Factional division and competing motives to climb the political ladder are some of the major factors driving the insurgents close to collapse.
In the twenty years of insurgency, the Taliban’s aim of eliminating US soldiers from Afghanistan was the main factor that kept the Taliban in check and kept differences between factions at the bare minimum. However, since the Taliban came to power in the summer of 2021, the Taliban’s internal cohesion has been in constant strain due to various factors that range from disagreements over power-sharing, to the abolition of some extreme positions, such as the admission of girls to secondary schools, in exchange to gain international recognition.
In July 31st, the killing of Al Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahiri during the course of a US drone attack in Kabul in Afghanistan, in the Haqqani Network safehouse with his family, added a new layer of complexity to the internal Taliban rules.
There are four main differences within the Taliban administration. The first one is between the movement’s pragmatist as well as hardline leadership. Contrary to the pragmatists who are predominantly from the Taliban’s official office, such as Deputy Prime Minister Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar as well as the deputy Foreign Minister Sher Abbas Stanikzai hardliners like members of the Haqqani Network has been in favor of defending Al Qaeda.
The killing of Al Zawahiri that took place in Kabul’s luxurious area, around 1.5 kilometers away from the Presidential Palace the Taliban’s attitude towards Al Qaeda has now become doubtful, particularly since the terrorist group is said to have been protected from Kabul’s Taliban leader in Kabul. The US has called the incident a violation of the Doha Agreement 2020. The incident will adversely impact relations between the United States and the Taliban, which could scuttle any hope of receiving international recognition. On the other hand, Zawahiri’s death will spark an internal debate on who was the person who leaked his location to the US which will increase the distrust and internal divisions.
At present, there are two major power centers in Afghanistan both ideological and political. The political center is located in Kabul which is where the cabinet of the Taliban is located. The ideological center is located in Kandahar which is located with Taliban chief of staff Hibatullah Akhundzada and his inner circle of religious experts. As the leader of the highest rank, Akhundzada has the final decision on the Taliban’s policy issues. This power polarization for a party that is currently struggling to change from an insurgent organization to an official entity has only exacerbated the incoherence within the organization.
An illustration of this is the decision taken by Akhundzada in March to hold off the opening of secondary schools for girls located in Afghanistan even though the Taliban cabinet promised to open them. To persuade Akhundzada to reconsider, the Taliban cabinet traveled to Kandahar to explain their decisions to its Supreme Leader’s personal religious circle. The subsequent discussion between leaders and the ideological authority ended in a deadlock leading Akhundzada to put the decision off. He also established a commission to make sure that all religious requirements such as a sufficient number of female teachers in schools and requiring modest uniforms to be worn before secondary girls’ schools are opened again.
The second divide is between Taliban fighters and the top leaders. It is the case that Taliban foot soldiers were forced to take the bullet on many occasions. In the first few weeks following power capture, Taliban combatants from Kandhar were hoping for cash rewards from the top command. They even went to Kabul’s Ministry of Finance in Kabul in hopes of finding money in the Ministry of Finance.
To the astonishment of the lower-rung Taliban fighters the top Taliban leadership quickly issued instructions, requiring all fighters to refrain from engaging in the kind of acts. In order to keep their promise of amnesty for all the high command ordered its foot soldiers to cease trying to carry out revenge killings.
The third divide exists between the Taliban’s Haqqani Network and the Kandhari Taliban faction. The Haqqanis and Kandharis share accusations of consolidating their power and accepting their clansmen and their friends within the government’s ministries and institutions.
The Kandharis were against Haqqani’s inclusion within the cabinet, asserting that it would be difficult for members of the Taliban administration to gain recognition internationally. Sirajuddin Haqqani, who has the highest head-to-head amount of $11 million, is an UN-designated “terrorist”. However, to that, the Kandharis protest that power is too heavily concentrated on the Haqqanis in the hands of. It is crucial to note that Sirajuddin Haqqani was awarded the most influential interior ministry. Haqqani Network Haqqani Network has also been responsible for maintaining the security of Kabul.
Another reason for friction between the two factions is endless debate over who is to blame for the triumph. The Kandharis assert that Mullah Baradar’s negotiations in Qatar with the US in Qatar culminated in Doha Agreement 2020, Doha Agreement 2020, which set the stage for the US to withdraw from Afghanistan and secure victory for the Taliban victory. Contrary to this the Haqqanis insist that the war in Afghanistan made it necessary for the US to negotiate an exit from Afghanistan. The US agreeing on a withdrawal from Afghanistan was the reason they won.
The fourth divide lies between Pashtun and non-Pashtun Uzbek as well as Tajik Taliban. Non-Pashtun Taliban feel disregarded and discriminated against by their Pashtun counterparts. The arbitrary demotions, arrests, and removals of several Uzbek Taliban commanders and resultant violence and protests have revealed these cracks to the world. In fact, the Taliban chief of the army chief of staff Qari Fatihuddin, an ethnic Tajik acknowledged as the reason for the speedy victories in the military of the Taliban is also feeling disenfranchised. He doesn’t have the power to choose as well as transfer the commanders.
Similar to January 2022, the detention of a highly respected Uzbek Taliban commanding officer Makhdoom Alam on trumped-up charges of kidnapping two years ago and assisting Daesh-K to organize riots and protests from his supporters and the other Uzbek fighters in Northern Faryab province. The Uzbek Taliban are seeking independence and authority in the provinces dominated by Uzbeks, Faryab, Jawzjan, and Sar-i-Pul and have a significant share of the administration of their counterparts in the Pashtun Taliban. In July, only Hazara Shia Taliban commander Maulawi Mahdi broke off from his fellow commanders in the Taliban in relation to the property of the mine that was located in his own Balkhab district. After separating from the Taliban, Mahdi moved back to Balkhab and cut all communication with the Taliban and mobilized his followers, and made it necessary to force the Taliban governor to flee to Kabul. The ongoing clashes continue with Mahdi with his Pashtun Taliban fighters.
To date in the past, the Taliban have employed appointments to manage internal conflicts. The Talibn hardliners even though they are a small minority have a significant influence over the Taliban’s major policies, appointments, and decisions processes. As time passes these cracks will grow difficult to control and will be a challenge to the Taliban. The way the Taliban administration balances the needs of the Afghan population, the demands of the international community, and the desires of the various members and factions could determine the future direction of the movement.