(This was originally posted in Hindustan Times by Amit Chaturvedi)
A power struggle within the Taliban has badly hurt two key players – deputy prime minister Mullah Baradar and the group’s spiritual leader Haibatullah Akhundzada – UK-based magazine The Spectator reported on Monday. It cited the recent clash during the government formation talks between Baradar faction and the Haqqani network to say that the former emerged as the “principal loser”.
The chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) also threw his weight behind the Haqqanis, ensuring that all of the key positions went to Pakistani loyalists, principally from the hardline Haqqani network, The Spectator reported. The clashes in early September saw “furniture as well as large thermos flasks full of hot green thrown around”, said The Spectator. At one point during the meeting, Haqqani network leader Khalil-ul-Rahman Haqqani rose from his chair and began punching Baradar, The Spectator report said. Baradar had pushed for an “inclusive” cabinet that included non-Taliban leaders and ethnic minorities, which would be more acceptable to the rest of the world.
He disappeared for a while after the clashes and resurfaced in Kandahar. He held a meeting of tribal leaders who are supporting him, but was also forced to release a video message on the state-run TV network controlled by the Taliban. The message “looked like a hostage video”, The Spectator reported. On Akhundzada, the publication reported that his whereabouts are not known. “He has not been seen or heard from for some time, and there are many rumours that he is dead,” reported The Spectator. This vacuum at the top has allowed for arguments between the Taliban factions – something which was not seen during their earlier rule two decades ago, the report further said.
The Taliban and Haqqani groups merged around 2016. Baradar and those involved in Doha talks were trying to project a moderate image of the Taliban, but Haqqanis have praised suicide attacks. Khalil Haqqani, Afghanistan’s minister of refugees, is on the United Nations sanctions list and has been linked to its military operations. The Haqqanis are deeply embedded into Pakistan’s security apparatus and take their name from the Darul Uloom Haqqania madrassa near Islamabad.