Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Taliban and Al Qaeda, kissing cousins or marriage of convenience?

Regarding the relationship between Al Qaeda and the Taliban factions, John Mueller write in Foreign Affairs last year:
President Barack Obama insists that the U.S. mission in Afghanistan is about "making sure that al Qaeda cannot attack the U.S. homeland and U.S. interests and our allies" or "project violence against" American citizens. The reasoning is that if the Taliban win in Afghanistan, al Qaeda will once again be able to set up shop there to carry out its dirty work. As the president puts it, Afghanistan would "again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can." This argument is constantly repeated but rarely examined; given the costs and risks associated with the Obama administration’s plans for the region, it is time such statements be given the scrutiny they deserve.

Multiple sources, including Lawrence Wright's book The Looming Tower, make clear that the Taliban was a reluctant host to al Qaeda in the 1990s and felt betrayed when the terrorist group repeatedly violated agreements to refrain from issuing inflammatory statements and fomenting violence abroad. Then the al Qaeda-sponsored 9/11 attacks -- which the Taliban had nothing to do with -- led to the toppling of the Taliban’s regime. Given the Taliban’s limited interest in issues outside the "AfPak" region, if they came to power again now, they would be highly unlikely to host provocative terrorist groups whose actions could lead to another outside intervention. And even if al Qaeda were able to relocate to Afghanistan after a Taliban victory there, it would still have to operate under the same siege situation it presently enjoys in what Obama calls its "safe haven" in Pakistan.

The very notion that al Qaeda needs a secure geographic base to carry out its terrorist operations, moreover, is questionable. After all, the operational base for 9/11 was in Hamburg, Germany. Conspiracies involving small numbers of people require communication, money, and planning -- but not a major protected base camp.
Eric Martin [another Foreign Affairs alum] of American Footprints writes of another knowledgeable author:
In addition to Lawrence Wright, Steve Coll makes the same argument in The Bin Ladens: namely, that the Taliban and al-Qaeda were not natural allies, willing to support each primarily out of a religious or ideological affinity. On the contrary, Osama bin Laden had to lavish enormous amounts of money on Taliban leaders in order to stay in their good graces. In addition to other tributes, Osama employed his construction know-how to build palaces, homes and other facilities for Taliban leaders. Without those sweeteners, it is unlikely that the Taliban would have long tolerated what was, essentially, a band of problematic interlopers with an agenda that was irrelevant to the inwardly directed Afghans.

Now that the Taliban has been made aware of the sizable costs that they could and would incur should they decide to reprise their previous landlord/tenant relationship with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, it is less likely that they would be so inclined. And now that the US and other nations have are taking the task of disrupting al-Qaeda's financing networks seriously (with time, money and other resources dedicated to the cause), it would be harder for Osama and others to generate the funds needed to buy their way in.

And, again, even if al-Qaeda succeeded in finding a foothold in Afghanistan despite these obstacles, such bases aren't the sine qua non of successful terrorist attacks. Not by a long shot.
Additionally, another good read is Are Theological Tensions Distancing Taliban From Al-Qaeda?
To this day, that relationship endures. But will it last? Rifts and tensions between the Taliban and Arab Al-Qaeda, as well as vastly different Islamic traditions, suggest that a basis for separation exists. Whether it occurs could determine whether peace negotiations between the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Taliban foes ever get off the ground.

Afghan Muslim traditions, including the Taliban, are culturally and historically distinct from Al-Qaeda's Saudi-rooted Salafist Islam, says Francesco Zannini, an expert on modern Islam. In that sense, the two Sunni movements have always been awkward bedfellows.
A similar read with different sources, Hawks still link Taliban to al-Qaeda:
But John McCreary, formerly a senior analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency, wrote last week on NightWatch, an online news analysis service, that the history of Taliban-al-Qaeda relations suggests a very different conclusion. After being ousted from power in 2001, he wrote, the Taliban "openly derided the Arabs of al-Qaeda and blamed them for the Taliban's misfortunes".
The Taliban leaders "vowed never to allow the foreigners - especially the haughty, insensitive Arabs - back into Afghanistan", wrote McCreary. "In December 2001, [Taliban leader Mullah] Omar was ridiculed in public by his own commanders for inviting the 'Arabs' and other foreigners, which led to their flight to Pakistan."

McCreary concluded, "The premise that Afghanistan would become an al-Qaeda safe haven under any future government is alarmist and bespeaks a lack of understanding of the Pashtuns on this issue and a superficial knowledge of recent Afghan history."
There's even discussion in jihadi circles about the tense relationship, Jihadis Debate Growing Rift Between al-Qaeda and the Taliban

And finally, Blood Brothers or a Marriage of Convenience? The Ideological Relationship between al-Qaida and the Taliban

So once again...we're in Afghanistan why? Don't be duped...question the official response!

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