Are the Taliban distancing themselves from al Qaeda?

November 28, 2010

nuristanThe question of whether the links between the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda can be broken has been discussed at length over the past year or so, and will be a major factor in any eventual peace settlement with insurgents in Afghanistan.

So it’s interesting to see this post by Alex Strick van Linschoten highlighting what he calls the first semi-official acknowledgement from a Talib – former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan Abdul Salam Zaeef - of Osama bin Laden’s involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

He cites the following quotes from an interview with Zaeef, in response to a question about bin Laden and his relations with Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar after Sept. 11:

“Following the September events, the Commander of the Faithful Mullah Omar met with Bin Laden in the presence of a large number of Taliban leaders and Al-Qaeda members, and asked him if they were behind the attacks on the twin towers and the Pentagon.

“Osama denied the allegations but I now believe that Bin Laden planned the attacks without informing the Commander of the Faithful and then lied to him by denying his involvement in the attacks after they took place.”

According to Alex, who co-edited Zaeef’s memoirs, “this admission is a crucial first step in tackling the issue of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Let’s hope it’s part of a larger political development.”

Last week I asked senior Pakistani politician Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, who is sympathetic to the Taliban, what would happen to al Qaeda in the event of a political settlement.  

“Once stakeholders are ready for a solution, this would squeeze the room for al Qaeda,” he said. ”Al Qaeda will have to fall in line or leave the region.”

The Taliban leadership have been saying for a while now that they would not allow Afghanistan to be used as a base to attack foreign countries if they returned to power.  But so far they have not publicly repudiated al Qaeda by blaming them for the Sept. 11 attacks; nor have they talked about them having to leave the region.

So it would be worth watching if there is any more on that theme.  It might even indicate progress in the real Taliban talks, as opposed to the fake talks with a Taliban imposter in Kabul.  That said, if it does indicate progress, there is no reason to assume this will happen in a manner or timing designed to suit the western narrative on the war in Afghanistan.


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