The Afghan Taliban have claimed they were unaware of the presence of al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul, who was killed in a US air strike in the Afghan capital on Tuesday morning. The airstrike intensified global scrutiny of Taliban rulers and further undermined their efforts to secure international recognition and desperately needed aid.
The Afghan Taliban, who have been eerily tight-lipped following al-Zawahiri’s killing, said in a statement that they had “no knowledge of the arrival and the residence” of the al-Qaeda chief in Afghanistan. The group said on Thursday that it is investigating what it described as “claims” that al-Zawahiri was killed in a drone strike.
The killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri has further strained the relations between the west and the Taliban and undermined their efforts to bring forth the infusion of desperately needed cash to avoid economic collapse in the wake of US withdrawal from Afghanistan a year ago. The Taliban had promised in the 2020 Doha Agreement on terms with the US withdrawal from Afghanistan that they would not harbour al-Qaeda members or those seeking to attack the US. And yet the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the most wanted terrorist in the world was apparently being sheltered with his family by key Taliban figures.
The safe house where the al-Qaeda leader was staying in Kabul’s upscale Shirpur neighbourhood belonged to a top aide of Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, US intelligence officials have revealed. Haqqani is the deputy head of the Taliban, heads the Haqqani network and serves as the interior minister in its government. Even though there have been persistent reports of discord within the Taliban leadership, particularly tensions between the Haqqani network and its rivals, Sirajuddin Haqqani is nonetheless an influential figure in the Taliban ranks, and the intelligence reports his aide was sheltering the al-Qaeda chief spells bad omen for the Taliban.
The Taliban initially sought to describe the airstrike as Washington violating the Doha agreement, in which the US agreed not to attack the group. In return, the Taliban promised not to let terrorist havens flourish in Afghanistan, and in Thursday’s statement, the group addressed those concerns. They said they “ordered the detection and intelligence agencies to conduct serious and comprehensive investigations on various aspects of the mentioned event.”
The Taliban also assured the west, saying “there is no danger from the territory of Afghanistan to any country including America.”