Few doubt that the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan will provide a historic boost to violent Islamist extremists around the world, encouraging them in their campaigns to overthrow and replace local regimes, but it has also revealed the deep flaws that have weakened the jihadist movement. in the past. decade.
Sunni militants in the Middle East and beyond have already made it clear that they believe the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan vindicates their own strategies and ideology. Just weeks before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, events in Kabul have a powerful resonance. Many statements have been jubilant.
But there has been a notable exception among jihadist groups: the Islamic State (Isis), which considers the Taliban “apostates” because of their willingness to negotiate with the US, his apparent pragmatism and his inability to apply Islamic law rigorously enough.
Such criticism is not new: The Taliban faced similar attacks in the 1990s when the movement had contacts with the UN and Western governments, but now it comes after fierce battles in Afghanistan between local Isis-affiliated forces and the Taliban. On Thursday, after fans spread scathing criticism on social media, Isis issued her first official statement, accusing the Taliban of being bad Muslims and agents of the United States.
The contrast with the views of almost all other violent Islamic extremists is stark.
On Wednesday, fighters from the al-Qaida affiliate in Yemen in the central governorate of Al Bayda and the southern province of Shabwa celebrated the return of the Taliban to power with fireworks and gunfire. In a statement, the group, known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), congratulated the Taliban, while reaffirming its own commitment to overthrow local rulers through violence.
“This victory and empowerment reveals to us that jihad and fighting is the only realistic way for Shariat that complies with Islamic law to restore rights and drive out the invaders and occupiers,” the group said in a statement translated and published by the intelligence group SITE.
Dozens of other statements issued by outlets associated with the al Qaeda leadership and individual supporters carried the same message: that the Taliban’s victory was a major achievement and an example for jihadists around the world.
The leaders and senior clerics of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a Syria-based group that formally split from al-Qaida in 2016 and now dominates the northwestern province of Idlib, expressed similar sentiments. A senior member of the group described the Taliban takeover as “a victory for the Muslims, a victory for the Sunnis, a victory for all the oppressed.”
The Pakistani Taliban, or Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is based in the border regions of neighboring Pakistan and has close ties to at least one faction of its Afghan namesake. he described the recent events as a “victory for the entire Islamic world.”
Osama bin Laden hit the United States directly in part because he was convinced that the superpower would collapse if attacked, just like the Soviets in Afghanistan. Any new perception of weakness is likely to encourage further attacks.
Many jihadists have seen an opportunity to undermine rival Islamist groups that have sought power through the ballot box, although many of them also welcomed the Taliban takeover. “As for the game of democracy and compromise and pacifism, it is a deceptive mirage, a fleeting shadow and a vicious circle that begins with a zero and ends with it.” AQAP said.
Divisions among extremists over the Taliban’s success reveal important strategic differences, pitting those who believe in outright violence, extreme commitment to doctrinal purity, and apocalyptic predictions against others who have shown greater pragmatism in recent years.
Osama bin Laden told his followers to avoid unnecessary deaths among Muslims and to be more careful with their public image. The al-Qaida founder even contemplated changing the group’s name as part of a general rebranding, so concerned was he that his reputation had been tarnished by the murder of other Muslims.
Since his death in 2011, his successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has avoided long-range attacks in the west in favor of an expansion strategy by building ties with local communities in places like Yemen or Mali. However, he remains committed to an endless war against disbelievers and apostates, led by a radical vanguard, until the establishment of a caliphate.
Not surprisingly, al Qaeda backs the Taliban. Maintaining an alliance with the group has been key to its survival for 25 years and will be even more important now.
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, who has fought IS in Syria, has recently become more pragmatic, with his leader, Mohammed al-Jawlani, attempt a transition from violent extremism to a hybrid form of civilian government and insurgency, albeit marked by ongoing violence. The group now effectively controls the last opposition stronghold in Syria, appears to have downgraded the goal of building a radical religious state in the country, and has sought engagement with international actors. Again, this aligns him with the Taliban.
Isis continues to represent the most extreme trend in the Islamic militant movement and remains fully committed to its own brutal ideology. Although some individual affiliates or “provinces” have moderated their tactics, this does not seem likely to change anytime soon, as their reaction this week shows.
These deep internal divisions may counter some of the propaganda boost provided to Islamic militants everywhere by the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan, and could mean that the seizure of power does not immediately translate into a wave of new recruits and attacks. This, however, is little consolation.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism