AP: Zawahiri video hints at al-Qaeda return to Afghanistan

AP: Zawahiri video hints at al-Qaeda return to Afghanistan

Gee, who could have guessed that the return of the Taliban might embolden al-Qaeda? Other than practically everyone outside of Joe Biden and his brain trust, everyone. AQ’s chief terrorist Ayman al-Zawahiri returned to publishing video statements, highlighting a recent clash in India over a hijab as a means of confirming that he hasn’t yet reached room temperature:

The Associated Press takes note of where Zawahiri appears to be located and that it raises the “specter” of a new Taliban-AQ alliance:

There is no clear indication of the location of Zawahri from the video. He is shown in a traditional white head scarf beside a poster praising “the noble woman of India.”

However, it raises the specter of al Qaeda having a presence in Afghanistan, and highlights concerns over the commitment of the ruling Taliban to fight terrorist groups and deny them space in Afghanistan. …

Zawahri has been rumored to be Afghanistan’s northwestern Kunar and Badakhshan provinces on the border with Pakistan. The border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan is lined with inhospitable mountain ranges that have served as redoubts for a number of terrorist groups in the region.

If Zawahiri’s back in Afghanistan, does it mean much for the US national security? Zawahiri picks an odd and petty issue for the focus of his ire in this proof-of-life video. This story involves a Muslim girl who got harassed for defying a prohibition on wearing hijabs in an Indian province. That’s hardly a topic on which to build another “death to America” campaign, and might in fact suggest that “core” AQ doesn’t have enough resources to focus outside of Asia and maybe even its own little corner of the world … wherever that might be. It’s almost as though Zawahiri felt the need to be seen but didn’t really have much to say, especially to the West.

That could be because of the Taliban’s own woes in establishing any real economic connections to other countries. The assumption was that the US withdrawal would leave a vacuum that China would be eager to fill, and that Pakistan would immediately embrace their former proxies again. The Middle East Institute reported on Friday that things are not going swimmingly for the 7th-century theocracy:

Despite Wang’s recent visit, China has approached Afghanistan gingerly. Chinese business entities continue to hold off on expanding existing investments or making new ones. China’s major economic projects, such as those involving the Mes Aynak copper mine and the Amu Darya oil and gas reserves, remain mothballed for various economic, ecological, and regulatory reasons. Although China shares a narrow border with Afghanistan along the Wakhan Corridor connecting northeast Afghanistan to western Xinjiang, the authorities in Beijing have made this conduit largely impenetrable to transit by people or goods. China’s Belt and Road Initiative projects also circumvent Afghan territory. In the security realm, Chinese policymakers are most immediately concerned with how the Taliban victory might increase instability in other countries neighboring both China and Afghanistan, such as Pakistan or the Central Asian republics. There are many more Chinese nationals and investments in these states than in Afghanistan itself. The recent attacks on Chinese workers in Pakistan have heightened Chinese sensitivities around terrorist attacks against Chinese nationals there.

Pakistan’s relations with the Taliban have deteriorated now that the group has returned to power in Kabul. Taliban leaders have taken the same firm line as previous Afghan governments against Pakistani efforts to build fences along the so-called Durand Line, which Islamabad sees as the formal Afghan-Pakistan border. Videos show Taliban fighters smashing the demarcation fences erected by Pakistan. Afghans insist that the 2,600-km frontier should be open for cross-border movement by the Pashtun tribes located on both sides of the frontier. Besides legitimizing their territorial claims, Pakistani authorities want to erect barriers against infiltration by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (aka the “Pakistani Taliban” or TTP) militants who use sanctuaries in Afghanistan to support terrorist operations in Pakistan.

The Iranians are having better luck with the Taliban, the MEI points out. Go figure. With all of these relationships stalling, the Taliban might be putting pressure on Zawahiri to keep a low profile, but that would require a belief that the Taliban and AQ have the ability and desire to modulate their insanity. Have we ever seen evidence of that?

Finally, how many Americans remain stuck in Afghanistan? Does anyone know? Is anyone even asking that question any more?

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John Stossel 12:01 AM on June 09, 2023