A key question arising from the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan is their relationship with their long-time ally, al-Qaeda.
Al-Qaeda is bound to the Taliban by a pledge of allegiance – or “bay’ah” – which was first offered in the 1990s by Osama Bin Laden to his Taliban counterpart Mullah Omar.
The pledge has been renewed several times since, although it has not always been publicly acknowledged by the Taliban.
Under the 2020 peace deal with the US, the Taliban agreed not to allow al-Qaeda or any other extremist group to operate in areas under their control. They reiterated this vow days after the takeover of Kabul on 15 August.
But they do not appear to have publicly rejected al-Qaeda either.
And al-Qaeda has certainly not softened its rhetoric towards the US.
Significance of the pledge
The Arabic word bay’ah is a term meaning a pledge of loyalty to a Muslim leader and is the foundation of fealty between many jihadist groups and their affiliates.
It entails obligations for both parties, including obedience by the one offering bay’ah to a leader. Reneging on the pledge is considered a serious offence in Islam.
In al-Qaeda’s case, it effectively subordinates it to the Taliban, by bestowing the honorific title of “commander of the faithful” upon the Taliban leader and his successors.
t was probably a factor in Mullah Omar’s refusal to hand Bin Laden over to the Americans after the 9/11 attacks, leading to the US-led invasion in 2001.
One famous example of the flouting of bay’ah came when al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq refused to adhere to its pledge to central command, leading it to break away and later re-emerge as the Islamic State group (IS).
IS and al-Qaeda remain fierce rivals.