Where is al-Qaeda going? Part III

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6: Al-Qaeda and the Taliban

Al-Qaeda supports insurgents in Afghanistan with personnel, instructors, logistics, money and as advisers. But because of its size (a few hundred men, against the Taliban’s tens of thousands), the al-Qaeda network will always be a marginal player in the region. The Taliban could do well without al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and still be an effective rebel group. Parts of the movement, especially in southern Afghanistan, are also not so enthusiastic about the Arab “guests” and regard al-Qaeda as a foreign element and a stumbling block.

What, then, binds the Taliban and al-Qaeda together?
1. Some of al-Qaeda’s members have more than twenty years of experience in the region. Several have married into the local Pashtun families, which helps to ensure their protection from local tribes. Marriages between Arabs and Pashtun women from Pakistan seem to have become more widespread since 2001, which may eventually make it more difficult to distinguish al-Qaeda from the local population. In the absence of a natural “homeland” (al-Qaeda’s attempts to launch a rebel movement in bin Laden’s homeland Saudi Arabia have so far failed), the border areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan are the closest they come today.

  • The Taliban is a fragmented movement. Today it consists of an ideological leadership, the so-called “Quetta Council” (cf. the city of Quetta in Pakistan, where the council is believed to be based), and a loosely composed rebel movement that recognizes Mulla Omar as its supreme leader, but who can still operate fairly independently at the local level. Al-Qaeda is less active in southern Afghanistan, where the Quetta Council has the greatest direct influence over the rebels. But they have strong ties to Taliban factions in southeastern and eastern Afghanistan, including the powerful Haqqani network, which is said to have been behind several terrorist attacks in Kabul. Although the council decided to break with al-Qaeda, this would have little practical impact on al-Qaeda’s sanctuary in Pakistan, and activities in the region in general.
  • As long as NATO is based in Afghanistan, however, the Taliban leadership has little reason to break with al-Qaeda – not because there are necessarily close ties between the two leaderships today, but rather because it is easier for the Taliban leadership to tolerate al-Qaeda’s presence in the region, than actively oppose them. They probably do not have the capacity and ability to do that either. In addition, they will in any case prefer to spend their resources on the war against NATO and the Afghan regime. Opposing the “Arab guests” in the region could also lead to divisions in the rebel movement, and this is something the Taliban will avoid at all costs.

7: A Pakistani al-Qaeda

In recent years, al-Qaeda has forged close and direct ties with the Pakistani Taliban movement – a network of militant tribes and groups based mainly in the tribal areas of northwestern Pakistan. This is a complex movement with divergent objectives . They want both to introduce Islamic sharia law in the tribal areas and to support the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Some also believe that it is legitimate to attack the regime in Pakistan, and this has led to a series of controversial terrorist attacks in Pakistani cities. The Afghan Taliban leadership has distanced itself from this campaign, as they want to focus on the conflict in Afghanistan. In addition, they have traditionally had a good relationship with Pakistan (at least elements of the Pakistani government and security services), and will be dependent on the country’s support should they come to power in Afghanistan sometime in the future.

Al-Qaeda probably wants, first and foremost, all the rebel groups in both Afghanistan and Pakistan to join forces in the fight against the United States and NATO in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda’s leaders have nevertheless given open support to the idea of ​​attacking the Pakistani regime, as it is seen as a close ally of the United States. Through these statements, al-Qaeda is trying to stay in touch with the Pakistani groups, and probably also wants to influence the ideological development in these circles.

In Pakistan, al-Qaeda may have found an environment more receptive to al-Qaeda’s globally oriented ideology. While the Afghan Taliban movement has been in power in Afghanistan for five years, Pakistani groups have never had more than local self-government. On the other hand, they have a long tradition of going to war on behalf of other Muslims , especially in Kashmir and Afghanistan. There, they have an important common feature with al-Qaeda. The tribal areas in Pakistan have the potential to become an important base for al-Qaeda also in the future – but this will depend entirely on developments in the region in general.


Frequently asked questions about Al-Qaeda

1.What does “al-Qaeda” mean?
According to Growtheology, Al-Qaeda (al-qā’ida) is an Arabic word meaning “base” or “foundation”.
2. Where is Osama bin Laden? (2015: Today we know that he was killed in an anti-terror operation in 2011) How do we know he is alive?
He is probably in the border areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is believed that he is alive as he has regularly sent out audio recordings in recent years, most recently in January 2010.
3. How important is Osama bin Laden to al-Qaeda today?
He probably plays a small operational role. But he is still important as a symbolic figure and ideological guide.
4. What are the goals of al-Qaeda?
Al-Qaeda wants to end US and Western military, political, economic and cultural dominance of the Muslim world. The idea is that this will pave the way for the liberation of the Palestinian territories from Israeli “occupation”, and it will also make it easier to remove corrupt, local regimes in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and establish “clean” Islamic states instead.
5. How much support does al-Qaeda have today?
Some of al-Qaeda’s messages (anti-Americanism, liberation of “occupied” Muslim lands in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Palestine) have some support in the Muslim world, but very few support al-Qaeda’s use of terrorism as a tool. Recent polls in Pakistan, for example, have shown that both al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban have lost support in recent years.

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