Al-Qaeda and Taliban are distinct terrorist groups of extremist Muslims who misinterpret the tenets of Islam to further a violent agenda. While there may be some overlap in these groups, they are both different.
Al-Qaeda (also spelled Al-Qaida) is an Islamist group founded between 1988 and 1990 by Osama Bin Laden and Mohammed Atef. The Taliban (also spelled Taleban) is a Sunni Islamic group founded by Mullah Mohammed Omar, which ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001.
Origins of Al-Qaeda vs Taliban
Al-Qaeda was formally organized in the late 1980s by several senior Islamic leaders, including Osama Bin Laden, who provided a large part of its funding. This started as a jihadist (meaning struggle in the way of God) group in Afghanistan, known as Maktab al-Khidmat or “services-office” against the Afghans and Soviets and later evolved and expanded into a global jihadic movement. Though this movement started in Afghanistan, by the end of 2008, a large majority of Al-Qaeda members were based out of the country.
The beginning of Taliban is reported have been initiated as a reaction against the Mujahedeen warlords, and also sponsored by “Afghanistan Transit Trade” to clear the Southern road across Afghanistan. Some also suggested that Taliban also received support from the CIA and the ISI (Pakistan's intelligence agency) in order to fight against the Soviets. From 1994 to 1996 Taliban took control of 34 provinces. Consequently, Taliban imposed Sharia law in Afghanistan and with the help of religious leaders in Pakistan consolidated more power and imposed its rules in bordering areas of Pakistan also.
Differences in Ideology
The ideology followed by Al-Qaeda members is based on Sharia law. Some suggest that the writings of Sayyad Qutb or qutbism have greatly influenced the senior leaders of Al-Qaeda. According to qutbism, Islam is a way of life, and this ideology believes in the concept of offensive jihad, which is armed warfare to advance Islam.
The ideology followed by Taliban was a combination of Sharia Law and Pashtun tribal codes, sharing some concepts of jihad followed by the Al-Qaeda group. They followed a very strict code of conduct, banning TV and videos and forced men and women to follow the Taliban dress code and the Taliban way of life. The ideology, however, changed as time progressed, and later, most decisions and laws were made and passed by Mullah Omar alone.
A total of six Al-Qaeda attacks have been carried out, four against America. These include a bomb attack in Aden, Yemen in 1992, an attack on the World Trade Center in New York, and then in the late 1990s in the US Embassy in East Africa which killed 300 people. The most devastating attack as on the World Trade Center, New York on September 11, 2001. Al-Qaeda has also been involved in attacks in Africa, Europe, Middle East and Kashmir.
Taliban gained power in 1994 with the capture of Kandahar City and surrounding areas. Taliban received support from the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) in Pakistan. After capturing Kabul in 1996, the Taliban imposed Sharia law in Afghanistan banning video films, dancing, trimming of beards by men and also forced women to dress the Taliban way and wear burqas. Harsh punishments were imposed on thieves and murderers by “religious police”. The Taliban operated in Afghanistan and Pakistan and its members comprised different Pashtun ethnic tribes, and volunteers from other bordering Islamic countries.
The Taliban also fights with other religious extremists in Pakistan. For example, a recent BBC story highlights an attack by the Taliban on militants belonging to Lashkar-e-Islam in the Khyber region.
Differences in Organization Structure
Al-Qaeda is widely believed to be a network of loosely affiliated terrorist groups rather than a cohesive organization with the command-and-control structure and permanent cadre of terrorists. Although not much information is available about Al-Qaeda, an idea of its organization and operation management has been provided to the United States by a former associate of Osama bin Laden in a testimony. According to this, the senior operation of Al-Qaeda was managed by Osama bin Laden and advised by a council which consists of 20-30 senior Al-Qaeda members. There are different committees which are set up to manage areas like military operations, business, Islamic law and media.
The Taliban government has been described as being mysterious and dictatorial and classified as an "alternative government". There are no political parties and no elections are held. The Taliban is headed by Mullah Mohammed Omar, and his commanders are largely madrasa (educational institution teaching Islam) teachers. Several Sharia courts all over the country handle commercial and civil cases, including collection of taxes.