ISLAMABAD, Aug 13 —A recording posted online Thursday appears to show al Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahiri vowing loyalty to the new leader of the Afghan Taliban, as the Kabul government demanded that neighboring Pakistan crack down on Taliban operations there.
Mullah Akhtar Mansour took the reins of the militant Taliban organization amid a swirl of controversy late last month when it emerged that the movement’s founder, Mullah Mohammad Omar, had been dead for more than two years.
“We pledge allegiance to you on establishing the Shariah [Islamic law] until it rules the lands of the Muslim—ruling and not ruled, leading and not led,” said the recording, in a translation circulated by SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors global jihadist activity.
SITE said the recording was distributed on Twitter and that the voice sounds like Mr. al Zawahiri’s. This would be his first audio release in nearly a year, SITE said, and would end his longest public silence in more than a decade
Mullah Mansour, the Afghan Taliban’s former deputy, has enjoyed the support of most of the movement, but has faced opposition from rivals including his predecessor’s family.
Al Qaeda’s allegiance to the Taliban wouldn’t have much impact on the battlefield in Afghanistan, home to no more than a few hundred al Qaeda fighters, an Afghan intelligence official said. But he added that it would lend Mullah Mansour greater credibility as he battles for the support of his rivals.
It also could heighten concerns in the Kabul government that the Taliban will pursue war instead of continuing tentative Pakistan-brokered peace talks. The cutting of ties with al Qaeda is also a condition of U.S. support for peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
In the weeks since Mullah Mansour ascended to the Afghan Taliban’s top post, a period of relative calm in the restive Afghan capital has been shattered by car bombings, which the Afghan government blamed on Pakistan-based Taliban operatives.
An Afghan delegation led by Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani was in Islamabad on Thursday for talks with the Pakistani government. During the negotiations, they veered from recent requests that Pakistan use its influence to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, demanding instead that Islamabad take action against Taliban based in Pakistan, Afghan officials said.
“The delegation demands Pakistan crack down on the Taliban, deny them sanctuaries, shut their training camps, and stop supporting and financing them,” an Afghan official said.
But Pakistan has maintained that peace talks with the Taliban are the most effective way to stabilize Afghanistan, which has sunk further into violence since the withdrawal of U.S. troops began last year. Pakistan’s foreign policy chief, Sartaj Aziz, said before Thursday’s meeting that the talks were “the best option.”
The Afghan and U.S. governments have long pressed Islamabad to prevent the Taliban from operating from Pakistan, with little success. Pakistani officials insist that they don’t support the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, but have said that their priorities are combating the homegrown militants staging terror attacks in the country.