FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Shattering the Myth of Taliban / Al Qaeda Ties

The central justification of the U.S.-NATO war against the Afghan Taliban – that the Taliban would allow al Qaeda to return to Afghanistan – has been challenged by new historical evidence of offers by the Taliban leadership to reconcile with the Hamid Karzai government after the fall of the Taliban government in late 2001.

The evidence of the Taliban peace initiatives comes from a new paper drawn from the first book-length study of Taliban- al Qaeda relations thus far, as well as an account in another recent study on the Taliban in Kandahar province by journalist Anand Gopal.

In a paper published Monday by the Center on International Cooperation at New York University, Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn recount the decision by the Taliban leadership in 2002 to offer political reconciliation with the U.S.-backed Afghan administration.

Citing an unidentified former Taliban official who participated in the decision, they report that the entire senior Taliban political leadership met in Pakistan in November 2002 to consider an offer of reconciliation with the new Afghan government in which they would “join the political process” in Afghanistan.

“We discussed whether to join the political process in Afghanistan or not and we took a decision that, yes, we should go and join the process,” the former Taliban leader told the co-authors.

They cite an interlocutor who was then in contact with the Taliban leadership as recalling that they would have returned to Afghanistan to participate in the political system if they had been given an assurance they would not be arrested.

But the Karzai government and the United States refused to offer such an assurance, the interlocutor recalled. They considered the Taliban a “spent force”, he told Strick van Linschoten and Kuehn.

Gopal, who has covered Afghanistan for the Christian Science Monitor and the Wall Street Journal, provided a similar account of the Taliban attempt to reconcile with the Karzai government in a lengthy study published by the New America Foundation last November, based on his interviews with present and former Taliban as well as with officials in the office of President Karzai.

The entire senior Taliban leadership, meeting in Karachi, “agreed in principle to find a way for them to return to Afghanistan and abandon the fight”, Gopal wrote, but the initiative was frustrated by the unwillingness of the United States and the Afghan government to provide any assurance that they would not arrested and detained.

The Taliban continued to pursue the possibility of reconciliation in subsequent years, with apparent interest on the part of the Karzai government, according to Gopal. Delegations “representing large sections of the Taliban leadership” traveled to Kabul in both 2003 and 2004 to meet with senior government officials, according to his account.

But the George W. Bush administration remained uninterested in offering assurances of security to the Taliban.

Robert Grenier, then the CIA station chief in Islamabad, revealed in an article in al Jazeera Jan. 31, 2010 that former Taliban foreign minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil had been serving as an intermediary with the Taliban on their possible return to Afghanistan in 2002 when he was “arrested and imprisoned for his pains”.

The CIA sought to persuade the U.S. Defence Department to release Muttawakil, according to Grenier. But Muttawakil remained in detention at Bagram Airbase, where he was physically abused, until October 2003.

The new evidence undermines the Barack Obama administration’s claim that Taliban-ruled areas of Afghanistan would become a “sanctuary” for al Qaeda.

Strick van Linschoten and Kuehn suggest that the proposed reintegration of the Taliban into a political system that had been set up by the United States and its allies was “totally alien to al-Qaeda ideology but logical for the Taliban”.

They acknowledge that the Taliban have welcomed the support and assistance of al Qaeda cadres in the war. But they argue in the new paper that the relationship is a “marriage of convenience” imposed by the foreign military presence, not an expression of an ideological alliance.

They also cite evidence that the Taliban leadership recognise that they will have to provide guarantees that a Taliban-influenced regime in Afghanistan would not allow al Qaeda to have a sanctuary.

They note in particular a Taliban public statement released before the London Conference of January 2010 that pledged, “We will not allow our soil to be used against any other country.”

An earlier Taliban statement, distributed to news media Dec. 4, 2009, said the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” – the term used by the insurgent leadership to refer to the organisation – had “no agenda of meddling in the internal affairs of other countries and is ready to give legal guarantees if foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan”.

Independent specialists on the history of the relationship have long questioned that assumption, and have emphasised that the Taliban leadership was never very close to al Qaeda.

Leah Farrell, senior counter-terrorism intelligence analyst with the Australian Federal Police from 2002 to 2008, wrote in her blog that the relationship “is not a marriage, it’s friends with benefits”. Farrell has also said that jihadi accounts of the late 1990s have shown bin Laden was not that close to Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Mohammed Omar before the 9/11 attacks.

The new paper, based on both Taliban and jihadist documents and from interviews with Taliban and former Taliban officials, points to basic differences of ideology and interest between the Taliban and al Qaeda throughout the history of their relations.

Relations between Taliban and al Qaeda leaders during the second half of the 1990s were “complicated and often tense”, according to Strick von Linschoten and Kuehn, even though they were both Sunni Muslims and shared a common enemy.

They recall that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s plotting against the United States was done in direct violation of Mullah Omar’s directives to him.

An e-mail from two leading Arab jihadists in Afghanistan to bin Laden in July 1999, which Wall Street Journal reporter Alan Cullison later found in a laptop that had once belonged to al Qaeda, referred to a “crisis” in relations between bin Laden and Mullah Omar that threatened the future of al Qaeda-sponsored training camps in Afghanistan. The message expressed fear that the Taliban regime might “kick them out” of Afghanistan.

Mullah Omar nevertheless regarded bin Laden as an “important connector” to the Muslim world, according to Strick van Linschoten and Kuehn. And the Taliban leadership faction that was pushing hard to force bin Laden out of the country was weakened by the death of its leading figure, Mullah Mohammed Rabbani, in April 2001.

Contrary to the suggestion that the Taliban were complicit with the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks, however, Strick van Linschoten and Kuehn assert that Mullah Omar and other leaders refused to hand over bin Laden to the United States mainly because of the fear of losing the few allies they had in the Muslim world.

They suggest that a primary reason for the Taliban decision not to give into U.S. pressure on bin Laden both before and after 9/11 was to maintain the support of Pakistan, which was encouraging them to hold out against those pressures.

Other published sources have confirmed that, even in October 2001, Pakistani intelligence officials were advising the Taliban to avoid handing over bin Laden, in the hope that the Taliban-al Qaeda resistance to the U.S.-led military offensive would continue.

GARETH PORTER is an investigative historian and journalist with Inter-Press Service specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, “Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam“, was published in 2006.

 

More articles by:

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

August 16, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
“Don’t Be Stupid, Be a Smarty”: Why Anti-Authoritarian Doctors Are So Rare
W. T. Whitney
New Facebook Alliance Endangers Access to News about Latin America
Sam Husseini
The Trump-Media Logrolling
Ramzy Baroud
Mission Accomplished: Why Solidarity Boats to Gaza Succeed Despite Failing to Break the Siege
Larry Atkins
Why Parkland Students, Not Trump, Deserve the Nobel Peace Prize
William Hartung
Donald Trump, Gunrunner for Hire
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Morality Tales in US Public Life?
Yves Engler
Will Trudeau Stand Up to Mohammad bin Salman?
Vijay Prashad
Samir Amin: Death of a Marxist
Binoy Kampmark
Boris Johnson and the Exploding Burka
Eric Toussaint
Nicaragua: The Evolution of the Government of President Daniel Ortega Since 2007 
Adolf Alzuphar
Days of Sagebrush, Nights of Jasmine in LA
Robert J. Burrowes
A Last Ditch Strategy to Fight for Human Survival
August 15, 2018
Jason Hirthler
Russiagate and the Men with Glass Eyes
Paul Street
Omarosa’s Book Tour vs. Forty More Murdered Yemeni Children
Charles Pierson
Is Bankruptcy in Your Future?
George Ochenski
The Absolute Futility of ‘Global Dominance’ in the 21st Century
Gary Olson
Are We Governed by Secondary Psychopaths
Fred Guerin
On News, Fake News and Donald Trump
Arshad Khan
A Rip Van Winkle President Sleeps as Proof of Man’s Hand in Climate Change Multiplies and Disasters Strike
P. Sainath
The Unsung Heroism of Hausabai
Georgina Downs
Landmark Glyphosate Cancer Ruling Sets a Precedent for All Those Affected by Crop Poisons
Rev. William Alberts
United We Kneel, Divided We Stand
Chris Gilbert
How to Reactivate Chavismo
Kim C. Domenico
A Coffeehouse Hallucination: The Anti-American Dream Dream
August 14, 2018
Daniel Falcone
On Taking on the Mobilized Capitalist Class in Elections: an Interview With Noam Chomsky
Karl Grossman
Turning Space Into a War Zone
Jonah Raskin
“Fuck Wine Grapes, Fuck Wines”: the Coming Napafication of the World
Manuel García, Jr.
Climate Change Bites Big Business
Alberto Zuppi - Cesar Chelala
Argentina at a Crossroads
Chris Wright
On “Bullshit Jobs”
Rosita A. Sweetman
Dear Jorge: On the Pope’s Visit to Ireland
Binoy Kampmark
Authoritarian Revocations: Australia, Terrorism and Citizenship
Sara Johnson
The Incredible Benefits of Sagebrush and Juniper in the West
Martin Billheimer
White & Red Aunts, Capital Gains and Anarchy
Walter Clemens
Enough Already! Donald J. Trump Resignation Speech
August 13, 2018
Michael Colby
Migrant Injustice: Ben & Jerry’s Farmworker Exploitation
John Davis
California: Waging War on Wildfire
Alex Strauss
Chasing Shadows: Socialism Won’t Go Away Because It is Capitalism’s Antithesis 
Kathy Kelly
U.S. is Complicit in Child Slaughter in Yemen
Fran Shor
The Distemper of White Spite
Chad Hanson
We Know How to Protect Homes From Wildfires. Logging Isn’t the Way to Do It
Faisal Khan
Nawaz Sharif: Has Pakistan’s Houdini Finally Met his End?
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Versus Journalism: the Travails of Fourth Estate
Wim Laven
Honestly Looking at Family Values
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail