Leader of Al Qaeda militant group Ayman al Zawahiri pledged on Thursday his allegiance to new Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour whose leadership raised tension among ruling cadres of the insurgent group in the wake of the death of its former leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.
Zawahiri declared his allegiance in an online audio message to the new chief of Afghan Taliban following the confirmation of the death of Mullah Omar last month.
"As emir of Al-Qaeda, I pledge to you our allegiance, following the path of Sheikh (Osama) bin Laden and his martyred brothers in their allegiance to the commander of the faithful, Mullah Mohammad Akhtar Mansour, may God protect him," Zawahiri said.
The 10-minute social media recording was the first hearing in almost one year from Zawahiri who is believed to be hiding in a border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan where both Al Qaeda and Taliban militants have been very active in the cross-border operations against Kabul and Islamabad security forces.
Zawahiri eulogized the Taliban and its late chief Mullah Omar who was believed to have sheltered Al Qaeda and its former leader Osama Bin Laden during the post- 9/11 process in Afghanistan and its neighbour Pakistan.
Zawahiri urged Mansoor to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor Mullah Omar and said, "We are your soldiers and your supporters and a brigade of your brigades."
Afghan authorities announced later last month that Mullah Omar, who was never seen in public for years, had died more than two years ago in a Karachi hospital in Pakistan in 2013.
The choosing of Mullah Mansour sparked an objection by the former leader Mullah Omar’s family who declared that they would not endorse his name as the new Afghan Taliban leader immediately after the revealing of Omar’s death. a
However, Mansour released an audio message early this month, calling on the factions of the militant group to maintain their unity in the fight against the Afghan government which they believed backed by the West and NATO.
Having been appointed by Taliban leaders to replace Mullah Omar, Mansour also warned on the possible divisions and fractions in Taliban ranks, saying that it will only “please” the group’s enemies.
The leadership of the Taliban prior to Mansour’s appointment was reportedly said to be “at a crossroads,” according to a senior Pakistan-based Afghan Taliban commander, with one faction calling for Omar's son Yaqoob to replace his father.
Some groups among senior Taliban leadership favour a Pakistan-mediated peace talks between Taliban and the Afghan government whereas some others believe in maintaining of 14 years of insurgency against Kabul and the remaining NATO security components in the country.
Mansour, who is said to be in favour of the Taliban’s peace talks with the Afghan government, is expected to push for the continuation of talks into a second round, after the first round of talks were completed early July.b
But, the Taliban denied reports that a second round of talks were being planned to be held in Pakistan or China, with Mansour himself saying in the 30-minute audio that the talks are "propaganda campaigns by the enemy."
Pakistan and Afghanistan have long been suffering from the Taliban insurgency since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 at a time when the militant group was overthrown from the Afghan rule.
Since then the militants have been struggling to retake the Afghan government which was heavily dependent on the US-led military support provided by the NATO alliance.
Thus, Taliban has gradually gained ground again following the withdrawal of NATO’s ISAF mission from Afghanistan as of the end of 2014, by leaving a limited amount of security force in and around the capital Kabul.
Afghan and Pakistani governments have recently agreed on a memorandum of understanding that proposed intelligence sharing among themselves in order to exhibit a joint effort in the combat against Taliban which operates in the porous cross-borders of both countries.
But, the memorandum of understanding has created some discontent among Afghanistan’s political and military elites who have long been accusing Pakistan of patronising certain Taliban groups on its soil and for the rocky relations between Kabul and Islamabad.
This week, the Afghan leadership openly slammed Pakistan in the wake of increasing terror attacks carried out by Taliban as the militant group claimed responsibility for a series of attacks during the past week which killed more than 56 people in the country.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani accused Islamabad on Monday of not doing enough to crack down the Taliban which has also a branch in Pakistan.
The Pakistani Taliban, known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has increased its offensive against the Pakistani army since the militant group splitted from the Afghan Taliban in 2007.
Pakistani army has increased its effort to cope with the militant insurgency since the last year’s school attack in Peshawar.
The ongoing operations left behind nearly 2,600 militants dead, whereas 100 Pakistani soldiers have been killed by the militants.
The chaos created by both army operations and Taliban militancy caused the displacement of at some 1.5 million people from Pakistan's tribal areas.