Taliban and Al Quaeda: Who Are They and What is Their Relationship?

On May 1, 2011, President Barack Obama announced that Osama Bin Laden, founder of Al Qaeda and mass murderer of thousands of people around the globe, had finally been killed. Many rejoiced in this announcement and some even found some comfort in his death. However, the question comes to mind – how many of us, especially the younger generation, actually understand who the Taliban and Al Quaeda are? How many of us know how these extremist groups formed and why? Despite Osama Bin Laden’s death, their legacies and agenda continue.

The Taliban

After Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 and the remaining communist Afghans were defeated in 1994, civil war ensued. Seven groups that had initially fought against the communists now turned on each other. From this chaos, the Taliban was born. The Taliban, which is an Arabic word for “students”, formed in the Afghan province of Kandahar in 1994. Initially, these Muslim fundamentalist mercenaries were actually a small group of 50 students from religious schools led by a man known as Mullah Omar. Now the Taliban is made up primarily of Afghan natives from the Pashtun (also known as Pathans) tribe.

At first they were welcomed as saviors fighting against the rampant corruption in Afghanistan. By 1996, the Taliban controlled 90% of the country including Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital city. It was at this point that civilians began to realize the mistake they had made in supporting the Taliban. Mullah Omar imposed Islamic law so strictly that few Islamic leaders even recognized it. These laws included such demands as requiring men to grow beards, barring women from the workplace and requiring them to wear burkas, allowing severe punishment or public death in the case of adultery or murder, and excluding girls over the age of 8 from attending school.

The Al Quaeda

Al Quaeda, translated in English to mean “the base”, was founded in the late 1980s by Osama Bin Laden, son of a wealthy Saudi businessman. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, Bin Laden initially fought against the communists in the Afghan resistance movement in a group known as the “Services Office” that he and a Palestinian had cofounded. But as the Soviets withdrew, Bin Laden formed the Al Quaeda in 1988. They were a group of Islamic radicals with the goal of spreading ‘jihad’ or a holy war against all Americans and their allies. Osama shared many of the same beliefs as the Taliban and his ideology included that civilians, including women and children, were not off limits in a jihad. He also stated that Shia Muslims, Heretics, America, and Israel were the four primary enemies of Islam.

The Taliban and Al Quaeda: A Fragile Relationship

So how did the Taliban and Al Quaeda ties come about? Bin Laden, interested in the extremist faction that was taking over Afghanistan in 1996, chose to ally himself with the Taliban. In exchange for capital and fighters, the Taliban provided Bin Laden and the Al Quaeda refuge and the freedom to train terrorists in Afghanistan. The Taliban, made up largely of ethnic Pashtuns, believe in giving their word and standing by it. If they declare their loyalties and protection to someone, then they remain unwavering in this declaration. For this reason, many believe that the Taliban will never turn against the Al Quaeda in favor of the US. However, this does not mean that the two groups don’t have different goals and viewpoints. In an interview conducted by Richard Barrett in 2010, the Afghan Taliban stated that their battle is a local one not a global one. This is in direct opposition to Al Quaeda which seeks to make their battle a global one. Furthermore, Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban, has voiced his disdain for Osama Bin Laden’s past bids for attention from the world. While Osama had a different agenda and wanted revenge for what he believed were injustices against Muslims, Mullah Omar wants the Taliban to be recognized internationally as a legitimate governing body in Afghanistan. However, his continued relationship with the Al Quaeda certainly complicates this goal. Only time will tell if the two extremist groups continue to have a symbiotic relationship or sever all ties.


“That’s not where al Qaeda is” Washington Times, The (DC), Feb 18, 2010

Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia

Origins of Taliban, Northern Alliance Toronto Star (Canada), Nov 20, 2001