Several accounts have provided striking details of a physical altercation earlier this month between lead representatives of the moderate and hard-line camps: Mullah Baradar, the recently appointed deputy prime minister, and Khalil ul Rahman Haqqani, a leader of the Taliban’s brutal Haqqani Network faction and Afghanistan’s new refugees minister. Haqqani reportedly rose from his chair and punched Baradar. Their bodyguards brawled, leading to several deaths. Combatants hurled “furniture and large thermos flasks full of hot green tea.” The scene, as described in these reports, resembles a mix between a militant melee and an episode of The Jerry Springer Show.
If reports of internal tensions are accurate, such strains could well intensify in the coming weeks, with the Taliban under great stress as it tries to consolidate power, gain domestic and international legitimacy, tackle an ever-worsening economic crisis, and fend off a terrorist threat posed by its Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K) rival. Talk of Taliban fracturing, however, shouldn’t be overstated. We lack definitive proof about the alleged squabbling. Caution is also in order because, in the past, when the group confronted dissent within its ranks, it acted brutally to squelch it before it could become a serious threat.
Additionally, internal tensions haven’t prevented the Taliban from achieving just about everything that the group has set out to do over the past 20 years. Writing in 2019, Afghanistan expert Andrew Watkins noted that “every instance of dissent and disunity in the last decade that the Taliban perceived as a threat was harshly, even brutally suppressed.” He also stated that internal rifts had declined since Mullah Akhundzada, the group’s current supreme leader, assumed power in 2016. Indeed, there are strong indications of unity within both the military and political ranks of the Taliban. Over the last few years, when the Taliban has announced several brief truces, fighters have laid down their arms, with no violators. Additionally, when the Taliban pledged to launch negotiations with the Trump administration and then (for a short-lived period) with the Afghan government, there were no known expressions of dissent from hardliners opposed to negotiations.
Even if one assumes that there has been some Taliban infighting, it certainly didn’t weaken the organisation. Over the years, the Taliban has ramped up offensives, turned a localised insurgency into a nationwide assault, seized unprecedented amounts of territory, and secured a troop withdrawal deal with the United States that required it to do little in return. It then entered Kabul with not a single bullet fired, watched its arch-nemesis Ashraf Ghani flee the country, seized political power, said farewell to the last of the departing US troops, and announced an interim government that features the group’s most powerful and feared leaders.
New disagreements could emerge about how to respond to nonviolent protests against Taliban rule, over whether non-Taliban officials should be brought into the government, and over what is the best way to address the economic crisis. If past is precedent, such differences will be nipped in the bud before they can cause major cleavages in the organisation. But then again, the Taliban will face more complex challenges leading a government than waging an insurgency. This means internal disputes won’t be as easy to solve as they used to be.
This article was provided by Deutsche Welle