Al-Qaeda-Taliban links exposed

al-Qaeda

With the killing of Asim Umar, the India-born chief of the al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), in a joint US-Afghan raid in Afghanistan on September 23, the global war on terrorism has scored a major victory. In addition to Umar, the al-Qaeda lost six other members in the same operation, including a man identified as a courier for al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. The weakening of the al-Qaeda, which began in 2001, gathered momentum with the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011. The rapid rise of the Islamic State group in the global jihadist arena further eroded the al-Qaeda’s influence. Umar was appointed as the AQIS’ chief at the time of its founding in 2014. He was known for his oratory skills, familiarity with jihadist literature and his contacts with jihadist and anti-India terror groups. Although he was successful in attracting fighters and carrying out major attacks in Pakistan and Bangladesh, he failed to make an impact in India, the place of his birth. Even in Kashmir, his impact was marginal. Considered a serious threat by counterterrorism officials, he was designated a ‘global terrorist’ by the US in 2016. His elimination is of significance.

Umar was in a Taliban compound in Musa Qala in Helmand when he was killed by Afghan forces. This lays bare yet again the Taliban’s links to the al-Qaeda. The Taliban has been claiming that it has broken ties with the jihadist group. Indeed, under the draft accord reached between the US and the Taliban in September, the Taliban had agreed that it would cease supporting any group carrying out attacks against the US and its allies. This was supposed to mean that it would snap ties with groups like the al-Qaeda. Many doubted the Taliban’s sincerity. They have been proved right. Taliban supporters will argue that the draft accord is dead and hence the Taliban is not bound to break ties with the al-Qaeda. However, Umar’s presence in the Taliban compound indicates that relations between the Taliban and al-Qaeda are warm—an AQIS leader would not be in a Taliban hideout unless he trusted them.

When leaders of terror groups die, infighting over succession often follows. It is unclear at the moment whether Umar’s succession will be smooth or see some bloodletting. To boost morale of cadres, the AQIS leaders can be expected to carry out some high-profile attacks to show that the outfit remains a potent force. South Asia must brace itself for more violence that the AQIS can be expected to unleash. India, which is an important target of the AQIS, should be on heightened alert.

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