The Taliban government in Afghanistan is beginning an era of isolation since Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri’s killing by hellfire missiles fired from a drone by the US defence forces as he was given asylum in a Kabul locality called Sherpur, as both the US government and Taliban regime now begin to re-read and re-interpret the Doha agreement that promised no terrorist activities from Afghan soil.
The US may consider a round of sanctions against the Taliban regime since its hiding al-Zawahiri, the mastermind of 9/11 World Trade Center (WTC) attacks with Osama Bin Laden and the attacks on the Kenyan and another embassy on American soil.
The Al Qaeda leader was also behind the suicide attack against USS Cole, a guided missile destroyer of the US Navy, that killed 17 sailors. In the attack, terrorists exploded a small boat alongside the USS Cole as it was refueling in the Yemen’s Aden port.
The Taliban had promised US negotiators at the Doha round table that the Afghan soil will not be allowed to be used for carrying out attacks on America, but allowed the FBI’s most wanted al-Zawahiri to reside on its soil, even as Taliban spokesman claimed that it did not promise that it would break alliance with other groups.
Taliban now finds itself in a quandary as it promised moderation even while reinstituting its harsh rule of Afghanistan. Now, the revelation that the Taliban were sheltering the Al Qaeda’s leader is likely to harden support for sanctions, says an analysis in the New York Times.
Hours after an American drone strike killed al-Zawahri, in downtown Kabul, Taliban security forces rushed to seal off the site. Green tarps were thrown over destroyed windows. Checkpoints were put up, and shops were closed. But that did not cover up the damage done to the Taliban’s nascent government’s credibility, which had tried to shelter the world’s most wanted terrorist from the eyes of the American government.
The strike early on Sunday morning – and the public revelation that the Taliban had sheltered a key plotter of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the heart of the Afghan capital – was a devastating moment for the group’s new government. The Taliban have not fundamentally reformed from their first regime in the 1990s, when their hard-liner policies and relationship with Al Qaeda turned the country into a pariah state, says the NYT dispatch.
Retaliation against Al Qaeda and the Taliban allies, who sheltered the terrorist group drove the US to invade Afghanistan in 2001, beginning a two-decade-long war that ravaged the country. Now, the Taliban seem to be treading again the same path, fueling criticism that the Taliban government should never be recognised globally, and speculation about a new era of US strikes against Afghanistan.
A Taliban statement condemned the American strike, without specifically mentioning al-Zawahri or Al Qaeda. “It is an act against the interests of Afghanistan and the region,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban government. “Repeating such actions will damage the available opportunities.”
The strike comes at a critical time for the Taliban struggling to gain integrity with its people and credibility in the international commnist of not being a terrorist state. Since seizing power, the group has promised to moderate as it seeks international recognition and aid from Western diplomats abroad, even while staying true to its hard-liner ideological beliefs at home. In recent months, the government has enacted increasingly oppressive policies, including restricting women’s rights to travel and work. And it has reneged on an earlier pledge to allow girls to attend secondary school.
International attitudes against the government have gained traction now and it may cost the country millions in foreign aid, sinking the country into its worst ever economic crisis. Now, the strike against the Al Qaeda’s leader in the heart of Kabul has opened a new chapter for the Taliban government, an era of isolation from the international community.
The strike highlights what many analysts and experts have warned for months. The Taliban have allowed terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban, to exist freely on Afghan soil since the takeover despite the agreement with the US, the NYT said.
“No one is terribly surprised that the Taliban is playing footsie with Al Qaeda, and no one is terribly surprised the US hit him with a drone,” said Graeme Smith, a senior consultant for the International Crisis Group who focuses on Afghanistan.
“The risk now is a slippery slope of ‘over the horizon’ strikes being a viable option dealing with very complicated threats that are coming from Afghanistan,” he said adding, “There is a rich history of airstrikes not having their intended consequences in Afghanistan.” Sunday’s strike signals the first use of the Pentagon’s so-called “over the horizon” strategy in Afghanistan, in which the United States attacks targets with aircraft based outside the country.
Following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, the American officials have moved to reposition the American forces in neighboring countries where they can launch strikes like the one on al-Zawahiri. This strategy is still in its infancy, and talks about positioning forces in places like Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan are still in their early stages. It remains unclear whether the strike over the weekend will be the first of many, or a one-off.
“The strike doesn’t necessarily tell us much about the over-the-horizon strategy because it was clear that al-Zawahri was a big enough fish to go after regardless of the general policy,” Smith added.
The Taliban’s history with Al Qaeda stretches back decades. Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s first leader in the 1990s, was largely deferential to Al Qaeda’s expanding existence in the country’s east during those years. Some Taliban factions had a closer relationship with the terrorist organisation than others – especially the Haqqani network, whose senior leadership fought alongside and aided Al Qaeda’s founder, Osama bin Laden, during the Soviet-Afghan war.
As its terrorist camps spread, Bin Laden issued a “declaration of jihad” in summer 1996 that called for attacks on the US. Omar was at times clearly frustrated with the negative international attention that began focusing on his government, but he still refused to expel Bin Laden, even after Al Qaeda’s September 11 attacks set the US on the path to invasion.
Both Bin Laden and al-Zawahri pledged allegiance to the Taliban’s leaders over the years, though al-Zawahri’s most recent pledge – in 2016 after Haibatullah Akhundzada rose to become supreme leader of the Taliban – was never publicly accepted or rejected by the group.