World must be wary of Taliban-Al-Qaeda cooperation in Afghanistan

World must be wary of Taliban-Al-Qaeda cooperation in Afghanistan

World must be wary of Taliban-Al-Qaeda cooperation in Afghanistan
Taliban forces stand guard inside Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 16, 2021. (Reuters)
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In its latest issue, Foreign Affairs magazine asks the question “Will Afghanistan Become a Terrorist Safe Haven Again?” The article attempts to answer this question not with a yes or no, but it does acknowledge that Afghanistan will be a haven for terrorism. It addresses Al-Qaeda’s ties with other terror groups as one of degree. In other words, several terror groups will be returning to Afghanistan. Thus, the question becomes how many of these terror networks will be operating from Afghanistan.
Other views consider the nexus between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, to the extent that the BBC emphasized that relationship as being bound by a pledge, or “bay’ah,” that originated in the 1990s between Al-Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden and the Taliban’s Mullah Omar. These explanations, while offering good historical insights into Taliban-Al-Qaeda ties, miss one important point: How necessary is it for these two political movements to combine their ranks and cooperate? In other words, does the Taliban need Al-Qaeda at this moment as it attempts to govern Afghanistan?
It is arguable that there will be some attachment to the doctrines and operations of both the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. But the question is which is better than the other in terms of promoting that relationship for its own advantage? Al-Qaeda suffered heavy losses due to the efforts of the US and the international community to eradicate it. Its leader, Bin Laden, was killed. Other terror groups such as Daesh have risen to pre-eminence and are able to stage terror attacks against targets all over the world. Many security experts are analyzing the appearance of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri on the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. In a video speech titled “Jerusalem will not be Judaized,” he spoke little about Afghanistan. However, he hailed a January 2021 raid on a Russian military base in Syria conducted by Hurras Al-Deen, which is a terror cell with ties to Al-Qaeda.
It is certain that every new promotion by Al-Qaeda of its activities and challenges to America and the West after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban will make the theory that the two groups will coexist in Afghanistan less likely. This is because Al-Qaeda, at this stage of its evolution and after receiving such heavy blows in recent years, will be carrying out random terror operations. This will make it less likely it will be as formidable as it was before Sept. 11, 2001.
Another question is what shared experience the Taliban and Al-Qaeda will have, even after scores of Al-Qaeda fighters come back to Afghanistan. For sure, they have a common hatred of America, Israel and the West. But this does not necessarily make them allies. It seems that the Taliban are sizing up Al-Qaeda to assess what it can offer them. Al-Qaeda leaders are also evaluating what the Taliban can do for them. This should give the national security agencies in the US time to pre-empt any return of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
In addition, Al-Qaeda must be studying the documents that were declassified by the Biden administration on Saturday. They detail how it operated inside the US before the Sept. 11 attacks. This makes it impossible for its members to contact foreign government officials before planning their terror attacks. New methods of electronic surveillance will make it extremely difficult for Al-Qaeda to have secret underground cells in America.
So Al-Qaeda is still looking for a location to host its rebirth and potential expansion. Most likely, it will gradually return to Afghanistan, but it will have to be there in disguise for a long time. There will not be public statements by officials from the Taliban government welcoming them, since such an act would offer clear-cut evidence that the Taliban condone terrorism. Al-Qaeda is also shrewd politically and will be scrupulously watching the circumstances in Afghanistan under the Taliban. It may decide to increase or decrease its visibility in the country depending on the fortunes or misfortunes of the Taliban’s rule.

They may have a common hatred of America, Israel and the West, but this does not necessarily make them allies.

Maria Maalouf

It is worth considering what kind of influence Al-Qaeda might have on the Taliban. This is a difficult question, since it also touches on religious debates and the concept of extremism and its application. Perhaps Al-Qaeda can contribute to the creation of a political climate inside Afghanistan that tolerates the proliferation of small terror groups, which can nurture a culture of domestic terror, particularly when applied against the opponents of the Taliban, such as women, the ethnic Tajiks, Uzbeks and Turkmen, and others.
There will not be an official alliance between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, but there could be a great deal of cooperation between the two. This undoubtedly represents a challenge to global security that the Biden administration must urgently address. Al-Qaeda can use Afghanistan as a base to launch terror attacks against targets in the region. The national security of many Arab countries should now be monitored due to the degree of possible cooperation between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, since the latter is less likely to launch attacks in the West. An Al-Qaeda focus on the Middle East region will lead to many crises, so they must be forestalled.

  • Maria Maalouf is a Lebanese journalist, broadcaster, publisher and writer. She holds an MA in Political Sociology from the University of Lyon. Twitter: @bilarakib
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