Frictions between pragmatists and ideologists within the Taliban leadership have intensified since the group last week formed a hard-line cabinet that is more in line with their harsh regimes in the 1990s than their recent promises to inclusiveness.
The feuds took place behind the scenes, but rumors quickly began to circulate of a recent violent confrontation between the two camps at the presidential palace, including allegations that the leader of the pragmatic faction, Abdul Ghani Baradar, was killed.
The rumors reached such intensity that an audio recording and a handwritten statement, both allegedly by Baradar himself, denied that he had been killed. Later that day, Baradar appeared in an interview with the country’s national television.
“I was from Kabul so I did not have access to the media to dismiss this news,” Baradar said of the rumor.
Baradar served as chief negotiator during talks between the Taliban and the United States that paved the way for the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, which ended in late August, two weeks after the Taliban invaded the capital. Kabul.
Shortly after the Kabul takeover, Baradar was the first senior Taliban official to consider the possibility of an inclusive government, but those hopes were dashed by the formation of an all-male, all-Taliban squad last week. .
A further sign of victory for hardliners, the Taliban’s white flag was hoisted above the presidential palace, replacing the Afghan national flag.
A Taliban official said the leaders still have not made a final decision on the flag, with many leaning to eventually display the two banners side by side. He spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to discuss internal deliberations with the media.
The two Afghans familiar with the power struggle also spoke on condition of anonymity to protect the confidentiality of those who shared their dissatisfaction with the composition of the Cabinet. They said a cabinet minister played with the denial of his post, angered by the all-Taliban government that shunned the country’s ethnic and religious minorities.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied divisions within the leadership. Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Mutaqi on Tuesday called the information “propaganda.”
Baradar had been visibly absent from key functions. For example, he was not at the presidential palace earlier this week to receive Qatari Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammad bin Abdur Rahman Al-Thani, who is also foreign minister and was on the top-level foreign visit. since the Taliban takeover. Baradar’s absence was shocking as Qatar had hosted him for years as the head of the Taliban political bureau in the Qatari capital of Doha.
But in the interview broadcast on Wednesday, Baradar said he did not attend the meeting because he was unaware of the foreign minister’s visit to Kabul. “I was already gone and couldn’t come back,” Baradar said.
Several officials and Afghans who know and have contact with Baradar earlier told The Associated Press that he was in the southwestern provincial capital of Kandahar for a meeting with Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhunzada. Another Taliban figure said Baradar was visiting a family he had not seen in 20 years of war.
Analysts say the friction may not pose a serious threat to the Taliban – yet.
“We have seen over the years that despite disputes, the Taliban remains largely a cohesive institution and that important decisions are not seriously pushed back after the fact,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia program at the Wilson Center, based in Washington.
“I think the current internal dissension can be managed,” he said. “Nonetheless, the Taliban will come under great pressure as they try to consolidate their power, gain legitimacy, and tackle major political challenges. If these efforts fail, a stressed organization may well see growing internal struggles. serious. “
However, Taliban divisions today will be more difficult to resolve without the authoritarian power of the group’s founder, the late Mullah Omar, who demanded unchallenged loyalty.