Says they remained in contact with Zawahiri during US talks
Afghanistan’s Taliban have not yet severed their ties with Al-Qaeda even after signing a peace deal with the United States, a UN report said Monday. The deal requires the insurgents not to allow the use of Afghan soil against the US and its allies.
Under the agreement signed in February, the US will pull out all its troops within 14 months and in return the Taliban won’t allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven for foreign terrorists again.
The UN report, however, says that Taliban leaders are still maintaining close relations with Al-Qaeda members.
“Al-Qaeda is quietly gaining strength in Afghanistan while continuing to operate with the Taliban under their protection,” it says. According to its findings, leaders of Taliban and Al-Qaeda have held several meetings to discuss cooperation related to operational planning and training.
The UN Monitoring Team’s report contains details of at least six high-profile meetings between the leaders of Taliban and Al-Qaeda. One such meeting, the report says, was held in the spring of 2019 that took place in Helmand province. Taliban leaders assured former Al-Qaeda chief’s son Hamza bin Laden that “the Islamic Emirate would not break its ties with Al-Qaeda for any price”.
Another meeting was held between members of Taliban’s Haqqani Network and Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in February 2020, the report says. In the meeting, Zawahiri was consulted over the agreement with the United States and the peace process.
Taliban, however, rejected the UN report. Suhail Shaheen, the group’s spokesperson, told SAMAA Digital that the report “is not based on ground realities”.
“Such reports only prolong war and sufferings of the people of Afghanistan rather than finding a solution to the Afghan issue,” Shaheen said.
Asked if the Taliban had severed their ties with Al-Qaeda, the spokesperson said they were committed to everything written in the agreement they signed with the US.
SAMAA Digital inquired if the Taliban had asked Al-Qaeda fighters to leave Afghanistan after the peace deal was signed. Without naming Al-Qaeda, Shaheen said, “We have sent the whole text and annexes of the Agreement to our field commanders to implement all that the agreement contains.”
Analysts believe that severing ties with Al-Qaeda won’t be an easy task for the Taliban leadership.
“I believe Al-Qaeda remains very popular among the rank and file of the Afghan Taliban,” said Asfandyar Mir, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University. “And the shared experience of fighting the US over the last two decades has further strengthened the relationship.”
Mir thinks that the UN report and its findings will not have any impact on the agreement between the US and the Taliban.
“My sense is that the US government is realistic that the relationship between Al-Qaida and the Taliban can’t be severed and it is something that they have to manage if they want to disengage from Afghanistan,” he said.
“The US thinks it has sufficiently scaled back Al-Qaida’s threat, which is of course questionable, but that’s what they think.”
He thinks that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan would be “a messy one”. “There will be implications, probably not so good,” Mir said.