"The Taliban and al-Qaeda remain distinct groups with different goals, ideologies and sources of recruits; there was considerable friction between them before September 11, 2001, and today that friction persists."
This is one of the main findings of a study of the relationship between the two organisations, published today by the Centre on International Cooperation and written by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn.
Separating the Taliban from Al-Qaeda: the core of success in Afghanistan also argues that elements of current US policy in Afghanistan - especially night raids, house searches and attempts to fragment the Taliban - are "changing the insurgency and inadvertently creating opportunities for al-Qaeda to achieve its objectives and preventing the achievement of core goals of the United States and the international community".
The authors argue that there is room to engage the Taliban on renouncing their relationship with al-Qaeda and providing guarantees against the use of Afghanistan by international terrorism.
These findings are worthy of notice, not least because the authors, who have spent several years as almost the only Westerners living in Kandahar, are well equipped to know the views of the Afghan Taliban. They edited Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef's autobiography, My Life with the Taliban and have access to people who are close to the Taliban leadership.
They point out that the original Taliban leadership around Mullah Omar was never very close to Osama bin Laden and that he exploited his friendship with regional leaders, in particular with the Haqqani clan, and ultimately betrayed the trust shown to him by Mullah Omar. But as military attrition has hit the Taliban, a new younger generation of fighters, radicalised by the events following 9/11, is now in place and more sympathetic to the al-Qaeda programme of international jihad. This nexus is being intensified as a result of current US policy in Afghanistan.
This short paper is well worth reading, although it is limited in its scope. It does not, for example, go into much details of the links between the Haqqani clan and the Arab fighters around bin Laden or indeed the other foreign fighters based in Pakistan's tribal territories. Nor does it discuss the relationship between al-Qaeda and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. More information is certainly needed on these relationships.