How The Taliban Is Navigating The War In Gaza – Analysis


By Kabir Taneja and Shivam Shekhawat

The war in Gaza, now well past the half-year mark with few signs of a long-term resolution, has been an interesting case study to follow from the point of view of the Taliban’s ‘acting’ Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA). The Taliban took over Kabul in August 2021, almost four years ago, and has since managed to develop a patchwork of diplomatic and non-diplomatic relationships with neighbouring states, entities, international institutions, and issues. 

Even as the Taliban’s position on the crisis has not been in the spotlight, the group has taken a distant yet clear position on the same. On 2 April, the Taliban-run Afghan foreign ministry led by acting Foreign Minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, released an overt statement targeting Israeli military action against what was reported to be a consular section of the Iranian diplomatic mission in Damascus, Syria. However, this was done more so to put its political weight behind Iran’s retaliatory actions. “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan calls on all influential countries of the world and the region to prevent the crimes of the Zionist regime,” the statement read

Reactions to Gaza

After Iran carried out ‘mass drone and air strikes’ against Israel on 14 April, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), Abdul Qahar Balkhi, deemed Tehran’s response as ‘its legitimate right to self-defence’. The group blamed Israel for deflecting attention from the “genocide” that it has unleashed on the people of Gaza by violating the airspace of other countries and consequently destabilising the region.

When the crisis broke out in October last year, there were speculations about the Taliban rushing to send fighters to Gaza. Reports about the IEA urging both Iran and Iraq to provide a safe passage to its fighterspopped up, but were rejected by the group. The Taliban’s Deputy Leader and acting Interior Minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, asserted that they would refrain from interfering in anyone’s internal affairs even as they have ‘faith-based sympathy’ for the Palestinians.

In the initial months, the group’s restrained response created a perception that it was treading cautiously, mindful of not antagonising the United States (US) or other countries as it attempted to consolidate its hold on Afghanistan. The Taliban has not shown any proactive support for Hamas and has almost never mentioned them by name, but engagement or references have not been uncommon.

In April 2023, the Taliban’s envoy to Qatar met with Ismail Haniyeh, head of the political bureau of Hamas, in Doha at an iftarcelebration. Hamas was one of the first groups to congratulate the Taliban on ending the “occupation” in August 2021 as the final US troops left the country. Haniyeh had said back then that the US exit was “a prelude to the demise of all occupation forces, foremost of which is the Israeli occupation of Palestine.” Prior to Haniyeh, other senior Hamas leaders such as Mousa Abumarzook had also used the Taliban ‘victory’ as a clarion call, praising them for successfully standing up against the US and not accepting a compromise.  

Since then, the Taliban has reaffirmed its support for the demands of the Palestinian people. But over the  months, the IEA has used the Palestinian issue in two ways: While it condemns the atrocities being meted out on the people in Gaza and the West Bank, urging the international community and the ‘influential countries’ to step up and prevent Israel’s actions, it also uses the same atrocities and the international community’s failure to prevent the death of Palestinians to critique how unfairly the world has responded to the situation in Afghanistan—an ‘epoch of great paradoxes’ as per Muttaqi. After the US vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution asking for a ceasefire in Gaza in December 2023, the Taliban deridedWashington for being complicit in the atrocities and reiterated—something that it would mention in its statements quite often—that the US and the international community in general use human rights as a ‘tactic’ to achieve their own ‘political gains.’

But despite the increase in its rhetoric, the Taliban has refrained from assuming any responsibility vis-á-vis getting tangibly involved in the crisis or taking any strategic or tactical actions. Most statements coming from the MoFA under the Taliban place responsibility on other groups—influential states, regional powers, international organisations, and human rights organisations—compelling them to act and go beyond mere conversations. They also criticise the failure of international multilateral institutions as Israel continues its‘unilateral’ actions in the region, showing the urgent need to overhaul the current world order. They questioned the effectiveness of international law, specifically international humanitarian law while responding to Israel’s decision to construct more settlements in the West Bank. Its concerns about the violation of other countries’ airspace also stem from its insecurity about the air strikes conducted by Pakistan recently and the US targeting of the Al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri through over-the-horizon capabilities in 2022.

Taliban’s posture

The Taliban is cognisant of the fact that it must balance between its ideological anchoring and now, its political and governmental priorities. This is, of course, easier said than done. The new dispensation in Kabul has accepted the complexity of running a state at many levels. While many believe that beyond a point the ‘new Afghanistan’ does not care too much about international recognition, this may only be partially true. 

Many countries, including India, now have a consistent outreach with the Taliban. Some, like China, have gone even further, with President Xi Jinping officially accepting the accreditation of the Taliban-appointed envoy Asadullah Bilal Karimi. As of 2022, over 35 nations had opened conversations with the Taliban. While close relations with the likes of China and Russia are being seen from the point of view of great power contestation, outreach with the Muslim world in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Central Asia, has many more complex layers to how the politics is discussed and approached. The Jeddah-based Organisation of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) recently met the Taliban in Kabul to discuss the rights and development of the Afghan people, including the contentious issue of girls’ education, an issue stuck due to internal disagreements within the Taliban movement. While the Taliban publicly denies ethnic divisions, and even espouses pluralism, including reportedly offering to restore properties of minorities such as Hindus and Sikhs, the realities on the ground are widely different. 

However, for the Taliban, staying too far away from the Palestinian cause, a quintessential Muslim cause, could be harder than it seems. With over three decades of ideological indoctrination, shifting the Taliban’s base, the cadre, from being mujahideen to becoming bureaucrats, receptionists, and accountants, may be easier said than done. On social media, multiple videos have come up of Taliban fighters amongst others pledging to take on the Israelis and the US. The likes of Iran have already previously used Afghan Shias to fight in Syria, under the guise of the Fatemiyoun Brigade.

A prolonged crisis could pragmatically mobilise even ethnically- and politically-divided groups to be part of a single, larger cause. Reports by the UN have repeatedly reinforced the fact that the likes of Al-Qaeda continue to persist in Afghanistan while a louder Islamic State (ISIS or Daesh in Arabic) narrative on liberation of Palestine (even though both Hamas and Taliban condemn Daesh) could lead to a renewed recruitment process from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia. This is even though Al-Qaeda is widely known to be playing ball with the Taliban to help aid the latter’s aim for political legitimacy. An example of this is the group not recognising the killing of its leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul in 2022 in a US drone strike. This allows the Taliban to maintain its position that Al-Qaeda has no presence in the country. 

Some Taliban fighters have posted publicly on social media, personally requesting the Taliban Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada and acting Defence Minister, son of Mullah Omar, Mullah Yaqub, to allow them to go to Gaza. How deep this itch is for a cadre that has done nothing but fight for decades driven by ideology cannot be measured in real terms. This poses an unknown threat perception. 


The Taliban has not been vociferous on the Gaza war. On the contrary, it has aired its views and made its position clear, but tried not to wade into either being overtly pro-Iran or pro-Arab states. The complexities of maintaining a contained ‘strategic autonomy’ for a group such as the Taliban is going to be a challenge for both the political leadership in Kabul and the ideological point of singularity which is in Kandahar with Akhundzada. For the Talban’s political elite, internal cohesion remains the single agenda, having a big enough roster of challenges amongst themselves. However, the militant elite may have completely different thoughts, and if their ideological views do not get satiated by their political leadership anymore, they may start to look elsewhere, beyond the home grounds and walls of the Taliban movement as was seen in Afghanistan in the late 70s and 80s.

About the authors:

  • Kabir Taneja is a Fellow with the Strategic Studies Programme at the Observer Research Foundation.
  • Shivam Shekhawat is a Junior Fellow with the Strategic Studies Programme at the Observer Research Foundation.

Source: This article was published by the Observer Research Foundation.

Observer Research Foundation

ORF was established on 5 September 1990 as a private, not for profit, ’think tank’ to influence public policy formulation. The Foundation brought together, for the first time, leading Indian economists and policymakers to present An Agenda for Economic Reforms in India. The idea was to help develop a consensus in favour of economic reforms.

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