The debate over the consequences of the recent assassination of Al Qaeda leader Ayman Al Zawahiri in the Afghan capital of Kabul has taken on multiple proportions.
One of the main subjects of this debates concerns the position of the Taliban, which has repeatedly vowed to the world, not just the US, to distance itself from terrorist organizations and to stop giving sanctuary to their leaders and elements on Afghan soil.
Just months after the Taliban took control of Kabul, the US announced the death of one of the world’s most dangerous international terrorists, Ayman Al Zawahiri, the leader of Al Qaeda, who was hiding in the heart of the tightly Taliban-controlled city. This undermines any possibility of evading responsibility for his presence in Afghanistan.
The US version of the circumstances of the drone strike even suggests that Zawahiri’s family was hiding in the Afghan capital and moved away from the border areas as the Taliban took control of Kabul. Zawahiri’s death and the unveiling of his presence in Kabul certainly put the Afghan movement under the spotlight.
It has torpedoed all its tireless attempts to appear before the international community in a new light and rebrand itself. In 2001, the movement hosted Osama bin Laden and his associates, including Zawahiri. Now, all the movement’s efforts at the diplomatic level to prove its change and goodwill went nowhere; its true face was exposed.
Everyone knows how difficult it is to really change the intellectual and ideological beliefs of extremist organizations. Much of their legitimacy and appeal in the eyes of their followers rests on these ideas, which cannot be abandoned or even watered down, because they have become ingrained in the organization as an essential element for its survival and continuity.
At a time when the Taliban are stepping up their moves to obtain regional and international diplomatic recognition of their government, as well as the lifting of sanctions and the release of US-frozen Afghan funds, US intelligence agencies have been monitoring Zawahiri’s movements in the heart of the capital, which the group controls, for months.
So the claim that Afghanistan’s sovereignty has been violated by the US operation in Kabul wouldn’t make
In fact, the Taliban are in a serious political bind. They may have to start new negotiations and make concessions to regain some of the lost confidence in the commitments they made, especially regarding sponsoring and harboring terror elements.
The world knew full well that the claim of a rift between the two sides was nothing more than a ridiculous deception; the claim that the movement was localized and had no external targets masked a major disaster. Some media point out ludicrous facts regarding the Taliban.
The movement’s interior minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, who time and again affirms that Al Qaeda is dead and has no presence left in Afghanistan, is the same man whose one aide, according to published US information, rented a house he owns to Al Zawahiri in an area completely controlled by Haqqani and his men, near the building where the movement’s interior ministry is located.
The problem is that the Al Zawahiri case will not be closed with his death, but will raise other issues, including the Taliban’s relations with Afghanistan’s neighbors, particularly China, Russia, and India. New Delhi, poised to open an office in Kabul, is finding it difficult to normalize relations with the Afghan movement while it continues to maintain ties with terrorist organizations.
Some believe the Taliban is struggling to fully control terrorist organizations based on Afghan soil. But that is a hypothesis that is not at issue here. Zawahiri was not roaming freely on Afghan soil, and his whereabouts were not unknown.
Most likely, he lived within sight of the movement’s leaders. This is not a matter of restricting and controlling his freedom of movement, nor is it a matter of the long-standing ties that the movement wants to maintain without affecting others (i.e., preventing him or others from planning and carrying out terrorist attacks against the US or other countries inside or outside Afghanistan).
Rather, the main issue is the challenge of breaking away from the ideological ties and intellectual credos that the Taliban share with Al Qaeda in particular.
And this is without going into the decrees that fell upon the Afghan people, especially women, since the takeover.
Dr Salem AlKetbi is a UAE political analyst.