07 January, 2007

al Qaeda and the Taliban: growing in strength and purpose?

The Financial Express carries an article on al Qaeda from Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. Shazhad argues that, since its flight from Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11, al Qaeda has been transforming itself "...from an ideological movement into a physical entity. This would serve as an umbrella to unify resistance movements in preparation for a decisive battle against the "infidel" West." As part of this process,

al-Qaeda reformed its tunnel vision and concluded that it should concentrate fighters in small pockets to establish tiny "kingdoms of heaven" all over the Islamic world, instead of becoming involved in global fights against US targets.

The strategy finally began to pay off in 2006 in Afghanistan and Iraq, where leading amirs (commanders) are in place, although the losses of foreign forces are fewer than al-Qaeda might have expected. This process, therefore, is still in the phase of implementation.
In effect, Shahzad identifies a two-pronged attack from al Qaeda: terrorist attacks in the west and larger scale action in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just before Christmas, Newsweek gave us some indication of how "the battle against the 'infidel' west" might proceed in Europe. In the east, Shahzad observes, in Afghanistan and Iraq, al Qaeda can benefit from the recent strengthening of its ties with the Taliban.

A paper from India Defence argues that the Taliban is now "rejuvenated". As Afghanistan politics continues "Galloping Backwards" into weak government and factionalism,
They [the Taliban] are the 'new winners' of the 'war on terror', whereas the 'old winners', the mujahideen factions of the United Front and the pro-Karzai elements, are being subjected to criticism for the failures of 'war on terror' in Afghanistan. It is no secret that the US has been looking for an ally from within the Taliban.

It would not be wrong to say that Afghan politics has begun moulding the West to its own advantage. Instead of the 'war on terror' shaping the Afghan conflict, it is the Taliban and Pakistan who have begun laying terms and conditions for the 'resolution' of the conflict.

The fact that both Pakistan and the US have, since the rout of the Taliban in 2001, been proposing the inclusion of 'moderate' Taliban in the Afghan government, makes the cooption of 'sections' of the Taliban not so distant a possibility.
I am not sure about the claim that the US is looking to deal with some Taliban elements . Certainly, There is little doubt that some elements of the Taliban are going to play a role in the forthcoming Afghan-Pak jirga, but it is probably the tribal chiefs and elders who will finally decide the extent of the Taliban's influence.

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