After bin Laden: Why the Taliban won't sever ties with Al Qaeda

Maintaining official ties with Al Qaeda provides the Taliban with important credibility among international jihadist groups, as well as access to military training and Arab funding.

By , Correspondent

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    An Afghan policeman is seen alert at a check post, as his colleagues check cars for escaped Taliban insurgents in Kandahar, Afghanistan on April 26.
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Over the past several days, there has been much speculation among pundits that the killing of Osama bin Laden could provide an opportunity for the Taliban to join peace talks.

The close personal relationship between Mr. bin Laden and the Taliban’s leader Mullah Mohammed Omar was seen as one of the central reasons for the group’s continuing support of Al Qaeda. Now that bin Laden is dead, some commentators speculate that the Taliban may be willing to renounce Al Qaeda, a key condition for peace talks.

But even without bin Laden, that remains highly unlikely. Maintaining official ties with Al Qaeda provides the Taliban with important credibility among jihadist groups in addition to access to training and Arab funding.

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“If the Taliban stays with Al Qaeda there are a lot of incentives,” says Sami Yousafzai, an independent analyst in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. “If they say 'OK, we’re not going to support Al Qaeda,' that might have an impact on their financial sources from the Middle East.”

During the past few years, many Arabs opposed to the West have come to see Afghans, especially Pashtuns as like-minded allies.

“The Taliban are very much concerned about the general public opinion,” says Hamid Mir, a Pakistani journalist and independent analyst. “Some of them say that ‘We cannot give an impression to the Afghan or Pashtun masses that we are making any deals with the United States or that we are under pressure.’ They are sure that in three or four years they will defeat the United States.”

Still, the relationship with Al Qaeda has become much more symbolic than it is practical.

The two groups share few ideological ties and have maintained little contact since the start of the war with NATO. Most estimates say that there are presently less than 100 Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan who are reportedly dependent on the Taliban for their survival.

On the eve of the American-led invasion of Afghanistan, there was some internal debate about whether the Taliban should turn over bin Laden to avoid war with NATO. Almost 10 years later, there is still some resentment within the Taliban that the reason they lost control of Afghanistan was because of bin Laden.

“Those who asked Mullah Omar to handover bin Laden and save the Islamic Emirate in 2001 will probably ask Mullah Omar again to break ties with Al Qaeda," says Mohammed Hashim Watanwal, a member of parliament from Uruzgan Province. "If he doesn’t, maybe they will quit the movement and sit down for talks with the government.”

Aside from such speculation, however, there are few concrete indications that the Taliban is ready to turn its back on Al Qaeda.

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