DUBAI: Al Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahiri has pledged allegiance to new Afghan Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhundzada.
The pledge comes as al Qaeda is facing rivalry from the Islamic State, which has also made inroads into Afghanistan where the Taliban have been waging a guerrilla war since they were ousted from power in 2001.
Zawahari's remarks came in a 14-minute audio and video message posted online, the US-based monitor SITE Intelligence Group said on Saturday.
"We pledge allegiance to you on jihad to liberate every inch of the lands of the Muslims that are invaded and stolen, from Kashgar to al Andalus, from the Caucasus to Somalia and Central Africa, from Kashmir to Jerusalem, from the Philippines to Kabul, and from Bukhara and Samarkand," it quoted Zawahiri as saying.
He described the new Taliban chief as the ‘emir of believers’ and the ‘legitimate’ head of a Muslim caliphate. "Allah has graced you by establishing the first legitimate emirate after the fall of the Ottoman Caliphate, and in the world there was no other legitimate emirate," he said.
Zawahiri is staunchly opposed to IS which declared in 2014 the creation of a ‘caliphate’ straddling Syria and Iraq.
Last August, Zawahiri made a similar pledge to Haibatullah’s predecessor Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, who was killed in a US drone strike in Balochistan last month. After officially confirming Mansoor’s death, the Afghan Taliban named Haibatullah as their new leader in a swift power transition. Observers have said that Haibatullah will emulate Mansoor in shunning peace talks and intensifying attacks.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 12th, 2016.