Old and new in the relationship of the Taliban and al Qaeda – an article by Abu Walid al Masri in response to my op-ed

The article can be found in Arabic  here on Abu Walid’s blog.

My article in The Australian that Abu Walid responded to was called Al Qa’ida prefers the US to stick around and can be found here.

Free for citation.

Old and new in the relationship of the Taliban and al-Qaeda
From Mustafa Hamid (Abu al-Walid Al Masri)

“Mrs. Leah Farrall”, recently I came across one of your articles which dealt with the position of Al Qaeda on the expected U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. And you mentioned in your article your point of view was that the (strategy) of Al Qaeda aims to keep the American forces mired in Afghanistan because this will result in many benefits to al Qaeda.

Then you also stated that the (al Qaeda strategy) contradicts the (Taliban strategy), which sees the need for a full American withdrawal so the Taliban can regain full control over Afghanistan.
# For myself I have many notes about that – I hope I can go back to explain this in detail sometime—because I don’t like to speak generally on sensitive issues like this which need a lot of explanation especially if my point of view is different than most of the media and the specialists. But the current circumstances, in addition to the specificity of the forum, do not allow for anything but a brief explanation. That’s what I will try to do and I will say:

  1. The Taliban and al-Qaeda and all Muslims and all peoples of the world, prefer a quick withdrawal of the American forces and their allies from Afghanistan. Because there is no sane person who would wish the continued suffering of the Afghani people and the bloodshed there, even in return for achieving any political or material goals.
  2. My personal opinion is that all the countries in the region, first and foremost, China and Russia and with the exception of India, prefer an American withdrawal from Afghanistan, but not quickly, for two reasons:
  • The exhaustion of America to its lowest level. So the position of America in the International System will decline and it will be possible    to inherit parts of its international (geo-strategic) space
  • The exhaustion also of the Taliban to its lowest limit, so the Taliban cannot take over the Afghan situation. In this case, either the other countries will be able to impose a kind of coalition government to rule Afghanistan or the Taliban will be part of the coalition. Or the Taliban rules while it is exhausted and cannot achieve its vision on the ground and so the door will remain open for the intervention of neighbours and maybe even the division of Afghanistan either into several countries or to several cantons, each one of them in an orbit of one of the neighbouring countries.

# I already mentioned in a previous dialogue between us that al Qaeda doesn’t have a specific strategy, not in the past and not in the present. And that this is because of a chronic deficit in the Islamic Movement (and the Arabs in general) and this is an inability to make long term plans, and their excitable nature that loves the loud adventures and the spontaneous and unprepared work.
So I doubt that al Qaeda has any kind of strategy now. Maybe it has a “point of view” that lasts weeks or months and it can be replaced with another “point of view” according to the circumstances.
I am opposed to and have suspicions about all the efforts to exaggerate the strength and the role of al Qaeda. Or to say that all these vast armies came to this highly sensitive region according to the strategies of the world only to hunt bin Laden and a few dozen of his followers. This is a big trick and a first class smokescreen that misleads and hides the very important movement to draw the map of the Asian continent and the world in general.

On the assumption that al Qaeda has a “vision” for Afghanistan’s current condition, it totally lacks the means necessary to implement the “vision” and impose it on the ground. And also it doesn’t have the allies to help it do so.

The status of al Qaeda’s ideology does not enable it to substantially expand into Pashtun population centres. Because the salafist presence there is confined to narrow areas and a minority population.

The political discourse of al Qaeda is not acceptable in the area where it currently is present. It is also shrinking rapidly in the Arab and Islamic world.

The fighting tactics of al Qaeda have become stereotyped and have had a very negative political impact, and their use Pakistan and Iraq was  politically disastrous — and from the practical side had a limited effect.

# But I agree with you that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will put Al Qaeda against the wind (Trans: means in danger) – and its options will be limited and very difficult. For the following reasons:
First: The return of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan will make matters more complicated for the Taliban movement and the Islamic Emirate. Because the majority of the population is against al Qaeda for several fundamental reasons… Including:

  1. The traditional hostility between the Hanafi and Salafi “Wahhabi”
  2. The conviction of the Afghani people that bin Laden ignited the recent war and caused all of the devastation that occurred.
  3. Even inside the Taliban itself, bin Laden will not find only the rejection, but he will find some support from very limited numbers of Taliban (Trans comment: means here will only find limited support).  The reason is understood because bin Laden is the first convicted in the destruction of the Islamic Emirate.
  4. It might not be easy for Mullah Omar to expel bin Laden from Afghanistan (only if there is someone who is willing to host him outside of Afghanistan even in an informal way and with the implicit agreement with the Americans).But the Afghan hosting will be conditional and very limited, in the sense that he will be placed in a kind of house arrest.
  5. Mullah Omar may not be able to justify to his people a repetition of bin Laden’s hosting in Afghanistan without submission to an Islamic court for trial on charges such as:
    (Breaking bayah without a legitimate Shariah excuse and compromising the security of Afghanistan and igniting a bitter war that caused the death of thousands of people, and widespread destruction of property, disobeying the orders of Commander of the Faithful, the violation which led to the starting of the war).

    Even if Mullah Omar does not personally demand this trial, many people will do so and from the Taliban itself, and even from the Arabs who used to live in Afghanistan before the war who were never supporters of bin Laden’s recklessness.

# So it is in the interest of the Taliban movement and also the general interest of the Afghan people for “Al Qaeda” not to return to Afghanistan, and that bin Laden does not return only if absolutely necessary and under the conditions mentioned above.

# But it is also in the public interest that none of the Arab or Islamic organizations return in the form that they existed in the past –before the chaos and indiscriminate destruction and anarchy on the best assumptions, and with great optimism, it is possible to accept the limited return of individuals living under the laws of the emirate and without any independent political or military activity.

However the training camps of old will not come back again. And the  training work will be subject to the authority of the Ministry of Defense of the Islamic Emirate, according to defense policy.

Differentiation required:

# According to one of your important comments it says:

(The Taliban did not distinguish publicly its position on al Qaeda. And this helps the Americans to pursue a policy of a military solution against the Taliban as an ally of al Qaeda).

I think the superior position of the Taliban compared to al-Qaeda was known to the Americans even before the events of September 11. But the Americans were decided upon war even if the Taliban responded to all their demands.

Now the difference between the Taliban and al Qaeda is much bigger than before. Because of the war sparked by al Qaeda, and also because of difference between the future visions of Afghanistan and specifically its coming role.

While al Qaeda prefer and all the salaf jihadi branches prefer to go back to the old unruly situation, the Taliban movement prefers– and that’s according to their declarations–to go back to a more disciplined and strict approach with their unruly guests, who are not welcome anymore.

And with openness towards the neighbouring countries and the international situation. Especially with the transfer of international power to the continent of Asia.

(Even China has effective economic pressure on the U.S. economy, and China is the biggest foreign creditor to the United States).

However, I believe that the problem of the Islamic Emirate lies in two points:

First: a weak foreign policy of the Emirate.  In fact, the absence of a body for international political work.

Second: the weakness of the external media and also the absence of a professional media body.

The Taliban movement continues to suffer from considerable isolation outside Afghanistan. And their ability to communicate with the Islamic people and the Islamic movements is still very limited. And its external media communication is not suitable. And its foreign policy is very limited.
All this is contrary to their great strength on the ground and control over domestic affairs in Afghanistan.

Even in the Arab world  the “Islamic Emirate”  hardly finds any friends outside the salafi environment and their special media connections on the Internet.

But this small penetration of the Emirate in the Islamic environment is restricted to the salafi environment and has every expensive political consequences, and constrains the capacity of the emirate for political manoeuvring in the regional and international field.
From what is said above, we can understand that until now the Islamic Emirate has been unable to clearly distinguish its real position from the positions of al-Qaeda.

  1. dd
    12/07/2009 at 7:42 pm

    A great and insightful response to your questions Leah !

    I’m a surprised by Abu Walid’s harsh comments regarding AQ’s current ‘strategy’, saying no such strategy exists. That is quite different from what is often described by all kinds of CT-analysts. I wonder what your take on that is?


    • Leah Farrall, Australia
      12/07/2009 at 7:46 pm

      Hey, thank you! Great question. Still pondering. Will get back to you on that!

  2. MT
    12/07/2009 at 8:19 pm

    Leah your communication with Abu Walids’s insight is commenable, too many lives have been wasted, and any dialog that works towards a solution is worth its worldly weight. I will have questions but still trying to digest the implications such a positive communication can bring to choose my words with care.
    I will follow the with respect your blog.

    • Leah Farrall, Australia
      12/07/2009 at 11:25 pm

      Thank you.

  3. 12/08/2009 at 4:58 am

    Hi Leah,

    Thanks for the great work — your dialogue with Abu Walid is really an amazing development.

    One question: what is Abu Walid’s proficiency in English? From the Australian article, it sounded like he had a good grasp of political discourse in the West. Do you know if he’s getting that in translation, or directly from English-language sources?

    Also, as per your Coll post, I agree. It’s astonishing to me that someone who has written so extensively on the Middle East–in many ways turning it into his profession–still hasn’t seen the need to learn Arabic.

  4. apocalypse_rider
    12/10/2009 at 10:31 pm

    Hi Leah,

    It’s a great thing to read such an insight. Your article in The Australian was also very interesting. I just want to ask one thing.

    Each source has its own perspective, goals and reasons to share or disseminate ideas. Careful journalists and researchers are always aware of this. I was wondering if you could hypothetically discuss it a little in this case. One thing is to listen to Abu Walid and people like him. Other is to trust them.

  5. T. Haeffner
    12/11/2009 at 1:03 am

    Dear Leah,
    Thank you so much for your initiative and your work. I like the conversation between you and Abu Walid al Masri and all the thoughts and information behind it. Although we do not know whether it will change anything – please continue with this conversation.
    With deep respect and best wishes from Switzerland,

  6. Frank
    12/11/2009 at 2:16 am

    If Abu Walid Al Masri reads thsi, I should liek to recommend to him the witings of Friedrich Nietzsche like: “Beyond good and evil”, “The Genealogy of Morals” and “Thus spoke Zarathustra” etc. I think Nietzsche is a good companion for a Taliban, who might find out more about himself by someone who speaks his language, figuratively speaking. I’m sure there is a credible arabic translation around.

    For those who do not know: Nietzsche is arguably the most influential western philosopher (died 1900) and was the son of pastor. One of his most famous quotes is: “God is dead”…

    I’d also like to know waht he thinks of Bernard Lewis’ works on Islam. In any case compulsory reading for any journalist talking to talibs…

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