San Francisco Chronicle
Friction among Taliban leaders is intensifying
KABUL — Friction between pragmatists and ideologues in the Taliban leadership has intensified since the group formed a hard-line Cabinet last week that is more in line with their harsh rule in the 1990s than their recent promises of inclusiveness, said two Afghans familiar with the power struggle.
The wrangling has taken place behind the scenes, but rumors quickly began circulating about a recent violent confrontation between the two camps at the presidential palace, including claims that the leader of the pragmatic faction, Abdul Ghani Baradar, was killed.
The rumors reached such intensity that an audio recording and handwritten statement, both purportedly by Baradar himself, denied that he had been killed. Then on Wednesday, Baradar appeared in an interview with the country’s national TV network.
“I was traveling from Kabul so had no access to media in order to reject this news” Baradar said of the rumor.
Baradar served as the chief negotiator during talks between the Taliban and the United States that paved the way for the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, which was completed in late August, two weeks after the Taliban overran the capital of Kabul.
Shortly after the Kabul takeover, Baradar had been the first senior Taliban official to hold out the possibility of an inclusive government, but such hopes were disappointed with the formation of an all-male, all-Taliban lineup last week.
In a further sign that the hard-liners had prevailed, the white Taliban flag was raised over the presidential palace, replacing the Afghan national flag.
The two Afghans familiar with the power struggle spoke on condition of anonymity to protect the confidentiality of those who shared their discontent over the Cabinet lineup. They said one Cabinet minister toyed with refusing his post, angered by the allTaliban government that shunned the country’s ethnic and religious minorities.
On Tuesday, the Taliban foreign minister, Amir Khan Mutaqi, dismissed such reports as “propaganda.”
Analysts say the friction may not amount to a serious threat to the Taliban — for now.
“We’ve seen over the years that despite disputes, the Taliban largely remains a cohesive institution and that major decisions don’t get serious pushback after the fact,” said Michael Kugelman, Asia program deputy director at the Washington-based Wilson Center.