The drone assault that killed al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri has plunged the Taliban into an inner disaster. The group has been humiliated by a unilateral US army motion and its relentless claims that it has denied house to “terrorists” have been uncovered as lies.
This imperils two core, and contradictory, Taliban objectives: Maintaining the legitimacy of the group’s rank and file, which incorporates hardened armed fighters and spiritual ideologues and securing badly wanted monetary help from a world group already reluctant to fund the Taliban due to considerations about its “terrorist” ties.
Initially, the Taliban are probably to reply to the raid on al-Zawahiri with defiance, insisting they weren’t harbouring a terrorist and hardening their resistance to addressing longstanding worldwide calls for, from letting older ladies return to highschool to forming a extra inclusive authorities. They may take a tougher line on delicate negotiations with Washington on the supply of humanitarian provides and the unfreezing of Afghan Central Bank belongings.
But over the long term, al-Zawahiri’s killing may exacerbate present fissures throughout the group. Such inner churn may present openings for the emergence of factions espousing extra conciliatory and sensible views but it surely may additionally result in dysfunction and hazard that have an effect on governance and lift questions in regards to the viability of the Taliban’s future political management.
For practically a 12 months, the Taliban have celebrated their expulsion of overseas army forces and pledged to by no means allow them to return. That is why the drone raid was such a humiliation for the Taliban management but in addition for the battlefield commanders and fighters that fought US forces for practically 20 years. Since their takeover, the Taliban have made clear simply how a lot they prioritise sustaining legitimacy from these constituencies: They have hosted ceremonies honouring the households of suicide bombers, and held army parades that showcase US weaponry, even whereas alienating frequent Afghans by limiting ladies’ training and cracking down on journalists and activists. The group might want to appease an offended rank and file; merely shrugging off the raid and transferring on is not going to reduce it.
The Taliban may additionally face new threats from Islamic State in Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-Okay), if they don’t take a tough line in the direction of the US. ISKP, a Taliban and al-Qaeda rival, has already benefitted from the al-Zawahiri killing as a result of one in all its most senior nemeses has been eradicated. But it might additionally acquire propaganda mileage by accusing the Taliban of failing to anticipate the raid, and even of being complicit in it. ISKP fighters are clearly galvanised; this week, they tried assaults on Shia observing the Muharram vacation.
The raid on al-Zawahiri additionally dangers alienating the Taliban’s different hardliner allies current in Afghanistan, from the Pakistani Taliban to Lashkar-e-Taiba, all of that are aligned with al-Qaeda. These teams are united of their hatred of US army forces, particularly when deployed on the soil of Muslim nations. Ironically, new Taliban tensions with fighters may strengthen the group’s narrative that it’s distancing itself from “terrorists” – however additionally they elevate the chance of those teams turning their weapons on the Taliban.
Furthermore, within the instant time period, Washington is not going to be eager to interact with the Taliban. It is livid that al-Zawahiri lived in central Kabul, and believes some Taliban leaders knew he was there. With the US taking a troublesome line on the Taliban, and in no temper to debate increasing help or unfreezing Afghan financial institution funds, the Taliban have little incentive to ponder a extra conciliatory place. US-Taliban relations, awkward and uneasy earlier than the al-Zawahiri raid, are poised to grow to be downright poisonous.
But relations throughout the Taliban may grow to be poisonous, too. The group’s inner divisions are well-known: There are variations between the fighter ranks and the civilian representatives lengthy based mostly within the Taliban political workplace in Doha; between ideologically-driven mullahs and extra virtually minded leaders who help extra worldwide engagement; and between the Haqqani community faction and Taliban authorities from Kandahar, the group’s birthplace.
An particular person near Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Taliban inside minister, reportedly owns the house that sheltered al-Zawahiri. This is unsurprising, given the particularly deep ties between the Haqqanis and al-Qaeda. According to scholars Don Rassler and Vahid Brown, the Haqqani community has functioned inside al-Qaeda “as an interdependent system.”
Many Taliban leaders probably are usually not comfortable that al-Zawahiri took shelter in Kabul. Others are probably livid that his presence has subjected the group to deep humiliation and a possible inner legitimacy disaster. And others probably concern somebody throughout the group’s ranks shared al-Zawahiri’s location with the CIA. Al-Zawahiri himself as soon as reportedly confided to al-Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden that he didn’t belief Taliban leaders and they didn’t belief him.
The missile assault humiliated the Taliban. They additionally face the ire of the group’s rank and file. And they’ll now face much more problem in securing worldwide help to deal with raging humanitarian and financial crises pushed in nice half by sanctions that forestall cash from flowing into the nation. This state of play signifies that these factions that help extra pragmatic and conciliatory positions might have a possibility to make an influence play. And but, the ideologues and hardliners is not going to bend. They maintain a number of the management’s high positions, and so they embrace ideologies that replicate the Taliban’s elementary id.
In the previous, the Taliban’s supreme management efficiently suppressed inner revolts, typically with pressure. That might occur this time, too. But that was simpler to do when the group was an armed rebellion, with a lot much less stress, with out the heavy tasks of governing and addressing immense coverage challenges, with out a galvanised rival like ISKP, and with out an exterior occasion that might trigger such dramatic inner shocks. Institutional divisions had been beforehand informal distractions; at present, they might grow to be corrosive risks. If these inner tensions grow to be all consuming, governance and political management may face threats and supply openings for brand new armed opposition teams. This would imply the chance of renewed violence and civil warfare. In probably the most excessive situation, the missile that tore by al-Zawahiri may tear aside the Taliban.
For now, the Taliban seem like shopping for themselves time as they contemplate tips on how to proceed: They refused to verify al-Zawahiri was killed and as an alternative promised an investigation. In the instant time period, the Taliban are prone to speak powerful, condemn the raid, and double down on the identical insurance policies which have provoked worldwide sanctions and prevented the influx of much-needed abroad funding.
But ultimately, the Taliban may face an inflexion level as they grapple with humiliation, a traumatised rank and file, extra worldwide opprobrium, and intensifying inner divisions – all of which can additional tax their already-overwhelming governance tasks. Over their practically 30 years of existence, the Taliban have by no means skilled such a critical disaster.
The views expressed on this article are the creator’s personal and don’t essentially replicate Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.