San Francisco Chronicle

Friction among Taliban leaders is intensifyi­ng

- By Kathy Gannon Kathy Gannon is an Associated Press writer.

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.

 ?? Hussein Sayed / Associated Press 2020 ?? Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (right) greets U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad at peace talks in Doha, Qatar. Baradar is considered to be the leader of the Taliban’s more pragmatic faction.
Hussein Sayed / Associated Press 2020 Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (right) greets U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad at peace talks in Doha, Qatar. Baradar is considered to be the leader of the Taliban’s more pragmatic faction.

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