The Afghan Taliban released a statement today from Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, the “deputy leader of the Islamic Emirate [of Afghanistan] and acting head of the Leadership Council,” to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the emir of the Islamic State, that demanded the Islamic State fight under the Taliban’s banner in Afghanistan and end divisions amongst jihadists throughout the world. In the process, Mansour praised al Qaeda as an integral part of the global jihad.
The statement, titled “Islamic Emirate Leadership Council’s Letter to Respectable Abdu Bakr al Baghdadi,” was released today in Pashtu on Voice of Jihad, the Taliban’s official propaganda website. A translation of the statement was obtained by The Long War Journal.
Mansour, the former Minister of Civil Aviation and Transportation during Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001 and the former shadow governor of Kandahar province, addresses Baghdadi in a respectful yet authoritative tone. Baghdadi established the rival Islamic State’s Khorasan province last year by picking off disaffected Taliban and jihadists commanders. The Khorasan region covers Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of the area surrounding these two nations.
The Taliban likely released Mansour’s statement in response to recent threats by the Islamic State against the Taliban, as well as attacks by the Islamic State on the Taliban in Nangarhar province and elsewhere. In January 2015, when Abu Muhammad al Adnani, the spokesman for the Islamic State, announced the group’s expansion into Khorasan, he issued a threat against the Taliban. In a video released by the Islamic State earlier this month, a fighter threatens the Taliban after clashes escalated between the two groups in Nangarhar province this year.
Mansour’s statement follows a rejection of the Islamic State’s “self-professed caliphate” by the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, which recognizes Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar as their leader.
Mansour praises bin Laden, al Qaeda leaders
While making the argument that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is the only rightful representative of jihadist activities in Afghanistan, Mansour notes that top al Qaeda and jihadist leaders over the past decades have based their activities in Afghanistan.
“The heroes of the current jihadist era – the prayer leader of mujahideen, Sheikh Abdullah Azzam; the leader of mujahideen, Sheikh Osama bin Ladin; the defeater of crusaders, Abu Musab al Zarqawi; and the defeater of atheists, Khattab – had the privilege to be students of jihadist seminaries in Afghanistan.”
Azzam, an influential jihadist ideologue who is considered to be the father of global jihad, co-founded al Qaeda with bin Laden and also co-founded Lashkar-e-Taiba; he was bin Laden’s mentor until he was killed in 1989. Zarqawi ran a training camp for jihadists in Afghanistan and was the founder and leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor of the Islamic State, until he was killed in 2006. “Khattab” is Ibn Khattab, al Qaeda’s leader of the International Islamic Battalion in Chechnya before he was killed in 2002.
Additionally, Mansour cites a radical Saudi cleric who supports al Qaeda and bin Laden’s endorsement of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan when stating that Afghanistan’s religious scholars pledged allegiance to Mullah Omar and his leadership council. In fact, bin Laden and his successor, Ayman al Zawahiri, have sworn an oath of allegiance to Mullah Omar.
“The country’s 1,500 Ulema [the religious council of scholars in Afghanistan] have chosen, and pledged allegiance to, the leadership of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in accordance with sharia, and famous religious scholars of the world like Sheikh Hamud bin Uqla al Shuaybi [a radical Saudi cleric who supported al Qaeda and the Taliban, bin Laden, and the 9/11 attacks], may God have mercy on him, and famous jihadist leaders like Sheikh Osama, may God have mercy on him, have announced their support and allegiance to the lawful Emirate,” Mansour says.
Rivalry between Taliban and Islamic State
Mansour’s argument for jihadist unity in Afghanistan is simple: he states that “division and differences among jihadist ranks” after the withdrawal of Soviet forces in 1989 led to major problems that were only resolved once the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” was able to reunite Afghans and establish an Islamic state. He argues that the Koran calls for unity amongst Muslims and that the Islamic Emirate was endorsed by Afghanistan’s Muslim leaders as well as al Qaeda’s founder, Osama bin Laden.
“The Islamic Emirate stresses the unity of jihadist ranks in Afghanistan, because maintaining the strength of the jihadist ranks is an obligation,” Mansour claims. “At another point, the holy Koran clearly orders Muslims to avoid conflict, division, and mutual differences,” he notes, citing passages from the Koran to support both points.
“The Islamic Emirate has been focusing on the unity and strength of the jihadist ranks against international heresy,” claiming that the US and the West seek to prevent the establishment of Islamic governance.
Additionally, Mansour claims that Mullah Omar is still alive, despite persistent rumors of his death, and has been leading the fight against the West since the US overthrew the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in the fall of 2001 after the 9/11 attacks.
“The Muslim people of Afghanistan, led by the Islamic Emirate, the supreme head of which is the leader of the faithful, Mullah Muhammad Omar (May God prolong his life), very bravely organized their jihadist ranks against the aggressors, making unprecedented sacrifices for 13 years to free Afghanistan from the aggression of invaders and to enforce the rule of Islam in the country,” he says.
Divisions harm the Afghan jihad
Mansour tells Baghdadi that the Islamic State risks dividing jihadists in Afghanistan by creating a parallel group that is unable to deal with the complexities of the cultural and tribal dynamics in the country.
“In compliance with the aforementioned Koranic teachings, [and] because of its previous jihadist experience and good understanding of its [Afghan] society and environment, the Islamic Emirate thinks that multiplicity in the jihadist ranks in Afghanistan is beneficial neither for jihad nor Muslims here,” Mansour states. “This is because the Afghan society is such that there are always internal differences and conflicts, and the possibility of internal differences will be eliminated if there is one leadership and rank.”
Mansour then argues that a unified jihadist command prevents divisions, and says the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is the legitimate representative of jihadists in Afghanistan.
“By maintaining unity in its ranks, the Islamic Emirate has foiled until now all ill designs aimed at creating differences and division. Now if there is an attempt to create another jihadist group or another leadership, it will clearly pave the way for differences and division. That is why the Islamic Emirate says that jihadist activity in Afghanistan should only be under the Emirate leadership.”
“So, in order to prevent the scourge of disunity in Afghanistan, the Islamic Emirate considers allowing jihadist activity here only from the ranks of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan as logical from religious and jihadist point of view. It [the Taliban] considers creating another group against it contrary to the interests of jihad, mujahideen and Islam,” Mansour continues.
Warns against Islamic State dividing jihadist ranks worldwide.
Mansour then goes beyond the jihad in Afghanistan and warns the Islamic State against dividing jihadists in other Muslim nations into two camps. While not mentioned specifically, Mansour is likely referring to the Islamic State’s rivalry with al Qaeda’s branches in Syria, Yemen, Libya, Egypt, Mali, and Algeria. He says that jihadists “have failed to achieve any concrete victory because of their disunity and the lack of a unified leadership.”
“Islamic groups and personalities have rendered heavy sacrifices in very tough conditions in various parts of the world,” Mansour says. “They have made these achievements after suffering great hardships and rendering sacrifices; therefore, we advise you not to create such difficult conditions for Islamic movements in any part of the world that, God forbid, affect their operations and discipline and that may lead to differences among them. In the end, due to differences over the modalities of operations or difference of opinion, they start killing each other.”
Veiled threats to the Islamic State
While Mansour’s tone is respectful, at several points he issues warnings that can be interpreted as threats to the Islamic State for dividing jihadists in Afghanistan.
“God forbid, if people, who claim to be affiliated with you, create serious troubles for the Islamic Emirate; it will lead to anger among Muslims against you,” Mansour says. “God forbid, [the Islamic State] should not make such decisions from a distant place to annoy mujahideen leaders, religious scholars, and thousands of righteous mujahideen here. As a result, you will lose people’s love and they will no more be sincere with you.”
When discussing the divisions created by the Islamic State outside of Afghanistan, Mansour says that these activities will harm the group.
“Trust me that all these types of acts cause an irreparable loss to your activities and reputation,” Mansour warns. “These acts result in the martyrdom of Muslims, especially mujahideen and righteous people. These acts disappoint martyrs’ heirs and give an opportunity to the enemy to use various tactics [against the various jihadist groups].”