Ayman al-Zawahiri Assassination: The Taliban’s Biggest Crisis The Taliban

The drone strike that killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has plunged the Taliban into an internal crisis. The group has been humiliated by unilateral U.S. military action and its ruthless claim that it has denied “terrorists” access to space has been revealed as a lie.

This jeopardizes two of the Taliban’s core and conflicting goals: maintaining the legitimacy of the group’s rank-and-file members, which include die-hard armed fighters and religious theorists, and securing much-needed money from an international community reluctant to fund the Taliban for fear of the Taliban. financial aid. “Terrorism” relationship.

Initially, the Taliban may have responded to the raid on al-Zawahiri with contempt, insisting they were not harboring terrorists, and intensifying their resistance to addressing longstanding international demands, from returning older girls to school to forming a more inclusive government. They are also likely to take a tougher stance in sensitive talks with Washington over humanitarian supplies and the thawing of Afghan central bank assets.

But in the long run, Zawahiri’s killing could exacerbate existing rifts within the group. This internal unrest could provide an opportunity for the emergence of factions that support a more conciliatory and pragmatic view, but it could also lead to dysfunction and dangers affecting governance and raise questions about the viability of the Taliban’s future political control.

For nearly a year, the Taliban celebrated their expulsion of foreign troops and promised never to let them back. That’s why drone strikes have embarrassed the Taliban leadership so much, as well as field commanders and fighters who have fought with the U.S. military for nearly 20 years. Since taking over the Taliban, the Taliban have made it clear how much they prioritize maintaining the legitimacy of these constituencies: They have held ceremonies honoring the families of suicide bombers and held a military parade that showcased American weapons, even by restricting girls education to alienate ordinary Afghans and crack down on journalists and activists. The group will need to appease the angry rank-and-file; simply getting out of the raid and moving on won’t cut it.

The Taliban could also face new threats from the Islamic State ISKP (ISIS-K) in Khorasan province if they don’t take a tough stance against the United States. The Taliban and al Qaeda rival ISKP have benefited from al-Zawahiri’s killing as one of its most senior enemies has been eliminated. But it can also gain propaganda mileage by accusing the Taliban of not anticipating an attack, or even being complicit. ISKP fighters are apparently galvanized; this week, they attempted to attack Shiites who observe Muharram.

The raid on al-Zawahiri also risks alienating the Taliban’s other hardline allies in Afghanistan, from the Pakistani Taliban to Lashkar-e-Taiba, all of which are aligned with al-Qaeda. These groups are united in their hatred of the U.S. military, especially when deployed on the soil of Muslim countries. Ironically, the Taliban’s new tensions with fighters may reinforce the group’s claim that it is moving away from “terrorists” — but they also increase the risk that the groups will turn their guns on the Taliban.

Moreover, in the short term, Washington will not be keen to engage with the Taliban.It is outrageous that al-Zawahiri lives in central Kabul, and Believe Some Taliban leaders knew he was there. With the United States taking a hard line against the Taliban and not in the mood to discuss expanding aid or unfreezing Afghan bank funds, the Taliban have little incentive to consider a more conciliatory stance. Before the al-Zawahiri raid, US-Taliban relations were awkward and uneasy, poised to become downright toxic.

But relations within the Taliban could also become toxic. The group’s internal divisions are well known: differences between fighter ranks and long-standing civilian representatives in the Taliban’s political offices in Doha; between ideologically driven mullahs and more practical leaders who support greater international engagement; Relations between the Haqqani network faction in Kandahar, where the group originated, and the Taliban authorities.

An individual close to Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani reportedly owns a house that shelters al-Zawahiri. That’s not surprising, given Haqqani’s particularly deep ties to al Qaeda. According to scholars Don Rassler and Vahid Brownthe Haqqani network functions “as an interdependent system” within al-Qaeda.

Many Taliban leaders may be unhappy that Zawahiri has taken refuge in Kabul. Others may be outraged that his presence has exposed the group to deep humiliation and a potential internal crisis of legitimacy. Others may be concerned that someone in the group shared Zawahiri’s location with the CIA. Zawahiri himself reportedly revealed to al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden that he did not trust the Taliban leader, nor did they trust him.

The missile attack humiliated the Taliban. They also faced the wrath of rank-and-file members of the group. They will now face greater difficulties in securing international support to address a raging humanitarian and economic crisis driven in large part by sanctions that have prevented money from flowing into the country. This state of the game means that those who support a more pragmatic and conciliatory position may have an opportunity for a power game. However, theorists and hardliners will not give in. They hold some of the top leadership positions, and they embrace an ideology that reflects the basic identity of the Taliban.

In the past, the top Taliban leadership has often used force to successfully suppress internal insurgencies. It could happen this time too. But this is easier to do when the group is an armed uprising, with far less pressure, without the heavy responsibility of managing and responding to huge policy challenges, without an inspired competitor like ISKP, and without the potential to lead to such a violent External events of internal shocks. Institutional divisions were previously just random disturbances; today, they can become corrosive hazards. If these internal tensions worsen, governance and political control could be threatened and provide opportunities for new armed opposition groups. That would mean the risk of renewed violence and civil war. In the most extreme case, a missile that ripped apart Zawahiri could rip apart the Taliban.

For now, the Taliban appear to be buying themselves time as they consider how to proceed: They refuse to confirm that Zawahiri was killed, instead promising to investigate. In the short term, the Taliban is likely to take a hard line, condemning the raids and doubling down on policies that trigger international sanctions and stem the inflow of much-needed funds from abroad.

Ultimately, though, the Taliban could face an inflection point as they grapple with humiliation, traumatized ordinary people, more international condemnation, and growing internal divisions — all of which will further increase their already overburdened responsibilities for governance . The Taliban have existed for nearly 30 years and have never experienced such a severe crisis.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial position.

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