Growing rift between Taliban supreme leader, senior officials

Kabul, Feb 27 (EFE) – Public criticism of Taliban supreme leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada’s government by senior officials reveals an apparent rift among the fundamentalists who seized power in Afghanistan in August 2021.

Despite the united image projected to the world, experts and the international community have always identified two currents among the fundamentalists – the historic Mujahideen fighters led by Akhundzada and the Haqqani network.

Now under the interim government of the Taliban and under the control of the supreme leader, tensions have begun to foment.

“Monopolizing power and hurting the reputation of the entire system are not to our benefit,” Taliban’s Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani had reflected during a press conference on Jan.11.

Heading the dreaded network founded by his father, Jalaluddin – accused of carrying out the worst attacks in Kabul before the fall of the previous government -, Haqani stressed on the need to have “patience and good behavior and engagement with the people (…) soothe the wounds of the people.”

On Feb.15, Defense Minister Mohammad Yaqoob called on the government to not “be arrogant” and “respond to the legitimate demands of the nation.”

The elusive Akhundzada, named as the Taliban’s third supreme leader in 2016 following the death of his predecessor in a US drone attack, exercises tight control over the country from his native province of Kandahar.

He is known to decide everything from the appointment of provincial police chiefs to ministers and even clerics in the regional councils.

With such centralization of power, during official programs, Taliban officials often stress on the need to accept the orders of the supreme leader.

However, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, one of the main faces representing the fundamentalists in the negotiations with the United States in Doha, claimed during a recent event in the eastern province of Logar that “agreeing with the order of leaders is not compulsory if it is not according to Islam.”

These more or less critical comments at official events are seen by experts as evidence of fractures in the Taliban’s leadership structure.

“The disagreement between the Taliban is not ideological, but regional and based on tribes,” political analyst Ahmad Saeedi told EFE.

Centered in the southeastern province of Khost, the Haqqani network headed by the Interior Minister is trying to gain influence against the Taliban, traditionally coming from southern Kandahar province and southern Helmand province.

In this power struggle, the Haqqani group’s influence has been curtailed with the appointment of two figures considered loyal to Akhundzada to the interior ministry as deputies.

“The supreme leader has restricted the authority of the interior minister and appointed two influential but loyal people who have the authority to implement his orders even if Haqani disagrees,” a source with knowledge of the matter told EFE, requesting anonymity.

The Haqqani group apparently do not agree with the decisions to restrict women’s rights, such as banning higher education and work in nonprofits, and other policies that have attracted international criticism, increasing friction within the group.

“Some of the Taliban don’t want their government to be isolated due to the recent harsh decision and are working for reforms to engage with the world,” political expert Aziz Marij told EFE.

But the fundamentalists’ growing repressive policies seem to emanate directly from their supreme leader, leaving little room for action for those who may seek a change from the conditions during their first regime between 1996-2001.

“The supreme leader appears to insist upon these measures out of personal conviction and his submissive clerics asserted his authority over the government and the country,” political analyst Wais Nasiri explained to EFE.

Former Taliban member and current analyst Akbar Agha also interpreted Haqani’s recent statements as a call for greater political inclusion, in the face of the interim government being made up almost exclusively of Sunni clergymen of Pashtun ethnicity.

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