The Taliban has released a statement calling on rival jihadist factions in Syria to reconcile. The Taliban avoids any mention of the Islamic State, which recently decreed that it now rules as a caliphate, even though the organization is at the center of the jihadists’ infighting.
The statement, published in Arabic on one of the group’s websites as a “weekly analysis,” was first obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
Instead, the Taliban calls for the creation of a common shura council capable of mediating the differences between the warring insurgent groups in Syria. Al Qaeda’s senior leadership has repeatedly encouraged the jihadists to settle their differences in this manner, but the Islamic State has rejected all attempts at mediation.
The Taliban’s silence with respect to the Islamic State’s announced caliphate is interesting because the claims made by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s group can be read as a challenge to the authority of all other jihadist entities.
“We clarify to the Muslims that with this declaration of the caliphate, it is incumbent upon all Muslims to pledge allegiance to the Caliph Ibrahim and support him,” the Islamic State’s announcement on June 29 reads. “The legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organizations, becomes null by the expansion of the caliphate’s authority and arrival of its troops to their areas.”
Given that the Taliban considers itself to be a regional emirate (or state), the Islamic State’s claim could be viewed as an attempted power grab, even if only a rhetorical one, with its imagined caliphate ruling over the Taliban’s emirate and all other jihadist parties. The Taliban, of course, would never agree to such an arrangement. But the Islamic State’s critics have already questioned if this is what Baghdadi and his followers intend.
For instance, Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, a highly influential jihadist ideologue, has already questioned where the Taliban fits in the Islamic State’s schema. In a statement in early July, Maqdisi criticized the Islamic State’s announcement.
Maqdisi pointed out that the Taliban long ago announced the creation of its regional emirate, “which was truly founded on the land for years,” and that Mullah Omar “is still fighting the enemies, he with his soldiers.” Maqdisi asked, “So what is the destiny of this [Taliban] emirate to those who speak in the name of the caliphate today and announced it?”
Maqdisi made the same point with respect to the Islamic Caucasus Emirate, an al Qaeda-affiliated group that claims to be a regional emirate and technically would be just one part of the Islamic State’s announced caliphate.
The Taliban avoided any discussion of this issue. Instead, Mullah Omar’s organization echoed previous calls for unity. However, while the Taliban does not explicitly criticize the Islamic State, parts of its message are almost certainly pointed in Baghdadi’s direction.
“The Muslims also should avoid extremism in religion, and judging others without evidence, and distrusting one another,” SITE’s translation of the Taliban’s statement reads. Of course, it is ironic to see the Taliban decry “extremism.” But jihadist critics of the Islamic State frequently accuse the group of being too extreme due to its ultra-strict interpretation of sharia law and unwillingness to compromise with its ideological kin.
Al Qaeda has repeatedly said that an independent sharia court should be established to adjudicate between the rival jihadist groups in Syria. Even though the Islamic State has made it clear that it has no intention of submitting to such a court, the Taliban makes a similar recommendation.
“The Muslims should submit to the rules of Islamic sharia and comply with them,” the Taliban says. “It is worthy for a shura [consultation] council to be formed from the leaders of all the jihadi factions and the distinguished people among the experts and the scholars in Sham in order to solve their conflicts in light of opinions and joint consultations.”
Ayman al Zawahiri called for the establishment of a common sharia court in Syria as recently as late May. Earlier statements from the al Qaeda emir included the same proposal.
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