If any one of its proteges goes out of control, the others can be engaged against them. There is no such thing as good Taliban. It is an unofficial wing of the Pakistani military establishment. Pak military soldiers were running the show inside Afghanistan during Taliban regime. Hundreds of them were air lifted from Kunduz when the US bombed Afghanistan. It was a part of the deal that Musharraf made with the Americans. If at all there are any good Taliban, they are Pashtuns who are not part of the Pak Military and ISI infiltrators.

There is so much damage done that it will be nearly impossible to start an alternative industry that gives jobs to all Taliban youth. Many are used to a life of bandits, raiding, pillaging and taking things by force. They will not give up that nature that has been drilled into them by the manipulative methods used in the Madrasas. Where is the Taliban getting all the ammunition for explosives? They are surrounded from all directions. Yet they are making bombs and blowing people up. I am sure some elements inside the Pak military establishment is giving them their material. Pak military is pinching the baby and rocking the cradle at the same time.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

Umair:

@ Now is the time to lure Taliban (True Taliban) away from Al-Qaeda extremists, the ideological and strategic guidance must come from ISI, Taliban must position themselves to play a constructive role in Afghan society, shun militancy.”
Posted by Umairpk

—-There is no difference in Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan at ideological level.

Both want their version of “Islamic” rule and Af-Tal and TTP version of Islamic rule is not different. While TTP is against democracy in Pakistan, Afghan Taliban is against Loya Jirga, the basis of Pushtoon culture in Afghanistan.

Afghan Taliban cannot be called true Pushtoons, they are rogues. To me Pushtoons will be those who may be anti-Karzai, but will not not devalue Loya Jirga by calling it “un-Islamic” which is what your so-called “true Taliban”‘s blue eye boy Mullah Omar labeled it as. A person that throws to wind the cultural and political reality of Afghanistan cannot be a Pushtoon and Taliban represents these rogue elements. This is not any different from TTP which does not follow Pakistan;s system and wants to have its own Islamic rule and you label that as anti-Pakistan. I am fine with you calling TTP the way you call “terrorists who are anti-Pakistan” but I wonder why you do not practice the same in with Afghanistan-taliban? This is beyond me. May be you can tell me more what I am missing or accept that Talibans have turned rogue (A-Q was a bad company and Pak was the bad influence) and want to establish an Islamic system of governance—both in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

There are more similarities than difference in Taliban in Pushtoon-belt on both sides of Durand line. If Taliban takes control of Afghanistan, Pakthunistan is not far away—they will seek to merge pushtoon brothers on either side of the belt. Seeds are being sowed. Yeah then blame Americans again.

@Pakistan military supported Arab fighters as long as they were fighting the Soviets, tragedy is after that US left. There was no plan to rehabilitate the Afghan Mujahideen and everything went wrong after that”
—For the money spent like water on maintaining Taliban via Saudis/UAE/Pakistan, Jihadis would have been easily rehabilitated. Look at the Taliban salaries-they put to shame what pakistan soldiers earn. With this money taliban looked more than ready to be rehabilitated—only if proxy factor was discounted. This money is not new and has been flowing since ever but perhaps just not enough for their rehabilitation.
Also, once in blue moon start taking blame that that the Jihadi apparatus was maintained painstakingly by Pakistan to use against India. may be rather than whining you should be thankful to Americans.

Americans did what they did—they made an ass out of Pakistan and took the flight back home the day Russians left. Pakistan is here and should have done something constructive. This blaming USA for all the evils in Pakistan is getting bit over the top. Even Obama is not given this much room, he is called a whiner when he starts blaming Bush Admn fpr everything. Bush left just few years ago but Americans left 20yrs ago.

Pakistan did not want Taliban to rehabilitate so that is what they got. You are still talking of “true Taliban” when I am hearing Punjabi Taliban and increased collaborations between taliban and Punjabi terrorists. A new trend is showing. I am not sure whom you will blame next time.

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive

@ Umair: “ISI is the mentor of true Taliban”

So, the “true Taliban” is the one which blows up Afghans & Indians, while the “fake Taliban” is the one which blows up Pakistanis? How convenient!

@ “tragedy is after that US left. There was no plan to rehabilitate the Afghan Mujahideen and everything went wrong after that”

The real tragedy is that after the US left, your generals pocketed the aid given to them by the US for the rehabilitation of the Mujaheddin & instead decided to use the Mujaheddin in their proxy war with India & fulfill their ambition to ‘bleed India with a thousand cuts’ & frankly, I’m not sure if they’ve learned any lessons from their past blunders & will refrain from making the same mistakes again.

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive

We are not going to be Al Qaeda nor the Taliban and the sooner we see that the better. Pull out of Afghanistan

Storyburn

Posted by STORY-BURN | Report as abusive