Change in Leadership:Al-Qaeda and Taliban

By Editor Aug1,2023 #Al Qaeda #Taliban

Commanders like Nek Muhammad were killed and Al-Qaeda
training facilities destroyed. The Taliban and Al-Qaeda were forced
to hide in the mountains for over a year and a half. During that
period, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the Al-Qaeda and Taliban
members in South and North Waziristan, lost contact with each
other. It was during this period that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda
subdivided into groups, which later caused complications. The core
division was between the Al-Qaeda group led by Osama bin Laden
and the group led by Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri. Both groups took
refuge in the far-flung area of Shawal, situated at the crossroads of

Afghanistan, South Waziristan, and North Waziristan, but technically part of North Waziristan. Osama and al-Zawahiri were there along with few hundred diehard fighters, holed up in the various
valleys. Both leaders were on the defensive. They were out of
contact with their men in other places and with the central Taliban
Sheikh Essa was an ultra-radical Egyptian ideologue. He had
stayed on in North Waziristan with a few dozen men, and exercised
great influence over some local clerics. Abdul Khaliq and Sadiq
Noor were two such prominent clerics in North Waziristan who
became his followers. Sheikh Essa preached the need for a war
against Pakistan, as he believed it was only because of the Pakistan
Army that the United States had been successful against the
Afghan Taliban. He also blamed the suffering of North and South
Waziristan on Pakistan. He even went to the extent of saying that
those who crossed the border to fight against the United States in
Afghanistan were deviants – that the real battle had to be fought
against Pakistan’s ruling military establishment.
As Sheikh Essa and his Pakistani followers gained momentum,
their guns turned on Pakistan’s military. In fact, that meant only a
small deviation from the Al-Qaeda cause, which was not surprising
given there were so many veteran commanders, ideologues, and
groups operating side by side. Al-Qaeda’s principal aim was to fight
the NATO troops in Afghanistan. It bears repetition that its terror
tactics in Pakistan had the sole objective of neutralizing Pakistan’s
support for the US-led “War on Terror”.
This is also a point at which to draw attention again to the
powerful group of militants led by Tahir Yaldochiv from Uzbekistan.
Yaldochiv was really an extremist, even by Al-Qaeda and Taliban
standards. Several hundred Uzbeks fought under him, but many of
them were taken aback by his ruthlessness. Yaldochiv himself was
based in South Waziristan, but several of his men had found homes in the North Waziristan town of Mir Ali. Those who were in North
Waziristan decided to sever their ties with Yaldochiv, who in any
case appeared focused on issues pertaining to Uzbekistan rather than
Afghanistan. In the meantime, however, Yaldochiv had found a great
supporter in South Waziristan’s Abdullah Mehsud, the dominant
local commander.
As mentioned earlier, Mehsud had been captured in Afghanistan
during the US invasion and sent to a Cuban prison, from where
he was released in 2004. Another one-legged fighter who had lost
his leg fighting for the Taliban in late 1990s, Mehsud succeeded
to the command of Taliban forces against the Pakistan Army in
South Waziristan on the demise of Nek Muhammad. At the time
of Nek Muhammad’s final battle, Mehsud narrowly escaped arrest,
was badly wounded, and reported dead. But he resurfaced again in
South Waziristan with Tahir Jan (Tahir Yaldochiv). (Mehsud later
committed suicide to avoid arrest.)
Sirajuddin, the son of legendary Afghan commander Jalaluddin
Haqqani, was in North Waziristan, and Baitullah Mehsud and Haji
Omar in South Waziristan were the representatives of Mullah Omar
there. The men they commanded were committed to the Afghan
resistance movement only. Scattered in various nooks and crannies of
the two Waziristans, these pro-Taliban factions sheltered in Birmal,
in Afghanistan’s Paktia province, Shawal, in North Waziristan, and
Shakai and Angor Ada, in South Waziristan, in the belt that runs
along the Durand Line. The mountains here were filled with global
Jihadis. The terrain facilitated their efforts as these men fought
ferociously against the Pakistan security forces, aiming to leave the
Pakistani troops exhausted in impossible-to-follow “hide and seek”
Remote-controlled bombs and improved explosive devices (IEDs)
were the only weapons imported from the Iraqi resistance and used
in the two Waziristans against the Pakistani troops. But they were
enough to force the Pakistani troops to withdraw to their barracks
in the tribal headquarters there.
For the Jihadis, the retreat of Pakistan’s forces was their first victory, and it presented an opportunity for the ambitious ideo-
logical mercenaries to boot out all of the Pakistan government’s connections in these tribal territories. They took it. As a result by
late 2005, downtrodden youngsters in their teens and twenties were
ruling the streets of North and South Waziristan.
A single incident at the end of 2005 turned the tables. A group
of local thugs led by an Afghan, Hakim Khan Zadran, a bandit, confronted a Taliban faction in North Waziristan in a tussle for
control. In the bloody gun battle that followed the Taliban prevailed
and the surviving thugs were executed. Headless bodies and severed
heads hung all around Dand-i-Darpa Khail in North Waziristan in a show of terror by the pro-Taliban forces, who now called them-
selves the Pakistani Taliban. The centuries-old structure of the tribal

Jirga, comprising clerics and tribal elders, fell before these Pakistani
Taliban as they announced the Islamic State of North Waziristan.
Calls were then made to the settled areas of Pakistan for men
to join forces with the Pakistani Taliban in North Waziristan,
and in a matter of days former Jihadis who had been sitting idle
after Pakistan had closed its camps in Kashmir rushed to join the
Pakistani Taliban in their hundreds. Soon afterwards the Pakistani
Taliban flooded the tribal capital of North Waziristan, Miranshah,
and the Pakistani security forces fled the area without firing a shot.
They informed the Peshawar Corps that without air cover they
could not fight the militants. The Pakistan Army came back in full
force to crush the Pakistani Taliban, only to find they had vanished
like smoke in the mountains.
But before that, the Pakistani Taliban had established courts, a
police system, and a tax collection arrangement in South Waziristan,
while Pakistan’s security forces remained passive in their military
headquarters. Astutely, however, the Pakistani Taliban decided not
to play rough around these headquarters.
Meanwhile, the news of the Islamic State of North Waziristan
and Islamic State of South Waziristan had spread like wildfire.
Over 10,000 Jihadis from Pakistan’s cities: Karachi, the central
city of Lahore, the western city of Quetta, and the smaller former
NWFP cities of Peshawar, Bannu, Mardan, and Dir, reached North
Waziristan. Along with these there were approximately 12,000 local
tribal activists, of which over 3,000 were of Afghan origin and
about 2,000 were foreign fighters, including Uzbeks, Chechens, and
Uighurs, with a sprinkling of Arabs.
In South Waziristan, most of the pro-Taliban factions were local,
but there were in addition a few hundred Uzbek and a few dozen
Arabs, to make for a total strength of 13,000. So 27,000 in North
Waziristan and 13,000 in South Waziristan, or 40,000 fighters, was
the combined strength of the pro-Taliban factions Mullah Omar had
to launch his spring offensive. As this was not considered enough,
Mullah Dadullah was asked to convey Mullah Omar’s message to
all factions in the two Waziristans that they were to abandon all
other activities and join forces with the Taliban in Afghanistan. A
message was then sent across the two Waziristans about the arrival
of Mullah Omar’s emissary, also asking Tahir Jan (that is, the Uzbek
leader, Qari Tahir Yaldochiv), the Egyptian Sheikh Essa, Abdullah
Mehsud, and local clerics like Abdul Khaliq Haqqani to congregate
in South Waziristan. Dadullah distributed copies of Mullah Omar’s
letter and in some places read out Omar’s message personally. This
Immediately stop attacks on Pakistani security forces. This will
lead to chaos and cannot be termed as Islamic Jihad …. Jihad
is being waged in Afghanistan so leave your places and come
to Afghanistan to join the Jihad against the Americans and its
infidel allies.
The reclusive one-eyed leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, had
always been a charismatic binding force for all of the Taliban
commanders, irrespective of their personal differences, and the
message he sent through his emissary had a magical effect. The
coming days saw his efforts to effect reconciliation between the
militant groups in the two Waziristans and Pakistan’s armed forces
bear fruit. There were 27,000 men in North Waziristan and over
13,000 in South Waziristan. Most of them had usually held their
guns back against Pakistan’s security forces. The pro-Taliban
groups in Waziristan regrouped and geared up ready to go back to
Afghanistan. But before that, they all gathered in Shakai in South
Waziristan, and in Shawal and Birmal near the Ghulam Khan
Mountains in North Waziristan. When Dadullah arrived, these
activities gained momentum from his visit.
Dadullah aired video and audio CD presentations acquired
from the Iraqi resistance. A three-member delegation from the
Iraqi resistance representing Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi had come to
Afghanistan and Waziristan in March 2006, where they met with
Osama, Zawahiri, and Mullah Omar. They pledged their allegiance
to Mullah Omar on behalf of al-Zarqawi. The same delegation
brought along with them dozens of other motivational videos and
CDs, as well as training video CDs for suicide missions.
Mullah Dadullah had the same sort of material with him when
he came to Waziristan, but he also had messages and speeches from
leading Arab scholars and the speeches of Mullah Omar to shed
light on how and why suicide attacks were allowed in Islam. There
was no precedent for suicide attacks in the history of Afghanistan
(although it is seen as a successful weapon of Muslim resistance these days all over the world), as suicide had hitherto been strictly
prohibited in Islam. It was therefore difficult to persuade the rigid
Afghan society to use suicide as a strategy. There had been a few
suicide missions in Afghanistan in the more recent past, but they
were largely isolated incidents. Dadullah highlighted suicide as a
legitimate form of attack, and spread audio and video messages to
show how the Iraqi resistance had used suicides as its most effective
In 2005 there were exchanges between many Taliban and Iraqi
delegations who examined and compared their know-how on the
battlefield. There were, in addition, many Taliban commanders
including Mullah Mehmood Allah Haq Yar who had trained with
the Iraqi resistance and knew how suicide could be used as a form
of attack. Prior to this, although the Taliban were aware that others
had used suicide attacks, they had a dearth of men ready to volunteer
for such an act. Dadullah’s mission bore fruit on this front as well.
He succeeded in impressing on groups coming from Uzbekistan,

Tajikistan, Waziristan, and various cities of Pakistan, the impor-
tance of suicide attacks. The first squad of prospective bombers was taken into the Kunar Valley for training shortly thereafter. Dadullah
motivated an astonishing 450 suicide attackers, notably including
70 women, to rewrite history. While Afghanistan has a centuries-old
tradition of fighting invaders, it had never seen a role for women
in war. The suicide squad female bombers were mainly the widows
of fighters from Arab and Central Asian states who had been killed
either in Afghanistan or in Waziristan, but there were some from
Waziristan too who had been persuaded by their husbands or fathers
to join suicide squads. The first batch of suicide bombers was just
the tip of the iceberg. In the coming days, the success of the Taliban
emissary in Waziristan would be apparent in a long supply chain of
suicide bombers.
These developments came about when spring had started and the
Taliban had initiated a sporadic armed struggle, with a scattered
strength of a few thousand and with the help of local warlords in
various Afghan districts. They would be able to mount a much more
significant campaign if they could call on the 40,000 men in the
two Waziristans. The Taliban had appointed the veteran Jalaluddin
Haqqani as its commander-at-large for the spring offensive.
The decision to install Haqqani as commander-at-large was in
line with the unfolding Taliban strategy, which was to destabilize
the government in Kabul in the north, even before they managed
to seize control of south-west Afghanistan. They intended to first mobilize their strength in the south-eastern provinces, then move on
to Kabul.
Meanwhile, a command council comprising ten commanders
responsible for specific regions was put in place. Mullah Omar’s
former minister of defense, Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, was
appointed as the emissary to take directions directly from Mullah
Omar and pass them on to the commanders for feedback before a
final decision was taken. Again, while all the commanders, especially Dadullah, had the primary task of eradicating the writ of the govern-
ment in the south-west and south-east of Afghanistan, Jalaluddin

Haqqani was assigned to exploit the situation and drive the enemy,
north, south, east, and west by employing so much terror that the
Karzai administration would fall before the arrival of the Taliban
An aging, thin, and short man, commander Jalaluddin Haqqani
had kept a record of every victory against the Soviet army, including
the first, the mujahideen victory in 1991 when they defeated the
communist government and seized control of Khost, the home
town of the then president of Afghanistan, Dr Najeeb. The Khost
submission had been a major milestone in the fall of Kabul to the
When the Taliban emerged, unlike all the other leaders and
commanders of Afghanistan, Jalaluddin Haqqani was the first and
only example in Afghanistan who unconditionally surrendered (in
this case Khost) to them. Haqqani was not a Talib or student, and
nor had ever previously been part of the movement, so the Taliban
never accorded him much importance. He was minister for border
areas, but never consulted on any policy matters. Despite this,
when the Taliban decided to retreat in December 2001, the veteran
commander advised them to retain their control over Khost, Paktia,
and Paktika provinces, and make Gardez their front line against
the US forces. The Taliban leadership, however, paid no heed to his
advice and evacuated all of the provinces. Yet Jalaluddin Haqqani
remained loyal to Omar, even when Pakistan and the United States
called him to Islamabad before the US invasion and asked him to
carve out a structure for a “moderate” Taliban, become its head,
and rebel against Omar.
All the foreign fighters who fled Tora Bora, Kabul, and the
other places where they had been fighting, looked to Haqqani for
sanctuary. And Haqqani provided it to all of them in his adopted
home in North Waziristan. For those who wanted to stay with him,
he arranged accommodation, and for those who wanted to go back
their native lands, he arranged safe passage. Haqqani once again
came into the limelight in 2006 when Mullah Omar recognized
his worth. He was provided with money, men, and all the material
resources he needed, and was also delegated the power to carry out
actions in any region of Afghanistan. Today, after Mullah Omar, he
is the most respected person in Taliban circles.
Jalaluddin Haqqani dyes his hair and beard to help him look
younger; he has connections with all the Taliban commanders in
Afghanistan, whether Uzbek, Tajik, or Pashtun; and he controls the
main suicide squads, as he hammers out a two-pronged strategy to
destabilize the political heartlands of Afghanistan: Herat, Kabul,
Kandahar, Kunduz, and Jalalabad. His strategy was to employ
suicide attacks and reconnect with veteran commanders from the
Soviet era to help in manpower mobilization when the Taliban-led
resistance started from south-west Afghanistan.
Under the new restructuring of the Taliban commanders for the
spring offensive 2006, the following individuals emerged on the
Afghan landscape.

  • Mullah Dadullah: Even before he secured his success in the two
    Waziristans, Dadullah was Mullah Omar’s choice for supreme
    commander in south-west Afghanistan, where he was ordered
    to seize control of cities and towns. Though one-legged, he was
    media-friendly and, unlike others, happy to have his photograph
    published. He successfully defeated the Afghan forces whenever
    he wanted, and pitched sustained battles against the Coalition
    forces. Dadullah was killed in a military raid in the Afghan
    province of Helmand in May 2007.
  • Maulvi Abdul Kabeer: the governor of Nanagarhar province
    during the Taliban era, Kabeer has been keeping himself in hiding.
    Unlike Dadullah or Haqqani he does not have a power base. He
    was not a major player either in the Taliban era or before it, but
    as a trusted cohort of Mullah Omar he commands a wing of the
    Taliban in Afghanistan’s Paktia province with the help of a strong
    pro-Taliban arm from North Waziristan, which supplements his
    supplies and manpower.
  • Commander Mohammed Ismael is the chief commander of the
    Kunar province. Kunar has never been a comfortable place for the
    Taliban as most of its population, and that of adjoining Nuristan,
    are Salafi, and have differences with the Hanafi Muslims. Ismael
    therefore had a very narrow base to operate from, and that is
    why he has made Pechdara his center of gravity in Kunar. He fights alongside Arab and Chechen militants, and employs suicide
    attacks and IEDs as his main strategic weapons.
  • Kashmir Khan: of the other Afghan Taliban commanders, many are attached to slain commander Ahmed Shah Masoud’s Jamaat-
    e-Islami in Afghanistan, while some important commanders are loyal to Gulbaddin Hikmatyar. Prominent among the latter is
    Kashmir Khan, who fought against the Taliban until Hikmatyar
    joined forces with them after 9/11. Khan fights against the United
    States as an independent commander from the mountaintops of
  • Mullah Gul Mohammed Jangvi, whom the author interviewed on

the Pakistan–Afghanistan border in June 2006, is in his late thir-
ties. He was the commander of Pul-i-Khumri during the Taliban

rule and now commands Taliban forces in Argun, Qalat, and
Kandahar. In 2003 he was betrayed to the US forces, arrested, and
taken to Bagram base near Kabul, where he was tortured and then coerced into joining the Jaishul Muslim, a proxy US outfit estab-
lished among the Taliban in an attempt to dislodge Mullah Omar as Taliban leader. By the time Gul Mohammed was released,
Jaishul Muslim had evaporated and he rejoined the Taliban,
along with 1,600 men. He is now one of the main commanders
in the Qalat and one of the most prominent figures in the Taliban

By Editor

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