A newly-released statement, attributed to Taliban emir Mullah Omar, argues that the jihadists’ gains in Afghanistan won’t be squandered due to infighting as they were in the past. Although “Omar” doesn’t address the Islamic State directly, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s “caliphate” is clearly on the Taliban’s mind. The message is peppered with thinly-veiled references to the Islamic State and the Taliban dissenters who have joined its ranks. The Islamic State’s so-called “Khorasan province” and the Taliban have been at odds in multiple Afghan provinces.
The statement opens with a brief account, from the Taliban’s perspective, of Afghanistan’s history since 9/11. It portrays the American-led invasion not as a response to the devastating terror attacks planned by al Qaeda on Afghan soil, but instead as a “brutal aggression.”
The message claims that the Taliban is obligated to fight because “more than fifteen hundred religious scholars of our country issued the decree of Holy Jihad to the Islamic Emirate” and this fatwa “was subsequently approved by the righteous scholars around the world.” According to the author, this religious justification is still valid even though “the foreign occupying forces have reduced their numbers and have confined themselves to heavily fortified bases.” This “void” has been supposedly filled by “mercenary forces trained by foreign intelligence agencies” and others.
“It is true that large areas of the country are liberated by the Mujahidin,” the Taliban argues, “but our Jihadi struggle will continue until the infidel occupation of our country has ended and a pure Islamic system is implemented.”
This argument is hardly new. But it does serve an added purpose in this instance, as jihadists are left to wonder why the Islamic State’s presence in the “Khorasan” (a region encompassing Afghanistan, Pakistan, and parts of the other surrounding countries) is necessary if the Taliban is already leading a divinely-sanctioned jihad.
Indeed, the Taliban criticizes the Islamic State (again, without naming it) for jeopardizing the jihadists’ efforts. “We insist upon the unity of Jihadi front in Afghanistan because firstly, it is the command of Allah Almighty and secondly, the fruits of successful Jihad against the former Soviet Union were lost as an inevitable consequence of the multiplicity of factions,” the authors write.
If they have the power to stop it, the Taliban’s men won’t let the Islamic State do the same thing this time. The Taliban’s leadership has “directed all our Mujahidin to preserve their unity and forcefully prevent all those elements who attempt to create differences, damage this Jihadi front or try to disperse the Mujahidin.”
The Taliban is clearly sensitive to the Islamic State’s charge that it serves Pakistani intelligence. “Some circles accuse Mujahidin of being agents of Pakistan and Iran,” the statement reads. “This is an utterly unjust verdict because neither our past history nor the present prevailing circumstances attest to this statement and the forthcoming history will also be a witness against these false accusations.”
The Taliban concedes it has “sought cordial relations not only with Pakistan and Iran but also all other neighboring countries.” However, it says this is a “wise policy” and no one should be “deceived” into thinking that the jihadists’ successes are due to the support of any other country. (In reality, Pakistan’s open door policy for the Taliban and sheltering of senior Taliban leadership have undoubtedly played a significant role in America’s longest war.)
The author also defends the Taliban’s “political endeavors and peaceful pathways” for achieving its “sacred goals,” saying that “armed Jihad” is not the only way the jihadists can advance their interests. The Taliban points to the Prophet Mohammed’s dealings with “infidels” as evidence to support its argument.
The Islamic State has repeatedly criticized the Taliban’s negotiations with other nations, including Western countries. The latest edition of the Islamic State’s English-language magazine, Dabiq 10, contains an article comparing Mullar Omar to Baghdadi, arguing that the latter is the righteous “caliph.” The magazine’s authors point to Omar’s previous justifications for dealing with Afghanistan’s neighbors and argue this “confirms that this state [the Taliban’s ’emirate’] was created to govern Afghanistan only and that it takes into consideration the international standards by not getting involved in any disputes with neighboring countries.” Baghdadi’s propagandists say this is not the proper role of a caliphate, which should have worldwide aspirations with respect to power and governance.
“It is…obligatory upon everyone who gave bay’ah [oath of allegiance] to Mullā Omar and his emirate to know that this pledge has been overtaken by a more authorized and obligatory pledge, and that is the bay’ah to the [Caliphate] of today,” the Islamic State argues in Dabiq 10.
Therefore, the Taliban and the Islamic State are taking very different approaches to waging jihad. While the Taliban desires unity in the fight against the West and its allies, Baghdadi seeks to undermine Omar’s credentials and demands allegiance from all other jihadists.