The Taliban has achieved political stability, says Suhail Shaheen

Kandahar faction handles leadership; military power decentralised among Haqqanis and  commanders 

Updated - July 31, 2022 09:00 am IST

Published - July 31, 2022 06:45 am IST - NEW DELHI

Mohammed Suhail Shaheen. File

Mohammed Suhail Shaheen. File | Photo Credit: Reuters

The Taliban has proved detractors wrong and has achieved political stability within a year of coming to power in Kabul, Suhail Shaheen, head of the Political Office of the Taliban told The Hindu. As Afghanistan marks one year of Taliban rule in the coming August, the outfit has centralised political power in the Kandahar faction while decentralising its military power among a wide range of veteran and young commanders. 

On July 1, the Taliban’s Amir ul Momineen Hibatullah Akhundzada, visited Kabul for the first time since the takeover of the capital. Mr. Akhundzada has maintained the reclusive style of the Taliban’s first supreme leader Amir ul Momineen Mullah Omar, who was rarely seen, partly because of security reasons. While the supreme leader is expected to remain unseen, the visible part of the Taliban administration begins with the next leader — “Prime Minister” Mullah Hasan Akhund and his deputies, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Maulavi Abdul Kabir, and Mullah Abdul Salam Hanafi. 

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Out of the three, Mr. Hanafi is a Turkic and served as a Deputy Education Minister in the previous Taliban government during 1996-2001. Like Mr. Baradar, Mr. Hanafi too was part of the Taliban’s political team that negotiated with the U.S. in Qatar and was one of the few Taliban representatives who was seen on TV screens worldwide before he was appointed Deputy Prime Minister in the autumn of 2021. It was the Mr. Hanafi-led Taliban delegation that had met with Indian diplomats on the sidelines of the Moscow Format conference that month, when both sides made formal contact. 

The toughest part of the Taliban’s internal power equation involved finding equilibrium between the diplomatic-political and the military wings as both wanted a bigger share of power. It was also at the root of a brawl involving Mr. Baradar and Khalilur Rahman Haqqani in September 2021. Mr. Baradar’s wing believed power sharing should take into account the success of the Taliban’s negotiating team. 

Partially because of that fight, Mr. Khalilur Rahman Haqqani, despite being the “refugees Minister” is not among the main Taliban leaders anymore. According to Afghan sources, he is respected because he happens to be the brother of the late Jalaluddin Haqqani, the warlord who gave the Haqqani network its fierce reputation during the anti-Soviet Jehad of the 1980s. In contrast, it is Sirajuddin Haqqani, nephew of Mr. Khalilur Rahman Haqqani and son of Mr. Jalaluddin Haqqani, who is more powerful as he has maintained his hold as the “Interior Minister” of the Taliban since arriving in Kabul a year ago. Informed sources said that Mr. Sirajuddin Haqqani is supported by his cousins, Hafiz Aziz Haqqani and Hafiz Yaha Haqqani, who are considered to be the “right and left hands of Sirajuddin” and exercise control over military and intelligence affairs of the Taliban on his behalf. 

The Taliban’s “Defence Minister”, Mullah Yaqub, is another powerful figure with his own fighters. Mr. Yaqub is venerated as he is the son of the first supreme leader, Amir ul Momineen Mullah Omar, and is also a potential successor to the post, according to some pro-Taliban sources. Next in line are “Foreign Minister” Amir Khan Muttaki and “Finance Minister” Hedayatullah Gul Agha. Mr. Muttaki has acquired prominence as the Taliban’s chief diplomat as the regime yearns for international legitimacy and developmental aid. 

Mr. Gul Agha, also known as Gul Agha Ishakzai, like the Kandahar faction and Mr. Yaqub, is part of the old Taliban (1996-2001).  Unlike the Haqqani Network that is known for being close to Pakistan, Mr. Agha is known to be part of the anti-Pakistan “Mansour group”, or Taliban leaders who were close to the late supreme leader Mullah Mansour, who was slain in a drone attack in 2016.  Like Mr. Agha, “Deputy Interior Minister” Sader Ibrahim and “Deputy Defence Minister” Abdul Qayyum Zakir also command a large number of fighters of their own. 

In all, the top leaders of the current Taliban are mostly Pashtun with ties to the previous Taliban regime and the anti-Soviet jehad stretching back to the 1970s and 1980s. Though the Taliban have stayed away from bringing back the harsh justice system of the late 1990s, it is their treatment of women that continues to be a hurdle as they seek international legitimacy. The current leaders include one Turkic in Mr. Hanafi, and a Tajik as the army chief of the “Islamic Emirate”, Qari Fasihuddin. Sources in Kabul describe Mr. Fasihuddin as a symbolic presence as the real military power is divided among those who command a large number of fighters, like Mr. Yaqub, Mr. Zakir, Mr. Sirajuddin Haqqani, and Mr. Ibrahim. The more powerful figure in terms of military might is the deputy chief of the Taliban’s army, Mali Khan, who hails from the Haqqanis. 

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