The Taliban’s domestic power struggle in Kabul is growing to an unprecedented level with the Haqqani network leaders seemingly splitting the Kandahari southern leadership between the Taliban deputy prime minster Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and Taliban defense minister Mullah Yaqub Mujahid.
Go deeper: Haqqani leaders have brought the power struggle in the public sphere and have tried to embolden the Taliban’s founding leader son, Mullah Yaqub at par with Mullah Baradar.
In contrast with the Taliban’s secretive approach towards its key security figures, Mullah Yaqub emerged in the public scene on October 27 for the first time, after which the Haqqani network trolls, Twitter campaigners, and even the second-most important Haqqani figure, Anas Haqqani has tried to publicize him. In one of his tweets about Mullah Yaqub, Anas Haqqani called him “a beautiful person” and “our young leader”.
Coupled with the above, some believe that with revealing Mullah Yaqub to the public, the Haqqani network signaled that the only secretive figure who is considered the de-facto leader of the Taliban is Sirjuddin Haqqani, while previously, only ministers of interior and defense of Taliban were the secretive characters. Other analysts think that by exposing the identity of Mullah Yaqub, the Haqqanis have put him at risk of getting targeted in a drone strike or similar scenarios.
The internal division of the Taliban seems to reflect in the international engagement of the group. Take note of the Taliban’s recent delegations to summits like the Moscow format in which instead of Beradar, Mawlawi Abdul Salam Hanafi participated and led the Taliban delegation. Unconfirmed reports indicate that Haqqanis have close links with the Uzbek fighters of the Taliban and Hanafi is considered their Uzbek ally.
Backstory: Soon after the fall of Kabul on August 15, news reports emerged about internal divisions within the Taliban, with Taliban co-founder and political leader Mullah Baradar facing terrorist Sirajuddin Haqqani. As a result of the division, and after weeks of negotiations, the leaders agreed on an interim cabinet with Baradar loyalists and the Kandahari bloc holding two of the three key positions of Taliban’s security architecture.
Mullah Mohammad Yaqub, son of Mullah Omar – a Kandahari- was appointed the defense minister while Abdul Haq Wasiq, from Ghazni, was appointed the new intelligence chief of Taliban. Haqqani network chief Sirajuddin Haqqani was appointed minister of interior.
Why it matters? With the recent developments around the power-sharing structure of the Taliban in Kabul, it seems that along with the generational transformation of the leadership of the Taliban, the group’s traditional structure is shifting too, with Haqqani’s changing the nucleus of Taliban power in Afghanistan. In practice, Haqqani’s have been using different tactics to centralize power around their main leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, including introducing parallel leadership rules for traditional Kandahari and southerner Taliban leaders, who contest his grip of power and maintain parallel key structures. Sources who talked on the condition of anonymity with Reporterly revealed that the Haqqani network has maintained a parallel intelligence structure to the current Baradar faction’s-led directorate of intelligence of the Taliban. While Tajmir Jawad is known to be a key Haqqani mastermind and is the current deputy of the Taliban intelligence directorate, it seems that Baradar’s grip of power on the intelligence agency is strong enough that the Haqqani leaders have maintained their own resources and intelligence operatives in Kabul and across the country to independently operate and run the affairs.
Zoom out: It seems that Sirajuddin Haqqani is more ambitious than his first generation of leaders of Taliban. It was him, who brokered a one-month ceasefire, between the Pakistani Taliban and government. Having confirmed this news, Pakistani authorities seemingly favor him against any other Taliban figurehead and project him both inside and abroad Afghanistan as the source of the power of Taliban in the new era.
The big picture: Recently revealed internal division among the Taliban’s two dominant factions from southern and eastern Afghanistan is particularly exposing the strategic transformation of the group in the past 20 years. This transformation is highly visible in the ideology and power structure of the Taliban. In terms of ideology, the Haqqani network under Sirajuddin Haqqani has changed the Taliban to a radical Sunni militant group inspired by the Salafi interpretation of Islam and Jihadi groups’ terrorist tactics, including suicide terrorism. It was, while under the southern Kandahari Taliban leadership in the 1990s, the group was dominated by Deobandi Islamic thoughts and Hanafi sectarian practices.
Furthermore, in terms of leadership, the transformation has taken place to the eastern Haqqani network from the Taliban’s traditional Kandahari base. Many in Afghanistan believe that, in practice, Kandahar no longer is the stronghold of Taliban power, but it is Kabul as the capital of power of the Taliban that decides the group’s grand strategy, tactics, and path forward.