Muhammad Imad Abbas
Amidst the numerous groups present in Afghanistan, the Taliban’s triumph can be attributed to their centralized power structure. Unlike other factions, such as ISK or TTP, the Taliban operates hierarchically, allowing them to maintain dominance on the battlefields.
Emerging Internal Rifts
Since the Taliban takeover, it has become evident that internal divisions are emerging within the Afghan cabinet. Key officials have started openly criticizing the leadership’s governance and policies without explicitly naming individuals.
The growing rifts primarily involve two factions: the “pragmatists” and the “arch-conservatives.” The former, represented by Sirajuddin Haqqani (Interior Minister) and Mullah Yaqoob (Defense Minister), support a more flexible and reformative government.
On the other hand, the latter, led by Emir Hibatullah Akhundzada and his allies in Kandahar, hold a conservative and orthodox stance, particularly regarding girls’ education, which they view as contradictory to Islamic teachings.
The Taliban’s decision-making is primarily driven by Kandahar, with significant policies formulated there. However, the leadership in Kabul outwardly presents a unified front. Many decisions are made without the knowledge of Kabul, as evidenced by local security forces receiving instructions via voice notes from Haibutallah, bypassing Acting Prime Minister Muhammad Hassan Akhund.
Mistrust and Challenges
The recent killing of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al Zawahiri has further fueled mistrust and agitation between Kabul and Kandahar. While negotiating with the US, the Taliban’s key negotiator, Mullah Beradar, assured the international community of no official or unofficial ties with Al-Qaeda. However, the clandestine presence and subsequent death of Al-Zawahiri have left Afghan officials feeling deceived and concerned about potential US attacks.
Key officials have been removed from top positions to secure their leadership. The relocation of the suicide squad to Kandahar under Taj Mir Jawad’s leadership exemplifies this precautionary measure. Although the security apparatus falls under Sirajuddin Haqqani’s purview, Kandahar remains hesitant to grant him full control, highlighting the discord between Kabul and Kandahar.
Another bone of contention between Kandahar and the Haqqani network is the cultivation and production of heroin.
The UNSC report reveals that several Haqqani network members are involved in the drug trade, including Haji Mali Khan Haqqani, Sirajuddin Haqqani’s uncle. Kandahar’s strict measures regarding drug production may exacerbate tensions between the Haqqanis and Kandahar.
Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani has criticized the monopolization of power within the government, advocating for closer ties between the ruling system and the people. Similarly, Mullah Yaqoob, son of Mullah Omar, called for the administration to respond to legitimate demands and avoid arrogance.
Implications for Pakistan
The evolving discord within the Afghan Taliban holds lessons for Pakistan. Historical strategies towards Afghanistan have often failed to engage with the key power entities, particularly the influential figures who possess real power.
To effectively address grievances and counter threats from India and TTP, Pakistan must carefully select actors capable of confronting these challenges head-on.
While internal divisions within the Taliban present challenges, the evolving security and economic dimensions of Afghanistan, coupled with the looming threat of IS-K, suggest that major discontent may not be openly expressed by officials. Pakistan must navigate these complexities and engage with influential actors to secure its interests in the region.