Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, son of deceased Taliban founder and leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, has taken over as interim commander of the group, confirmed Rahmatullah Nabil, former head of the National Directorate of Security (NDS).
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Nabil’s confirmation comes a day after Taliban rubbished claims of any turmoil, infection and discord within the group.
The intelligence insider revealed in a series of messages that Taliban leadership has changed and this move is backed by Pakistan.
“Taliban leadership is in disarray due to emerging disagreements. Several leaders are infected with COVID-19. Some members of the political office in Doha have been removed and will be sent back to Pakistan,” he tweeted. He said the senior leaders are admitted in a military hospital in Rawalpindi.
The leadership change has been supported by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, Nabil revealed and said the media wing of ISI has been promoting messages by Yaqoob.
“ISI is trying to weaken the role of some elder members of the Quetta Shura Taliban who had lived in Afghanistan in the past and have some sympathy for Afghanistan,” he said.
Pakistan is also re-asserting its control over the group, he added “by backing and enlarging role of the Haqqani Network.”
The Afghan official said there may be changes in the Taliban political office soon.
Taliban’s Power Struggle
Last week, Foreign Policy reported that the Taliban’s top ranks were caught unawares by the spread of Coronavirus within the ranks. Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, their leader, and his deputy, Sirajuddin Haqqani, had been absent from meetings.
Akhundzada had tested positive for COVID-19, so it was a possibility, that he had spread it to others too.
Yaqoob had been consolidating his power since he lost bid to take over the reins of the group on his father’s death. He is ambitious and has strong political ties with Saudi Arabia and good relations with Kabul. He is also popular among the battlefield commander for his military prowess.
Yaqoob coming to power has not been a unanimous decision and this could lead to a power struggle within the group.
In an official statement by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, he called these claims “baseless” and “Western propaganda”
Bad Timing for Peace Talks
The crisis over the next leader has caused some rifts within the group at the critical time when the U.S.-led intra-Afghan peace talks are on the cusp of starting.
While Yaqoob was able to realize his ambition of taking control over the Taliban, experts have said if there’s any infighting with the Taliban, the group would focus all its resources on solving the issue.
This would divert attention from the peace talks.