PESHAWAR -- A recent report submitted to the United Nations (UN) Security Council details the Taliban's extensive, ongoing ties with al-Qaeda -- a clear violation of the February deal with the United States.
One of the stipulations of the peace deal signed by US and Taliban representatives requires the Taliban to disavow all terrorist groups and implement a number of counter-terrorism measures.
While some progress has been made on other terms of the deal -- namely the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and prisoner releases -- other areas remain a challenge, warns the report by UN monitors published May 27.
"Relations between the Taliban, especially the Haqqani Network, and al-Qaeda remain close, based on friendship, a history of shared struggle, ideological sympathy and intermarriage," the report said.
"The Taliban regularly consulted with al-Qaeda during negotiations with the United States and offered guarantees that it would honour their historical ties," it said.
The evidence shows that the Taliban, despite pledging to turn their backs on the terrorist group, have enabled al-Qaeda to gain strength under their protection, according to the UN monitors.
"Al-Qaeda and the Taliban held meetings over the course of 2019 and in early 2020 to discuss cooperation related to operational planning, training and the provision by the Taliban of safe havens for al-Qaeda members inside Afghanistan," the report said.
UN monitors said al-Qaeda is covertly active in 12 Afghan provinces, and that the group is comprised of "between 400 and 600 armed operatives".
The full UN report can be viewed here.
Taking advantage of peace deal
"The Taliban share the same policy, ideology and goals with al-Qaeda, and for the past two decades both groups have supported each other," said Gen. (ret.) Sikander Asghari, the former deputy director of the General Directorate of Local Police and a military affairs analyst in Kabul.
"The evidence suggests that the Taliban's relationship with al-Qaeda remains as stable as it was in previous years despite signing the [peace] deal with the United States," he said.
"The Taliban want to take advantage of the peace agreement ... and then achieve their goal, which is unfortunately not peace but the withdrawal of American forces and the subsequent fall of the Afghan government so they can regain power with the support of their regional supporters," he said.
Daud Kalakani, a former member of the Wolesi Jirga from Kabul, agreed.
"Based on the agreement reached between the Taliban and the United States, the Taliban are obliged to sever ties with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups," he said. "The group has committed not to allow any foreign terrorist group to operate in Afghanistan or attack other countries from the Afghan soil."
"But unfortunately, the Taliban have not kept their promises," Kalakani said.
"Maintaining ties with al-Qaeda shows that the Taliban are not committed to any agreement that would lead to peace and stability in Afghanistan," he said.
'Never return to peace'
"Taliban fighters will never return to peace as they thrive on terrorism and are in the habit of terrorising civilians through bomb and suicide attacks to establish their unlawful rule," said Peshawar-based senior security analyst Brig. (ret.) Mehmood Shah.
The Taliban's structure -- with a central leader, leadership council (Quetta Shura), judiciary and a range of executive commissions and other administration organs -- means the militants intend to start full-scale violence and dislodge the elected Afghan government once US forces leave Afghanistan, he said.
The report identifies Taliban provincial shadow governors, their deputies for all 34 provinces, district shadow governors, and group commanders and squad leaders in each district, who are all waiting for the opportunity to claw back the powers they lost in 2001, Shah said said.
"Even after the Taliban signed the agreement with Washington, we have witnessed an escalation in violence in Afghanistan," said Islamabad-based senior security analyst Lt. Gen. (ret.) Talat Masood.
"The Taliban have stayed away from claiming responsibility for such offences; however, these acts of terrorism aren't possible without the indigenous Taliban militants," he said. "The other groups aren't capable because they have a negligible number of fighters."
The Taliban are likely to abuse the agreement to release prisoners to reinforce their battle force, rather than honour the pledge to renounce violence, said Masood.
The Taliban so far have freed 300 Afghan soldiers out of an estimated 1,000 they held captive as part of their strategy, he said.
"Taliban militants have become a mature entity over two decades of experience in terrorism and agreements with the governments and know very well how to use such agreements to their advantage," he said.
There have been reports of rifts among the terror groups, said Khadim Hussain, a Peshawar-based security analyst, but such feuds are not certain to benefit the Afghan government.
"In certain areas, [the terrorists] indulge in infighting to gain supremacy over the other and win more power and space," he said.
"When a certain group loses men to another group, its members join the dominant group," Hussain said.
"For the time being, one of them becomes weak, but that doesn't mean the end of terrorism as the members of the defeated groups switch to the victorious one," he said.
"The modus operandi remains the same: all want to subdue the public through acts of violence," he added.
[Sulaiman from Kabul contributed to this report.]