By Manish Rai
The Taliban after much waiting have announced a new interim government of their so-called “Islamic Emirate” in Afghanistan. This delay in government formation didn’t happen because the Taliban were holding talks with other ethnic groups for their inclusion in the government. This is evident from the fact that only one ethnic group dominates the new government which seems far from being inclusive.
In fact, the main reason for this delay was that different factions in the Taliban are fighting among themselves for greater share and say in the new power dynamics. Soon after the death of Mullah Omar, a split among the Taliban top leadership started emerging. Mullah Akhtar Mansour was elected as the new head. His election was strongly opposed by a faction led by Mullah Muhammad Rasool. But currently, as the Taliban is in power, internal divisions are becoming deeper. As the current head of the group, Haibatullah Akhunzada is a relatively weak leader and merely a symbolic figure, he didn’t have the ability to unite all the camps. Also, the differences are not only about sharing power. There are various areas of disagreement. The different factions have different views about how the new regime should rule across just about all dimensions of governance: inclusiveness, dealing with foreign fighters, the economy, and external relations.
Three main groups within the Taliban
The Taliban is currently divided into three main groups. The first group is the political wing, which has – led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar – negotiated a peace deal with the United States.
The second group is the military wing led by Molavi Yakoob son of Taliban founder Mulla Omar.
The last one is the Haqqani Network headed by Sirajuddin Haqqani. The Haqqani network is officially subsumed under the larger Taliban umbrella organization. But the Haqqanis maintain distinct command and control, and lines of operations.
Molavi Yaqoob wants to bring military elements into the government rather than political elements, in opposition to demands of Mullah Baradar, the co-founder of the group. Some reports surfaced that indicate that Molavi Yaqoob has openly said that those living in the luxury of Doha cannot dictate terms to those who carried out military jihad against the US-led occupation forces.
On the other hand, the Haqqani network, which has the backing of elements within the Pakistani security establishment, is one of Afghanistan’s most experienced and sophisticated insurgent organizations. The Haqqanis want a lion’s share in the power. As Haqqanis wants to cash in on the fact that they lead the eastern “lobby” and represent around 30-35% of the Taliban forces including some of the north-eastern Taliban. Also, Kabul is under the firm control of over 6,000 cadres of the Haqqani network. In the interim government, the Mullah Baradar group has been sidelined but this group can’t be called irrelevant as most of the veterans of the movement still back it.
Struggle about government composition
Molavi Yaqoob has gained the loyalty and operational resources of the most vigorous Taliban from the south, where Haqqani has been unpopular. There are reports of a dispute over the control of troops and arms between Molavi Yakoob and Sirajuddin Haqqani. Afghanistan’s tribal configurations and age-old Pashtun tribal rivalries are also playing a role in the widening of the gulf between these factions. Mullah Baradar is a member of the Durrani clan that mostly lives in southern parts of the country like the provinces of Kandahar, Helmand, and Uruzgan. Molavi Yakoob is from the Hotak tribe, which in turn is a branch of the larger Ghilzai tribe mainly based in southern Afghanistan. While Sirajuddin Haqqani is from the Zadran tribe of the Ghilzai clan. Its power base is in Southeastern Afghan provinces like Khost and Paktia.
Faiz Hameed, the chief of Pakistan intelligence agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) visited Kabul amid Taliban infighting over government formation. The ISI chief reportedly held talks with Taliban leaders and tried to persuade them to sort out their differences. But it remains to be seen to what extend ISI chief achieved his goal. But there is concern within Taliban leadership about the internal infighting coming out in the open and triggering violence, with each group fighting the other as happened in the mujahideen days of the 1990s. With the US leaving behind more than $85 billion of weaponry in Afghanistan, there is enough ammunition with each faction to fight the other for at least a decade.
The Taliban’s success as an insurgency rested on its ability to remain cohesive despite NATO pressure and efforts to fragment the group. But the group’s challenge of maintaining cohesiveness among its many different factions of varied ideological intensity and material interests is difficult now that it is in power. The first time the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan was in 1996. There was never any question raised about the form of the government and who will lead it. At that time, the Talibs were filling a vacuum, and Mullah Omar, founding leader of the movement just took charge. Hence no one dared to question his decisions and authority. But now the situation in the ranks of Taliban is very different as the group doesn’t have any supreme leader who has the ultimate authority and his words are final.
The author is a political analyst for Middle East and Afghanistan-Pakistan region and Editor of the geo-political news agency ViewsAround.
Dr Hashmatullah Jalil political analyst based in the United States provided inputs for the article.