Taliban on the verge of an internal fight

By Manish Rai

The Taliban now have a firm grip on Afghanistan. Right now, the Taliban have no opponents capable of undermining their positions in terms of military, political, or even economic resources. Furthermore, there have been no significant changes in the radical ideology of the Taliban. It is still a militant group that rules a UN member state. During the 2021 summer offensive, the Taliban demonstrated its ability to function as a cohesive politico-military entity. There was no doubt that the movement was commanded by a single command and control center. With highly disciplined units that obeyed the instructions of the centralized leadership. At that time, all factions within the Taliban had the common goal of taking full control of the entire country. But that is not the case now as two main groups, the first led by Sirajuddin Haqqani, interior minister in the interim Taliban government. And the other one led by Mullah Yakoob, Defense Minister, disagree with each other.

Sirajuddin Haqqani is the son of a famous anti-Soviet jihad commander and founder of the Haqqani Jalaluddin Haqqani network. He is currently the deputy leader of the Taliban and head of the powerful Haqqani network. The Haqqani Network is a US designated terrorist group long considered one of the most dangerous armed groups in Afghanistan. The group is infamous for its use of suicide bombers and is believed to have orchestrated some of the most high-profile attacks in Kabul over the years. Capital Kabul is under the firm control of more than 6,000 Haqqani network cadres supervised by Anas Haqqani, brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani. The network is considered to be very close to Pakistan’s ISI intelligence service.

Mulla Yakoob is the son of Taliban founder and late Supreme Leader Mullah Omar. He first rose to fame in 2015 when, in an audio message posted after his father’s death, he called for unity within the militant group. Mullah Yaqoob has been consolidating his power since losing a bid to succeed his father when Mullah Omar’s death, kept secret by a group of close associates for more than two years, was revealed in July 2015. Yaqoob is popular with battlefield commanders and is also known to have ties to Saudi Arabia. Riyadh is believed to be funneling money to him to help him consolidate power. Yaqoob has earned the loyalty and operational resources of the more vigorous Taliban factions in the south, mainly known as the Kandaharis, where Haqqani has been unpopular. Veterans like Mullah Baradar are also now believed to be in Yakoob’s camp as they believe he alone can effectively counter the Haqqanis. He operates primarily from Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban movement.

Let’s take a look at the reasons responsible for the animosity between Haqqani and Yakoob:

Pakistan Interference: The Kandahar faction of the Taliban led by Mullah Yakoob resents Pakistan’s involvement in the internal affairs of Afghanistan and the workings of the Taliban government. Kandaharis believes that Islamabad is trying to keep the new Afghan regime in check through its backing of the Haqqani Network. As the Haqqanis have close relations with Pakistan, they are considered to be representatives of Pakistan and the ISI.

Supporting Foreign Jihadist Groups: The Haqqani Network, with its history of supporting jihad abroad, is even more ideologically and operationally aligned with global jihadist groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Afghanistan than the Taliban. Mullah Yakoob does not want other foreign groups to operate and establish their bases in Afghanistan. As he believes this will further isolate them from the international community.

Different Religious Ideology: In terms of ideology, the Haqqani network under Sirajuddin Haqqani attempted to turn the Taliban into a radical Sunni militant group inspired by the Salafist interpretation of Islam and the jihadist group’s terrorist tactics, including suicide terrorism. It was while under Taliban leadership from southern Kandahari in the 1990s that the group was dominated by Deobandi Islamic thoughts and Hanafi sectarian practices.

Tribal disputes: Afghanistan’s tribal configurations and ancient Pashtun tribal rivalries are also playing a role in widening the chasm between these factions. Mullah Yakoob is from the Hotak tribe, which is itself a branch of the larger Ghilzai tribe, based mainly in southern Afghanistan. While Sirajuddin Haqqani is from the Zadran tribe of the Ghilzai clan. His power base is in the southeastern provinces of Afghanistan like Khost and Paktia.

Dispute for leadership: In terms of leadership, the Haqqani want to shift the center of power from the Taliban’s traditional Kandahari base. Even many analysts who follow Afghanistan for a long time have begun to believe that, now in practice, Kandahar is no longer the bastion of Taliban power, but rather it is Kabul under Haqqani, which is the de facto capital of power that decides the great group strategy. , tactics and the way forward.

It seems that the Taliban are following in the footsteps of the Mujahideen government of Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal from the country in 1989. At that time, different factions fought each other, which resulted in the destruction of the capital, Kabul. The United States has left a large inventory of weapons in Afghanistan, so each group has enough ammunition to fight each other for at least a decade. It is only a matter of time before these two powerful rival groups openly fight on the battlefield and this will start a new phase of civil war in the worn country.

(Manish Rai is a columnist for the Middle East and the Afghanistan-Pakistan region and editor of the geopolitical news agency ViewsAround. Hashim Wahdatyar, an Afghan journalist based in Washington DC, provided valuable insights for the article. He tweets at @HashimWahdatyar)

Also posted on Medium.

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