South Waziristan Taliban leader Mullah Nazir [bottom-center].
A senior Taliban commander who is based in the tribal agency of South Waziristan and is considered by the Pakistani government to be a “good Taliban” leader admitted he is a member of al Qaeda and shares the terror group’s views on waging global jihad.
Mullah Nazir Ahmad, the powerful South Waziristan Taliban commander, admitted his allegiance to al Qaeda in an interview with the Asia Times Online. The interview, which was conducted by Asia Times Online reporter Syed Saleem Shahzad, took place before al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed in a US raid in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, just 30 miles north of the capital of Islamabad.
In the interview, Nazir said that the Taliban and al Qaeda are “one and the same” despite the fact that they may conduct operations differently.
“Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are one and the same,” Nazir told Asia Times Online. “At an operational level we might have different strategies, but at the policy level we are one and the same.”
Nazir rejected claims that he opposed al Qaeda, and affirmed that he considered himself to be a member of the global terror organization.
“This is wrong that I am anti-al Qaeda,” Nazir said. “I am part of al Qaeda.”
He also rejected claims that he opposed al Qaeda due to his clashes in 2007 and 2008 with the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which sheltered in his tribal areas.
“Whatever happened between us and the Uzbeks was the result of our internal differences. I never did that on anybody’s instigation,” he said, rejecting the reports that he fought the IMU on behest of the Pakistani military. He claimed his differences with the Uzbeks were resolved after IMU leader Tahir Yuldashev was killed in a US Predator airstrike in late August 2009.
Nazir embraced the global jihad espoused by al Qaeda, and said the war would be carried far beyond Afghanistan, into the heart of the Middle East:
“At the end of the day, all mujahideen are one and the jihad will not end up only in Afghanistan. It will go a long way. The monarchs and dictators of the Arab world are usurpers. The demonstrations against them are considered as pro-democracy, but eventually it will benefit the mujahideen. The situation has rapidly turned favorable for us and therefore the mujahideen from Afghanistan will join forces with the Arabs. Yemen is the first destination selected in this regard where we will send our men,” Nazir said.
Nazir is the latest Taliban commander to have openly allied with al Qaeda. Another is Siraj Haqqani, the top military commander of the Haqqani Network, which operates on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border; he also sits on al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis, or executive council. Still another is Qari Zia Rahman, the dual-hatted Taliban and al Qaeda commander who operates in Nuristan and Kunar provinces in Afghanistan and the tribal agencies of Mohmand and Bajaur in Pakistan.
Pakistani officials have signed several peace agreements with Nazir since 2004, and they consider him to be among the so-called “good Taliban” as he does not advocate attacks against the Pakistan state or its military. The Pakistanis turn a blind eye to Nazir’s attacks in Afghanistan.
The latest peace agreement, signed in the summer of 2009, obligated Nazir to eject “foreigners” from his tribal areas and refuse shelter to Mehsuds from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. In exchange, the Pakistani military agreed to not attack Nazir during an operation against the Mehsuds from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan in the eastern region of South Waziristan. But Nazir has not lived up to the terms of the agreement. And it has recently been reported that Nazir has ended his agreement with the military and his forces have attacked Pakistan troops in Wana, the main town in South Waziristan.
In the past and to this day, Nazir has openly supported al Qaeda and its leadership. He admitted he would provide shelter to senior al Qaeda leaders. “How can I say no to any request from Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar under tribal traditions, if they approach me to get shelter?” Nazir asked the Pakistani press in the spring of 2007. Al Qaeda runs terror camps inside Nazir’s tribal areas and helps to finance his operations.
Nazir’s forces fight against Afghan and Coalition forces inside Afghanistan. Nazir also shelters the Mehsuds from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, in violation of a peace agreement with the Pakistani government.
Significantly, more senior al Qaeda leaders have been killed in Nazir’s tribal areas during the US air campaign than in those of any other Taliban leader in Pakistan.
In the past, the US has killed several senior al Qaeda leaders in Nazir’s territories. One of the most senior al Qaeda leaders killed was Midhat Mursi al Sayyid Umar, who is better known as Abu Khabab al Masri. Abu Khabab was killed along with four members of his staff in a Predator strike on July 28, 2008.
Two other top al Qaeda leaders killed while in Nazir’s care were Osama al Kini (Fahid Mohammed Ally Msalam), al Qaeda’s operations chief in Pakistan; and Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, one of al Kini’s senior aides. Both men were wanted by the US for their involvement in the 1998 suicide attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
In another strike in Nazir’s territory, US Predators also killed Abu Hazwa Jawfi, who is said to have led Jundallah, a Pakistani terror group that is based in Karachi and maintains close ties with al Qaeda.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.