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Taliban not unhappy with Osama demise

In their missives to the world, the Taliban greeted Osama bin Laden's death as a call to arms - a killing that would incite "waves of jihad." Privately, many Taliban commanders are probably breathing a sigh of relief.

world Updated: May 20, 2011 23:27 IST

In their missives to the world, the Taliban greeted Osama bin Laden's death as a call to arms - a killing that would incite "waves of jihad." Privately, many Taliban commanders are probably breathing a sigh of relief.

The ties that bound al Qaeda and the Taliban were anchored by their two leaders - bin Laden and Mohammad Omar - but the relationship was never seamless. The two groups co-existed despite rivalries and divergent agendas: the Taliban, a largely Pashtun movement focused on grievances within Afghanistan; al Qaeda, the cosmopolitan Arab visionaries of terrorism with eyes always to the West.

Bin Laden's death could free up the Taliban to distance itself from al Qaeda, as US military officials have argued, and allow the group to pursue negotiations with the United States. At the same time, the Taliban could take inspiration from bin Laden's killing and double down on a fight that appears closer to a conclusion as US officials argue for a speedier American withdrawal after the al Qaeda chief's death.

In public statements since bin Laden was killed in Pakistan by Navy Seals, the Taliban has showed no sign of a willingness to abandon its al Qaeda partners. "The Afghans will not forget the sacrifices and struggle of Sheik Osama, this great patron of Islam," one statement said.

Although al Qaeda and the Taliban have a common enemy in the United States, their differences remain stark. US military officials say the vast majority of Taliban fighters operate a short distance from their homes - and are focused primarily on local grievances, rather than international terrorism.

"The Taliban have a whole different agenda. They're concerned about what's going on in their valley or their district or their province," said Col. Joseph Felter.

The current generation of young Taliban fighters, many of them boys when the Taliban government fell in late 2001, do not have "a memory of this close relationship between the Taliban and al Qaeda that some of the older generation saw," Felter said. "The current 19-year-old Taliban doesn't have any real connection to al Qaeda."

Within the Taliban's leadership council, known as the Quetta Shura, there has been an ongoing debate about whether to renounce al Qaeda, causing significant divides. Detainees in Afghanistan have told interrogators that they resent al Qaeda for provoking the US invasion that helped to overthrow the Taliban.

(In association with The Washington Post. For additional content from The Washington Post, visit www.washingtonpost.com)