KABUL -- The ongoing strong relations between the Taliban and al-Qaeda pose a troubling quandary for the prospects of peace in Afghanistan, as many observers believe the ties between the two groups are "unbreakable".
Under a peace deal the Taliban signed with the United States in February, the insurgents agreed to stop al-Qaeda from using Afghanistan as a safe haven to plot attacks.
But in the months since, the Taliban have continued to work with al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), the US Defence Department said in a report July 1.
The report came on the heels of an United Nations (UN) analysis released on May 27 that detailed the Taliban's extensive ties with al-Qaeda.
Evidence shows that the Taliban, despite pledging to turn their backs on the terrorist group, have enabled al-Qaeda to gain strength under their protection, according to the UN monitors.
"The Taliban have leveraged al-Qaeda's power and resources since Osama [bin Laden] and Ayman al-Zawahiri pledged allegiance to the group [the Taliban]," said Jawed Kohistani, a military and intelligence affairs analyst in Kabul.
"Their relations are at a level that the Taliban sacrificed their entire government and themselves for al-Qaeda," he said.
"Al-Qaeda is present in Ghor, Helmand, Faryab and Badakhshan provinces, rural areas of Paktia and Kunar provinces, southern areas in Kurram District [in Pakistan] and in areas along Afghanistan–Pakistan border," Kohistani said. "Its members operate in and live on old bases of the Hezb-e-Islami and Etihad-e-Islami parties in Spina Shaga and in the outskirts of Jaji District [both in Paktia Province]."
"As al-Qaeda has old and traditional ties with Taliban leaders and commanders, it preaches to the Taliban combat commanders its religious and political rhetoric and encourages them to fight," he said.
"It trains the Taliban commanders and their fighters at the Taliban military training centres and provides them with advanced weapons," Kohistani said.
"Al-Qaeda links the Taliban to terrorist networks in the Gulf region and terrorist groups in Pakistan such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, branches of Sipah-e-Sahaba, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and others," he added.
"Al-Qaeda has brought militants and terrorist groups to Afghanistan from various countries in order to show that the Taliban are able to give refuge to [terrorists] from around the world in Afghanistan," said Kohistani.
"The Taliban support these militants, who have considerable fighting experience, and prepare them for suicide attacks," he said.
Al-Qaeda: financier of the Taliban
Relations between the Taliban and al-Qaeda are so comprehensive that even the peace agreement with the United States cannot sever them, say a number of analysts.
"Concerns about the Taliban's ties with al-Qaeda are completely valid," said Maj. Gen. (ret.) Zahir Azimi, a military affairs analyst in Kabul and a former spokesman for the Ministry of Defence.
"The Taliban's relations with al-Qaeda are so complex and robust that signing an agreement with the US won't put an end to them," he said.
"Evidence and documents show that al-Qaeda has been financing and arming the Taliban, and the Taliban's leadership doesn't plan to break their relations with al-Qaeda," said Azimi.
"Even if the Taliban's leadership decides to discontinue their relations with al-Qaeda, it isn't possible because both the groups have shared goals, front lines and leadership, in addition to financial and military ties," he said. "More important, they have ideological and religious relations that cannot be easily stopped."
"The Taliban currently have sturdy ties with AQIS, and al-Qaeda provides financial, military, training and intelligence support to the Taliban," said Azimi.
"The Taliban have inseparable links with Al-Qaeda," he said. "They have been fighting based on their religious beliefs on one front against foreigners [international forces] for the past three decade; therefore, it isn't possible that the two groups will separate."
"The Taliban hide their relations with al-Qaeda as they don't want to hurt their agreement with the United States," added Azimi. "This group is waiting for the US forces to leave Afghanistan so that it can implement its strategy of toppling the Afghan government and taking over control of the country."
"If we pretend as an optimistic analysis that the Taliban will end their relations with al-Qaeda, it will take much longer," he said. "It will take many years for their relations to fade away and ultimately end."
"Al-Qaeda has had a key role in creating and sustaining the Taliban," said Mirza Muhammad Yarmand, a former deputy Interior Affairs minister and a military analyst.
"The Taliban have an unbreakable ideological link with al-Qaeda, which is so lasting that Mullah [Mohammad] Omar gave away his entire rule and power but didn't surrender Osama bin Laden to the United States," he said.
"Although the Taliban have promised in their peace agreement with the United States that they would sever ties with al-Qaeda and other foreign terrorist groups... it is obvious that the Taliban have maintained their relations with al-Qaeda," he said. "They operate in a joint warfront and continue to fight against the Afghan government."
"I believe the Taliban are not able to cut their links with al-Qaeda because when the Taliban were created as a proxy force, al-Qaeda, as a strategic partner, helped the Taliban in collecting financial resources and recruiting fighters, provided them training, and equipped and armed them, and this support has continued since then."
"The report the United Nations and the US Department of Defence released about the ties between the Taliban and al-Qaeda is accurate as these relations are evident in Afghanistan," added Yarmand.