Internal conflict in Taliban leadership raises concerns for Afghanistan

Kabul: Internal power struggles are fracturing Taliban leadership, raising steep concerns for the already blood-drenched and war-torn Afghanistan.

Hollie McKay, in an article in New York Post, said that multiple sources on the ground and former intelligence and military officials confirmed the stark divisions between different Taliban factions who are pledging allegiance to different figureheads and countries in the lead-up to the official transfer of power after the US departs in the coming days.

“The situation on the ground is getting worse, the Taliban is becoming more divided, and different factions are already holding their own meetings,” said one former government source inside Kabul. “It is evident [the Taliban] is lacking unity of command, and that makes us even more afraid of violence.”

The multitude of clans is said to have various ideas about dealing with the “arising challenges,” which include how to contend with the growing ISIS threat, said McKay.

“There are big disputes over power, and the different ethnicities and tribes all want the power,” the source noted. “The Helmandis, for one, are on a big push, claiming that they endured the most and made the most sacrifices with all the US drone strikes over the years.”

As cracks in the power structure are seemingly surfacing, sources say that the Taliban – which historically emerged out of a Mujahadeen splinter and is no stranger to internal power struggles – started more than a year ago.

Moreover, well-placed sources say it is the typically shadowy Haqqani Network which has already been designated as being in charge of Kabul’s security, who is playing a much more significant role both politically and militarily behind-the-scenes on all matters concerning Afghanistan.

The group – which was designated a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) by the United States in 2012, is now a part of the government in Afghanistan post the Taliban takeover of the war-torn country.

A Pakistani protege, Khalil Haqqani, who has a USD 5 million bounty after the US designated him a terrorist, has been appointed as the new chief of security in Afghanistan.

A well-placed Afghan intel insider pointed out that it was believed the Haqqani loyalists replete with US weapons had moved – or were immediately planning to move – directly inside Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) in preparation for the power handover, reported New York Post.

Another US-based intelligence source also highlighted that there was some shooting between Taliban factions close to the airport perimeter Friday night.

But aside from the divergences in terms of who wields the control and power between the Taliban and the Haqqanis, there are also emerging fissures within each of those groups, said McKay.

“Helmandis and Kandaharis are challenging both groups,” one Kabul-based source privy to discussions said. “The Taliban have tried to calm them by appointing many in good positions.”

In June 2020, a United Nations monitoring team warned that at least one senior Taliban leader broke away to create “a new group in opposition to any possible peace agreement,” bringing with him a number of disgruntled members not willing to adhere to the US terms for a deal.

For many left inside the embattled country and endeavouring to flee in the final window before the US departs, the growing cracks are further reason to believe their lives are at risk. Many perceive the proclamations of amnesty, even if genuine by some in the Taliban top brass, are likely not to be followed by the divergent groups on the ground, said McKay.