The Taliban Story: Taliban and Al Qaeda: Two sides of the same coin (Part 10)
Photo Source: India TV

By Arun Anand-

The Taliban Story: Taliban and Al Qaeda: Two sides of the same coin (Part 10)
Photo Source: India TV

This is the 10th part of the ‘Taliban Story’, a 30-part series that we bring to our readers. The feedback can be shared at [email protected]. Here is the 10th part-

The Taliban’s insurgency in Afghanistan after 2001 cannot be completely understood without underlining the role of Al Qaeda in the region. Contrary to views which consider the two as separate entities with widely different ideologies and goals, there is sufficient evidence which proves the claim otherwise. In the following sections, we provide insights into the Taliban – Al Qaeda association, from the time they were established to the post-Doha Declaration period.

The Doha Agreement, also known as the Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan, is a peace agreement signed by the United States and the Taliban on February 29, 2020. The four-page agreement was signed at Doha, Qatarzad. The Agreement provided for the withdrawal of all NATO forces from Afghanistan in return for a Taliban pledge to prevent al-Qaeda from operating in areas under Taliban control. However, this is most unlikely to happen.

A look into their association will reflect upon the future course of events in Afghanistan and provide evidence that the Taliban and Al Qaeda are indeed two sides of the same coin with the common telos of global Islamic radicalisation.

A detailed research paper by India based think tank Centre for Integrated and Holistic Studies in August 2021 analysed the connect between Al Qaeda and Taliban in detail. Excerpts from this research paper are being reproduced here.

The genesis of Al Qaeda and the Taliban

Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda

Osama bin Laden[1] was born to a billionaire construction magnate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and one of his ten wives, Hamida, in 1957. She and her son, bin Laden were ostracized from their family and were labelled as Al Abeda and Ibn Al Abeda, that is, the slave, and the son of the slave. Being the only child of his mother, he was given a fair share in his father’s estate. By the time bin Laden turned 17, he had inherited $57 million from his father’s businesses[2].

At university, bin Laden met his mentor, Abdullah Azzam, a radical Islamist of Palestinian descent. He shaped bin Laden’s political ideology and encouraged him to partake in the ongoing Afghan-Soviet conflict[3]. Azzam played a key role in directing bin Laden in the need to bring Muslims all around the world together to wade off the godless Russians. In 1984, along with Azzam, bin Laden founded the Maktab al-Khidmat (MAK)4, a jihadist organisation to recruit young Muslim men all over the globe to fight the Soviet Russians. After thousands joined from Egypt, Algeria, and Saudi Arabia, bin Laden moved with his fighters to Afghanistan and started building medical facilities using his own wealth to support the ongoing Mujahideen movement there. Geneva Accords[4], which were signed between Soviet Russia and Afghanistan to end the former’s forced occupation, was a landmark moment in advancing bin Laden’s leadership acumen.

Following an ideological split with Azzam, bin Laden along with Ayman al-Zawahiri[5] founded Al Qaeda (The Base) in Pakistan in 1988. At the core, bin Laden wanted to continue jihad worldwide, uniting all Muslims and waging armed wars against the triad which had brutally suppressed Muslims. The triad consisted of the apostate Arabs, the Israelis, and the United States. The primary reason for enmity towards the triad was their perceived suppression of Islam. The Arabs had not fully embraced Islam, the Zionists were engaged in massacres of innocent Muslims in Palestine, and the United States, which had pumped billions of dollars in West Asia had corrupted Islamic leadership in the region3.

Why does Al Qaeda pose a threat to the world?

Al Qaeda’s long-term objective is to bring change in global societies by governing them through strict sharia laws. Their strategy is to gradually provide religious education to Muslims all over the world, then familiarize them with the idea of jihad, and later encourage them to wage violent wars as the only method of emancipation. It’s threat to the world can be understood as:

  1. Al Qaeda has transformed into a transnational terrorist organisation[1]. In the last two decades, Al Qaeda has expanded its operations and agenda in all parts of the world with huge presence in Africa, Europe, and Asia. It has recruited and trained several thousands of young Muslims in over 40 countries, including, Pakistan, India, the Philippines, Central Asia, Chechnya, Bosnia, and Croatia. It also maintains personnel in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In many of these countries, Al Qaeda has affiliations with local terrorist groups[2]. It has attempted to overthrow established governments and, in a few countries, it has sown seeds of dissent among people against their vulnerable leadership. It has carried out bombings, assassinations, and violent attacks on those who are against their radical agenda. This is indicative of an ever-expanding terror outfit which aims to fight tyrannical powers [3] by the means of extreme violence, massacres, and bloodshed. In essence, any country which is not ruled as per their extreme interpretation of the Koran is an infidel 3 and needs to be radicalized.
  2. Its mission to overthrow the godless regimes around the world (including those of Pagans) not just poses a threat to a country’s national security but also puts the privacy of individuals at risk8. There have been countless incidents when Al Qaeda planned their violent attacks using unethical means like putting persons under surveillance, kidnapping innocent persons to access information and documentation, and assassinating harmless individuals to send across its message.
  3. Spreading misinformation has been a key tactic in its operations. As per the organisation’s leadership, it is at war with the world at all times, hence, pushing its message across is given due importance. Its messages spread conspiracy theories and rumours which mislead others. Such operations leverage on the psychological biases of humans to further exploit them. These maleficent intentions have just accentuated radicalisation of youth and violated human rights8.
  4. Illegitimate trade routes and corruption. The 9/11 Commission report suggests that Al Qaeda has been funded by donors in the Gulf, Europe, Africa, and South East Asia. It has been involved in an illegitimate diamond trade in Africa and an opium trade which plagues most nations in Africa and Central Asia[4]. This has been facilitated through shell companies, fraudulent charity organisations, and other terrorist organisations like the Taliban[5].
[1] Crenshaw, M., (, 2020), “Rethinking Transnational Terrorism: An Integrated Approach”, <> accessed 25 July 2021
[2] ‘- THE GLOBAL REACH OF AL-QAEDA’ (, 2001) <> accessed 25 July 2021
[3] ‘Combating Al Qaeda And The Militant Islamic Threat’ (, 2006) <> accessed 25 July 2021
[5] Comras V, ‘Al Qaeda Finances And Funding To Affiliated Groups’ (, 2005) <> accessed 25 July 2021

Analysing the relationship between Al Qaeda and the Taliban

The genesis of Al Qaeda and the Taliban and their modus operandi are indicative of their similarities. A close review of the association between Mullah Omar and his counterpart Osama bin Laden further evinces the underlying claim of this analysis that the terror groups are indeed two sides of the same coin:

  1. Mullah Omar’s and bin Laden’s association can be traced back to the Soviet-Afghan war when bin Laden financially supported the Taliban in its Afghan insurgency in the ‘90s. In their book, Talibanistan, Bergen and Tiedemann[11] have written widely about the anatomy of the Al Qaeda-Taliban association. They state that Osama bin Laden’s[12] first venture in Afghanistan was at the peak of Soviet-Afghan war, in the south-east. Later, he moved the headquarters of Al Qaeda to Kandahar at Mullah Omar’s[13] Training camps were organised to wade off the U.S. after it conquered Afghanistan in 2001.
  2. When bin Laden sought exile in Afghanistan in 1995, Mullah Omar granted him political asylum under the aegis of the Taliban government. Many followers of bin Laden, from Africa, Arabia, and Islamic extremists from other parts of the world made Afghanistan their safe haven[14]. Through these developments, bin Laden started the Al Qaeda network to spread his ideologies.
  3. Ethnic engagement of the Taliban and Al Qaeda has also been observed and documented as well. The Taliban encouraged Arab followers of Al Qaeda to marry Afghani women and partake in their movement, similarly, many Talibs married Arabic women. Mullah Omar married bin Laden’s daughter and vice-versa, paving way for blood ties between the Taliban and the Al Qaeda[15].
  4. In an interview with the Voice of America, after the Battle of Tora Bora, Mullah Omar defended bin Laden’s efforts as he hid in refuge in Afghanistan[16]. From his responses it could be noted that the Taliban and Al Qaeda considered themselves to be ideologically aligned. Excerpt from the interview is shared in Fig.1.
Fig. 1. Mullah Omar’s conversation with VOA on September 26, 2001. Source: The Long War Journal
  1. On many instances, the Taliban has regurgitated statements made by Al Qaeda. This is an indicator that it followed and still follows the ideological underpinnings of Al Qaeda. In a telephonic conversation with Michael A. Malinowski, Director SA/PAB, Department of State, Mullah Omar “parroted” the advice and warning of Osama bin Laden for the United States[17]. An excerpt from the conversation is shown in Fig.2.
Fig.2. Excerpt from the Omar-Malinowski conversation in 2008. Source:

When asked about the terror activities which were emanating from the Afghan soil by bin Laden, Omar’s response could be viewed as one to safeguard his counterpart and also to speak for the greater idea of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. All through the conversation, Omar’s undertone is to protect and strengthen Islamic solidarity. An excerpt from the conversation is shown in Fig.3.

  1. On another occasion, Mullah Omar attempted to safeguard bin Laden in the Kenya and Tanzania U.S. embassy attacks. During a conversation with Voice of America journalist. Douglas Bakshian, Omar vowed that the Taliban will not hand over bin Laden as he was not involved in the attacks[18]. An excerpt from their conversation is shown in Fig.4.
Fig.4. An excerpt from Bakshian’s conversation with Omar in 1998. Source:
  1. The Taliban justified the 9/11 attacks and issued no statements to apologize or rather take responsibility for sheltering Osama bin Laden after the attacks. In a video released by the terror group in 2020, the Taliban leaders can be seen blaming the U.S. for their interventionist policies for the attacks rather than calling out to Al Qaeda, who actually perpetrated the crime[19]. They made the following remark:

“This heavy slap on their dark faces was the consequence of their interventionist policies and not our doing.”

  1. Al Qaeda – Taliban association after 9/11: After the 9/11 terror attacks in the U.S., the Commission set up to report[20] key findings of the attacks also clearly stated that the Taliban and Al Qaeda are working towards a shared common goal. In 1996, after Laden issued a fatwa in Arab daily, Quds al-Arabi, to be at war with the U.S., Saudi Arabia insisted the Taliban to silence him. At that time, the Taliban had provided shelter to Laden and received somewhere between $10 million and $20 million from Al Qaeda. After the attacks, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan to eliminate both Laden and Al Qaeda from its roots.

The 9/11 Commission report states that the two shared ties since 1980s, when Al Qaeda began engagement with the Haqqani Network, which is a vital part of the Taliban’s existence. With the assistance of Pakistan’s ISI, bin Laden was networked with Taliban leaders in Kandahar, the primary base of all ISI’s power and influence[21]. This aided bin Laden to regain control over camps in Khowst and he was able to expand training to Kashmiri militants. This cemented the ties between Al Qaeda and the Taliban. By the virtue of this relationship, bin Laden was able to evade limitations placed on his speech in the country and allowed him free movement in Afghanistan.

As per the report, Mullah Omar would second bin Laden in his ideology and actions even if the other members of the Taliban were against it. As per the report, Afghanistan worked as a safe haven for Al Qaeda and played a crucial role in planning and execution of the attacks. Matters like unrestricted cross-border travel without legitimate immigration, use of official Afghan defense vehicles, and unauthorized use of Afghan national airlines to send and receive shipments of money was prevalent before the attacks. Indeed, it can be concluded that Afghanistan had become a breeding ground for terrorists. Training camps which were run by Al Qaeda not just served a role in 9/11 attacks but were used to organize, plan, and deploy terror activities in other parts of the world as well. Even after decades of negotiations, the Taliban has never come clean about its ties with Al Qaeda and its affiliates.

Deepening ties

As per the 12th report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team of the United Nations Security Council[22], a deep-rooted relationship exists between the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The report which was submitted in 2020 presents the following key points:

  1. Al Qaeda leadership and a large number of their trained fighters find a safe haven in Afghanistan. The two terror outfits share a closely knit relationship which can be understood through their ideological orientation, identical goal of radicalisation by the means of violence, and social engagement through the means of intermarriage. Their ties have strengthened over the generations.
  1. The primary source of interlinkage between the Taliban and Al Qaeda is The Haqqani Network, which is tasked with providing fighters specializing in technical skills like developing explosives and rockets.
  1. The Taliban exerts influence and control on over 70 percent of Afghanistan. Al Qaeda has presence and residence in at least 15 Afghan provinces, in the southern and eastern regions. It operates under the aegis of Al Qaeda’s Jabhat-al-Nasr wing led by Sheikh Mahmood. The Taliban has strategically relocated members and terrorists of Al Qaeda to secluded regions so as to protect them from unwarranted attacks by the U.S. and NATO forces.
  1. Al Qaeda leadership is based in the bordering regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan where it gets to work closely with other subunits of the outfit. Al Qaeda chief, Aiman Muhammed Rabi al-Zawahiri[23] is also said to be based in the bordering region. The leaders of the two organisations engage in frequent communication.
  1. Al Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent carries out its activities from Kandahar under the protection of Taliban. The group has members from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and Myanmar. It’s coherence with the Taliban will be challenging to break.
  1. Several Al Qaeda terrorists were killed in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, proving propinquity between the two groups.
  1. Al Qaeda’s weekly newsletter, Thabat, has been actively reporting about the group’s operations and undertakings in Afghanistan. Since 2020, it has attacked 18 provinces.
  1. Another litmus test of their proximity is an audio clip which Al Qaeda released on Eid al-Fitr in May 2020. The group proclaimed the Doha Declaration as divine victory and reward for pursuing jihad.

A report published by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) in June 2020[24] has also stated the strengthening association between the two. The following points evince the affiliation between Al Qaeda and the Taliban:

  1. Al Qaeda core is situated in Afghanistan, consisting of its leadership, a council of ten persons, and members of committees which look after finance and armed operations. In June 2020, the United States Central Command Commander, General McKenzie, Jr., stated that Eastern Afghanistan is the home of Al Qaeda.
  2. In September 2019, the White House confirmed the death of Al Qaeda prominent leader, Hamza bin Laden in the bordering region of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He was the son of slain Al Qaeda founder, Osama bin Laden.
  3. In May 2020, a Member State of the U.N. asserted that Al Qaeda is stealthily gaining stature and strength in Afghanistan and carries out its operations under the protective umbrella of the Taliban. After U.S. officials discovered a huge Al Qaeda training camp in Kandahar, a part of their efforts was dedicated to diminish the terror outfit in the region.
  4. N., in May 2020, reported that the Taliban had regularly consulted Al Qaeda leadership during Doha negotiations with the U.S.
  5. Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent terrorist and key leader, Asim Umar, was killed by a joint U.S.-Afghan force in September 2019 in Afghanistan. He was sheltered by the Taliban and was an Indian national with a deep nexus in Pakistan. Indeed, the radicalistic agenda of Al Qaeda and Taliban have had a trickle-down effect in South Asia. Al Qaeda’s operations and presence have been noted in Syria and Bangladesh as well. As per reports from Department of Defence and Department of State, Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent has several hundred members pledging allegiance to the Taliban and Al Qaeda association.

Al Qaeda and the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan

Just as Al Qaeda is active in Afghanistan and has functional and social ties with the Taliban, Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP)[25] is active on Pakistani soil and has maintained close relations with Al Qaeda. Reportage from the U.S. National Counterterrorism Centre states that the objective[26] of the TTP is to overthrow the government in Pakistan, establish a caliphate there, and to expel the U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan. Leaders of both, the Taliban, Mullah Omar and Al Qaeda, Laden, urged chief commanders of the TTP to assist them in reducing U.S. presence in Afghanistan.


As the Taliban looks forward to impose its will and influence in Afghanistan, it is crucial to understand the other power-stakeholders in the scenario. The following conclusions can be drawn from after analysing the relationship between Al Qaeda and the Taliban:

  1. The Taliban and Al Qaeda resonate ideologically, strategically, and tactically. Considering them as separate entities with exclusive purposes can blur the understanding of their intention to build a world with redundant Islamic values.
  2. Both these outfits are predominantly Sunni extremists and draw their inspiration from medieval Islamic foundations, which at present, violate human rights and basic rights of women, children, and peoples of other religions.
  3. Both the Taliban and Al Qaeda have been at the core of the concept of jihad. While, Al Qaeda pioneered the concept, the Taliban has been a catalyst in promoting it in most parts of the world.
  4. The Taliban has backed Al Qaeda for its wrongdoings, which in turn has helped the latter perpetuate crime all over the world. And with the Taliban restoring its stronghold after U.S. exit from Afghanistan, it is likely that terror activities will increase in the region. There is a greater possibility of engagement of Pakistan in abetting terror crimes with these organisations leading to instability in the Indian subcontinent.
  5. Terror financing and illegal trade of drugs and other chemicals, as has been noted in the past, can go unchecked if these two organisations are considered operational in silos.
  6. Together, both these organisations have paved way for other terror groups to breed and grow in Afghanistan. This has not just affected the lives of the common Afghani people but has also led to persecution of minorities. The economy of Afghanistan is at an all-time low with little scope for development of the country.

The opinion that Al Qaeda and the Taliban are two distinct entities with different goals is not convincing. There is ample evidence which proves that these terror outfits not just originated to serve an identical purpose but continue to do so. The Declaration which seeks removal of Al Qaeda and its affiliates from Afghani soil is yet to bear fruition, and unfortunately, with the Taliban’s history of spreading lies about Al Qaeda’s presence in the country, it is a glaring reality that these two will continue to work in cohesion.

Additional references

‘The Global War On Terrorism: The First 100 Days’ (, 2021) <> accessed 21 July 2021

(, 2021). “Afghanistan: Background and U.S. Policy: In Brief”, June 2011 <> accessed 21 July 2021


Osama bin Laden, Roland Jacquard, 2007. “Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places/In the Name of Osama Bin Laden: Global Terrorism and the Bin Laden Brotherhood”, On Violence: A Reader, Bruce B. Lawrence, Aisha Karim

‘MMP: Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan’ (, 2021) <> accessed 21 July 2021

  1. Rubin B, ‘Leveraging the Taliban’s Quest for International Recognition’ (, 2021) <> accessed 25 July 2021

‘Methods And Motives: Exploring Links Between Transnational Organized Crime & International Terrorism’ (, 2005) <> accessed 25 July 2021

[1] ‘Hamza Usama Muhammad Bin Laden | United Nations Security Council’ (, 2021) <> accessed 25 July 2021

[2] (Post, J.,, 2002). “Killing in the name of God: Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda”, USAF Counterproliferation Centre, <> accessed 25 July 2021

[3] ‘View Of “Jihad And The Rifle Alone”: ‘Abdullah ‘Azzam And The Islamist Revolution | Journal Of Conflict Studies’ (, 2003) <> accessed 25 July 2021

[4] ‘UNGOMAP: United Nations Good Offices Mission In Afghanistan And Pakistan – Background’ ( <> accessed 25 July 2021

[5] ‘AIMAN MUHAMMED RABI AL-ZAWAHIRI | United Nations Security Council’ (, 2021) <> accessed 21 July 2021

[6] Crenshaw, M., (, 2020), “Rethinking Transnational Terrorism: An Integrated Approach”, <> accessed 25 July 2021

[7] ‘- THE GLOBAL REACH OF AL-QAEDA’ (, 2001) <> accessed 25 July 2021

[8] ‘Combating Al Qaeda And The Militant Islamic Threat’ (, 2006) <> accessed 25 July 2021


[10] Comras V, ‘Al Qaeda Finances And Funding To Affiliated Groups’ (, 2005) <> accessed 25 July 2021

[11] Bergen P, and Tiedemann K, Talibanistan (Oxford University Press 2013)

[12] ‘Statement By The Committee On Usama Bin Laden | United Nations Security Council’ (, 2021) <> accessed 21 July 2021

[13] ‘MOHAMMED OMAR | United Nations Security Council’ (, 2021) <> accessed 21 July 2021

[14] (2001) <> accessed 25 July 2021

[15] ‘Terror Tuesday: Impact On South Asia — Mullah Mohammed Omar-Profile’ (, 2001) <> accessed 25 July 2021

[16] Roggio B, ‘Taliban Lauds Mullah Omar For Defending Osama Bin Laden After 9/11 | FDD’s Long War Journal’ (FDD’s Long War Journal, 2020) <> accessed 25 July 2021

[17] ‘Taliban’s Mullah Omar 8/22 Contact with State Department’ (, 2008) <> accessed 25 July 2021

[18] Bakshian D, ‘AFGHAN BIN LADEN’ (, 1998) <> accessed 25 July 2021

[19] Thomas Joscelyn and Bill Roggio, “Taliban justifies 9/11 attack, blaming America’s ‘interventionist policies’,” FDD’s Long War Journal, July 23, 2019. ( attack-blaming-americas-interventionist-policies.php)

[20] (, 2021). “The 9/11 Commission Report”. <> accessed 21 July 2021

[21] Joscelyn T, ‘The Trump Administration’s Afghanistan Policy’ (, 2019) <> accessed 25 July 2021

[22] (, 2021). “Twelfth report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team submitted pursuant to resolution 2557 (2020) concerning the Taliban and other associated individuals and entities constituting a threat to the peace stability and security of Afghanistan” <> accessed 21 July 2021

[23] ‘AIMAN MUHAMMED RABI AL-ZAWAHIRI | United Nations Security Council’ (, 2021) <> accessed 21 July 2021

[24] (, 2021). “Al Qaeda and Islamic State Affiliates in Afghanistan” <> accessed 21 July 2021

[25] ‘TEHRIK-E TALIBAN PAKISTAN (TTP) | United Nations Security Council’ (, 2021) <> accessed 21 July 2021

[26] ‘National Counterterrorism Centre | Groups’ (, 2021) <> accessed 21 July 2021