Taliban Reportedly Fighting Among Themselves on Best Way Forward for Afghanistan

Rumors of violence between pragmatists and ideologues in the Taliban's leadership have surfaced since the group formed a Cabinet last week.

Friction among the faction has been denied by Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Mutaqi, who claimed such rumors are nothing but "propaganda."

Earlier in the week, rumors flew that the Taliban's pragmatist commander Abdul Ghani Baradar was killed amid a dispute with the ideological section. Though Baradar reportedly sent a handwritten statement and an audio recording to prove he was alive, on Wednesday he appeared on national tv to further prove the rumor as false.

"I was traveling from Kabul so had no access to media in order to reject this news" Baradar said.

Baradar was the chief negotiator between the Taliban and United States during the discussions that ultimately led to the U.S' withdrawal from Afghanistan in late August. Baradar has encouraged the Taliban to pursue an inclusive government.

While the Taliban said they would develop an inclusive government, the group has largely given leadership positions to those within its own ranks. Hard-line Taliban leaders, including some responsible for the group's harsh rule in the 1990s, are among those chosen for government roles, and women have been excluded from it altogether.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Taliban Reportedly Fighting Among Themselves
FILE - In this Aug. 15, 2021 file photo, Taliban fighters take control of Afghan presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. (AP Photo/Zabi Karimi, File) Zabi Karimi/Associated Press

Two Afghans familiar with the power struggle also 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 all-Taliban government that shunned the country's ethnic and religious minorities.

Baradar had been noticeably absent from key functions. For instance, he was not at the presidential palace earlier this week to receive the deputy prime minister of Qatar, Sheikh Mohammad bin Abdur Rahman Al-Thani, who is also foreign minister and was making the highest-level foreign visit yet since the Taliban takeover. Baradar's absence was jarring since Qatar had hosted him for years as head of the Taliban political office in the Qatari capital of Doha.

But in the interview shown Wednesday, Baradar said he did not participate in the meeting because he was not aware about the foreign minister's visit to Kabul. "I had already left and was not able to return back," Baradar said.

Several officials and Afghans who are familiar and in contact with Baradar told The Associated Press earlier that he was in the southwestern provincial capital of Kandahar for a meeting with Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhunzada. Another Taliban figure said Baradar was visiting family he had not seen in 20 years of war.

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.

"I think the current internal dissension can be managed," he said. "Still, the Taliban will be under a lot of pressure as it tries to consolidate its power, gain legitimacy, and address major policy challenges. If these efforts fail, a stressed organization could well see more and increasingly serious infighting."

However, Taliban divisions today will be more difficult to resolve without the heavy-handed rule of the group's founder, the late Mullah Omar, who demanded unquestioned loyalty.