Taliban’s Deputy Foreign Minister Says Everyone Has to Obey ‘Emir’s Orders’ as Divisions Grow Wider With Public Criticisms

Taliban interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani (Left), supreme leader Hibatullah Akundzada (Centre) and defence minister Mullah Yaqoob (Right).

The latest: Let’s face it, factions within the Taliban aren’t uncommon. Rifts too have been always present in the group which earlier had always been fighting for one goal of “their Jihad” and hence, had the proclaimed “unity” among them. However, when the question of governance comes it now, these rifts are becoming a sore point for the Taliban which leaders of opposing factions now making public statements for the world to see the internal differences. In the latest, it was the group’s deputy foreign minister, Sher Abbas Stanikzai, who said that there is no “opposition and rebellion” among the Taliban leaders and they all agree to what the “Amir” says.

Go deeper:

  • Stanikzai said on Friday that all Taliban members, even if they agree or disagree with the views of the Taliban supreme leader, obey his orders.
  • He even added that the unity of the Taliban has been a secret factor for the success of the group.
  • Stanikzai said, “We have pledged allegiance to our Amir [supreme leader]. Whatever decision he makes, we consider it obligatory to obey it.”
  • The deputy foreign minister of the Taliban also added, “The Americans spent millions of dollars to create a rift among the Taliban members, but they did not succeed.”

Back story: Recently, there has been a lot of back and forth among Taliban leaders with talks about differences and rifts in the leadership.

  • Earlier, Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Taliban’s interior minister, had criticised the monopolisation of power in the leadership of the Taliban and said that such behaviour is unacceptable. According to Haqqani, the current situation increases the rifts between the Taliban government and the Afghan people.
  • Haqqani also widely criticised Taliban members, saying that they only think about their “personal interests”. The speech had been delivered in the stronghold of the Haqqanis in Khost province. During the speech, Haqqani said that in contrast to now, during the time that he calls the Jihad of the Taliban, religion remained firm by religious scholars.
  • Addressing the Taliban, he stressed, “Let’s not behave in such a way that people hate religion.” This Taliban senior official urged members of the group not to be arrogant and understand others. He also said, “We are all questioned because of extremism. This [extremism] is not worthy of us.”
  • Mullah Yaqoob, the Taliban’s defense minister, had also said that pride and arrogance should be put aside and the will of the people should be accepted. Yaqoob asked the Taliban leadership to preserve the Taliban political system.
  • Even, Abdul Salam Hanafi, the Taliban’s Deputy Prime Minister, said that without a strong educational system, the Taliban cannot claim of having an independent country. Hanafi even went ahead to say that it was the duty of a religious leader not to say what is forbidden, but to also introduce an alternative.
  • These sharp criticism come at a time when the Taliban’s supreme leader Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, who has not been seen in public and the Kandahar circle, is against the education of girls and has so far been able to impose his decisions on the cabinet of the group in Kabul.
  • Seeing such criticism in the open, Zabihullah Mujahid, the spokesman of the Taliban, said, without naming anyone, that if there is any criticism, the leader should not be disrespected.
  • He added, “If someone criticises the Amir [supreme leader], a minister, or a deputy minister, Islamic ethics requires that he should not insult him and convey the criticism to him in a way that no one else hears.”

Zoom out: Now, what’s important to note here that differences in the Taliban had always been present with the hardline Kandahar faction and the Kabul front which shows more openness towards work and education of Afghan women. However, together when trying to form a government, policy differences have rattled the group to the core. There have been divisions in the group regarding education of women and even regarding receiving foreign aid wherein many in the leadership of the group in Kabul are ready for engagement with the world on the global community’s terms if they keep receiving aid, however, the Kandahar faction is opposed to this idea and wants to implement only their strict version of the “Sharia law”.

  • Now, the internal dissent is coming to the public domain and becoming an ugly fight on the global scene as the Taliban struggles to gain international recognition after one and a half years in power.
  • Haqqani and the country’s defence minister, Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, are among some of the Taliban’s top leaders who want more rights for women and repeal the regressive policies issued by the supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada, who wants nothing more than women to stay confined to the four walls of their homes.
  • From banning women from education to stopping them from working for NGOs and even restricting their presence in public places like parks and restaurants, Akhundzada has delivered medieval decrees without thinking about its consequences.
  • The bone of contention remains that the Kandahar faction believes that they can continue to rule Afghanistan with their strict policies, keeping the public in check, however, some powerful figures in Kabul want to rule the country with the agreement of the people of the land and be open to engagement with the world at large, which is not possible, if the group keeps implementing regressive decrees.

Take note that the public criticisms also can be seen as a power struggle. Haqqani as the head of the group’s interior ministry and intelligence directorate has greater control over the everyday affairs of the country and may project himself as the next in line to be the rightful leader of the group. But, this is not new as the Haqqanis have always been somewhat distinct from the core Taliban because their power base is in eastern parts of the country, not in southern Afghanistan.

  • However, like in the 90s, today too most of the commanders and officials of the group take their orders from their powerful leadership council based not in the capital Kabul but in Kandahar, leading to the power struggle.
  • But, the power of the southern stronghold seems to be diminishing as reports of about the relevance and existence of Akhundzada has come into the question, more often than appreciated by the Taliban. Akhundzada has always been a reclusive leader, but since the Taliban seized power, he has not been seen in public and there also has been no digital evidence of him being alive, except for the decrees issued which are signed by him.
  • The Taliban may have tried to run their current administration with the triangle formula with Yaqoob, Haqqani and Akhundzada at each of the nodes. But, this seems to be failing with at least three public critics against the supreme leader, Akhundzada, in a span of a few weeks. What remains to be seen is how the group will go ahead seeing the divisions deepening. If Stanikzai’s Friday’s remark are something of an indication, it only seems to be going downhill from here.
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