The Taliban: We Didn’t Do It

Sami Yousafzai and Ron Moreau on how the Afghan insurgents fear the Boston bombings will hurt their cause.

As counterintuitive as it sounds, there was no celebrating among the Afghan Taliban leadership when they heard the news of the Boston Marathon terrorist bombings. On the contrary, senior Taliban officials say such attacks on the West are counterproductive and they fear that such actions can only hurt the Taliban’s efforts at shedding its image in the West that it is a terrorist organization that shelters Al Qaeda and condones Al Qaeda-inspired attacks. “You won’t find any link with Afghanistan to the Boston attack,” a former senior cabinet minister in the Taliban tells The Daily Beast in an exclusive interview. “The Taliban neither has the inclination nor the capacity for such an attack on the West.”

The former minister, who declines to be named for security reasons, says he is afraid the Taliban will be tarred as terrorists once again even though the Afghan insurgency was not involved in the Boston bombings. “Such attacks only feed anti-Muslim and anti-Islam arguments in the West,” the former minister says, “even though some Muslims may say it’s good that the U.S. is now feeling some of the pain that Muslims feel.” “This incident is clearly not going to help the Taliban or the Islamist movement worldwide,” he adds.

The Afghan Taliban leadership, which is in contact with Al Qaeda on the ground in Pakistan, has been worried about an Al Qaeda-inspired attack on the West, presumably like the one in Boston, for weeks, says a senior Taliban intelligence officer who declines to be named. He says the insurgency’s strategic planning committee told him a month ago that it feared a 9/11-type attack by Al Qaeda could “ruin” the insurgency’s future strategy and further tarnish the Taliban’s image. “We lost Afghanistan in 2001 because of 9/11 at a time when we almost controlled 100 percent of Afghanistan,” the intelligence officer says. “We don’t want these incidents to upset our plans again.”

The intelligence officer says the Taliban leadership explained to Al Qaeda about one month ago that the insurgency is trying to make political progress both inside and outside Afghanistan as well as improve its diplomatic relations with Muslim countries and the West before U.S.-led coalition troops withdraw in 2014. “We told them this is a very important time for us and that any attack on the West would hurt the Taliban’s strategy and the Islamist cause,” the intelligence officer says.

Al Qaeda, it seems, was hardly listening. To emphasize its concern the intelligence officer says the Taliban leadership sent a letter to Al Qaeda’s new leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, about one month ago telling him that attacks on the West would achieve little at this time and would be a setback for the Taliban, which is trying to improve its relations with the Muslim countries and the rest of the world. “We honorably acknowledge and value your jihad,” the intelligence officer quotes the letter as saying, “but for now it would be better for our future if you hold off on any attacks.” “You need to understand that we have taken the insurgency to its current successful stage as a result of a lot of sacrifices. We don’t want this progress to crash as easily as it did in 2001,” the letter concludes. As far as the intelligence officer knows, the Taliban never received an answer from Zawahiri.

The intelligence officer says he doubts that Al Qaeda, which has been seriously weakened but still has the power to influence would-be jihadis around the world, can restrain itself from attacking. “Al Qaeda still talks about avenging the death of Osama bin Laden who will never be forgotten,” says the intelligence officer. “We have no influence over them.”