Alwaght- Since the Taliban’s second power takeover in Afghanistan in 2021, there have been reports about divisions inside the group’s leadership ranks and even the organizational body, raising questions about its unity as it is facing an array of challenges including great economic problems and international non-recognition.
According to media reports published in the past few days, hundreds of the Kandahari Taliban fighters in Helmand left a military base and headed back to home after outbreak of differences with Helmandi Taliban forces.
Videos and pictures published on social networks show that Taliban forces are leaving the Helmand military base with a large number of military vehicles, tanks and personnel carriers. It is said that the reason for this move was that the Helmandi Taliban do not respect the Kandahari fellows in Shorab Military Base. Afghan media also reported that several Kandahari forces were arrested by the Taliban Purge Commission for unknown reasons, and were released by fellow Kandaharis and taken to Kandahar. Another aspect of Kandahar’s differences with the interim government can be seen in the strict laws that have been applied to the Kandahar area in recent days. The government has obliged the employees to wear turbans and beards in the workplace, and in case of violation of these codes, they should expect trial. This is causing gaps inside the group.
Taliban’s power struggle
Differences inside Taliban are not new and since its takeover of power in August 2021, there have been news reports on their internal fissures. Although the Taliban leaders try to downplay these differences and even refrain from commenting on them, they elevate to new heights every day, and if they get out of control, they can push the interim government to brink of collapse.
According to The Independent newspaper, there is rivalry and difference between the Durrani and Ghilji Pashtuns of the Taliban and at the same time there are differences between the Pashtuns and other ethnic groups. The British newspaper reports that the Pashtun Taliban are witnessing an increase in their distrust in the Tajik Taliban. As a result, tens of the Taliban forces, including top local authorities, were dismissed since last year.
All the leaders of different Taliban groups are ostensibly united to revive their Islamic Emirate, but each of them have power and loyalty among their tribes and can use them in case of dispute. In a way, there are many arbitrary forces among these groups who live in armed peace and if things get worse, they will take actions.
In September last year, when the Taliban was preparing to introduce its interim government, differences between these groups emerged over the head of the government, and fierce clashes broke out between the supporters of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and the Haqqani network and as a result, 17 forces of both sides were killed. Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network, who is the most radical member of the interim government, considered himself more worthy to be the head of the government, but he lost in this competition and settled for the post of Ministry of Interior. Abdul Ghani Baradar’s differences with Haqqani were so wide that at the same time the head of Pakistan military intelligence traveled to Kabul to reconcile them.
The inter-Taliban divisions date back to the death of the group’s founder Mullah Omar in April 2013, when his son Mullah Yaghub separated his ways from other branches due to differences with the Haqqani network and others. He considered himself to be rightful leader of this group, but the Taliban council opposed his leadership. Therefore, the main gap that exists now is between Mullah Yaqoob and Abdul Ghani Baradar forces and the Haqqani network. Mullah Yaqoob is ethnically close to the Kandahari branch of the Taliban, and imposing restrictions on the Kandaharis and disrespecting them reveals the problematic relations between the Taliban’s central branch and Mullah Yaqoob.
The Haqqani network, as one of the extremist groups in the Taliban, operates in a parallel manner and due to the differences they have with Mullah Yaqoob, they act arbitrarily in some cases and are not willing to obey the central body of the interim government. The members of this group reportedly do not participate in the meetings held under the chairmanship of Mullah Yaqoob and Abdul Ghani Baradar. In July, an audio tape of Mullah Yaqoob, who is currently the Taliban’s defense minister, was published, showing his complaint about disobedience among the fighters of this group and expression of concern about this issue. At that time there was news about unsuccessful assassination of Mullah Yaqoob, but the Taliban denied the reports to cover up the power struggle inside its body.
The news and reports that have been published over the past year have repeatedly exposed fundamental differences at the high levels of this group. Such news indicate that some groups have abandoned their loyalty to the leadership of the Islamic Emirate, and this issue has aroused the ire of the Taliban leaders. Mullah Yaqoob considers deserving the power both from the point of view of hierarchy and from the point of view of the tribe, but the Haqqani network sees itself closer to the seat of the Taliban leadership from the functional and operational point of view. This desire for power gives away the fighting within the group. Although the leaders of the Taliban have always sought to cover up these gaps and prevented the internal conflicts from leaking to the outside, what is destroying the group from within is that the Taliban forces are more loyal to individuals than to organization.
On the other hand, the thoughts and beliefs of all these groups for the formation of the Islamic Emirate match each other to some extent, but they are divided on some Sharia laws and political and military affairs, and for this reason, they have not been able to find a solution to their differences. The ruling core of the Taliban is trying to prevent the split in the lower layers of this group, but it seems that its efforts are going nowhere and the gaps are deeper than what is published in the media.
The split in the Taliban in the past years led to the weakening of this group, and some forces, who were disappointed with the group’s capability to gain power , joined ISIS-Khorasan terrorist group, which announced its existence in Afghanistan for the first time in 2014. According to the figures shared at that time, more than 600 Taliban forces joined ISIS. Even after the agreements between the US and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar in February 2020, some members of the group who considered the agreement to be a compromise to the enemy left the main body and formed a new group they dubbed ‘Islamic Wilyat Party.’
The US and Pakistan pressures
Although the inter-Taliban divisions are driven by internal factors, some of them are due to external pressures that are put on the leaders of the group.
The US has set conditions for recognition of the Taliban’s interim government and as long as its conditions are not met, it would make no decision to establish relations with the group. In addition to forming a comprehensive government, the White House insists on cleansing the government of Al-Qaeda elements. Haqqani network, which is part of Al-Qaeda terrorist group and is blacklisted by the US, currently holds the interior ministry represented by its leader Sirajuddin Haqqani. The group has so far resisted the American calls for expulsion from the government the Haqqani network, but some other groups are not happy with the network being part of the government. Still, all of these groups had important role in the Taliban power takeover and their dismissal is not an easy job. Actually, all seek posts proportionate to their role in the takeover.
On the other hand, Pakistan, which has been the main supporter of the Taliban over the past two decades, is pushing for deeper influence in the interim government to sway its policies in line with those of Islamabad. It is pressuring the Taliban to confront Tahreek-e-Taliban (TTP), the Pakistani branch of Pakistan, but the Taliban leaders are resisting this demand and are defying the Pakistanis. The PPT leader has strong bonds with the Taliban leadership and therefore the latter is not inclined to clash with its ally for Pakistan.
Since many Afghans have no positive view of the Taliban government, its survival very much depends on the unity and the loyalty of its elements. However, the developments show that the Taliban government faces fundamental risks that threaten its stability even before its strength gain and recognition by the international community. The seemingly united Taliban has not solved any problems of the people over the past 16 months and even aggravated the economic and insecurity crises. With the emergence of its gaps, further crises are expected in the future and a new civil war is not unthinkable.