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Differences persist within the Afghan Taliban
June 14, 2017, 4:48 pm
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Since the US overthrew the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001, Taliban has taken recourse to insurgency to gain back the reins of power in the country.  The international community made a series of attempts to negotiate lasting peace with the Taliban, but majority of all such efforts failed. Moreover, deep fissures within the Taliban emerged when news broke out of the death of the insurgent group's founding leader Mullah Omar.

The appointment of Mullah Akhtar Mansour as their new leader further created  divisions in the Afghan Taliban. A breakaway Afghan Taliban faction appointed its own leader, Mullah Mohammad Rasool underlining deep divisions in the group. The appointment of Maulawi Haibatullah Akhundzad as the new Taliban leader has further accentuated the divisions in Taliban as he is perceived to be weak and ineffective, lacking strong links with Taliban commanders.

The attempts to establish peace in the region have also been hampered on account of the duplicity of Pakistan, which on one hand continues to seek money from the US on the pretext of war against terror, while on the other hand harbors Afghan Taliban on its soil and uses it as a strategic asset.  Former US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Olson remarked recently that  Pakistan has never abandoned the policy of countenancing the Taliban’s use of its territory against its western neighbor, and thus Islamabad will not abandon the Taliban,

Even as the Pakistani military establishment has tried to convince the US and other stakeholders in the international community that it was sincerely trying to nudge the Pakistan-based Taliban community towards talks with Kabul, the Afghan Taliban announced its spring offensive ’Mansoori’ in April 2017. The operation gets its name after the slain Taliban leader Akhtar Mohammad Mansour. According to Taliban’s spokesperson, the main focus of Operation Mansouri will be on foreign forces, their military and intelligence infrastructure and in eliminating their internal mercenary apparatus.

 In parallel, Pakistan has continued to pamper Taliban leaders residing in the country with weapons, weapons licenses, houses and vehicles, thereby further consolidating their dependency. As a result, the Taliban leadership has not moved out from Pakistan into Afghanistan, a point which Syed Tayyab Agha, prominent Taliban leader and former Head of Doha office, highlighted in his letter to Amir of the Taliban  Haibatullah Akhundzada in July last year.

Several prominent members of the Taliban’s leadership council are of the view that Pakistan’s influence over the Haqqani Network, based out of Pakistan, has severely impacted the unity within their movement. Hence, under Haibatullah’s directions, steps have lately been taken to bring about more cohesion within the group.

According to sources in Quetta and Peshawar, a three-member Taliban delegation, including Hafiz Muhibullah and Mullah Abbas, travelled to Doha from 8-15 April, 2017 to convince Tayyab Agha to return to the fold and express his support for Haibatullah.  The delegation conveyed that if Agha declared his allegiance to Haibatullah, steps would be taken to attend to issues he had raised in his 2016 letter apart from even being re-appointed as the Political Head of the Taliban’s Doha office.

 

Agha is of the belief that   Taliban’s leaders should return to Afghanistan and sever covert ties with Pakistan in order to make independent decisions. He has asked Haibatullah  to abandon all the Taliban’s claims of being a legitimate government, restrict the role of foreign jihadists, and show an interest in representing the wider Afghan society.

Tayyab Agha reportedly responded to the offer by conveying that if the Taliban leadership was ready to work on the points raised in his letter prior to any announcement from his side, he was prepared to express allegiance thereafter. He further stated that he was ready to support the current Emir even without holding any position in the group. 

As per sources within the Taliban, with all political decisions being taken in Pakistan due to the presence of the leadership there, the Political Office in Doha has become largely symbolic and no more effective for negotiations and other political issues.  The Doha office head Stanskzai and several other officer bearers have lost trust of the Taliban leadership and Haibutullah has been asked to appoint a new head and office bearers for the office.  Reports indicate that there is an ongoing competition for the key post with contenders including Hafiz Muhibullah, Mullah Amir Khan Mutaqi, Stanakzai and Shabuddin Delawar. 

The rise of Haqqani network, partronised by Pakistan has thus led to deep fissures within the Taliban and has given rise to a leadership struggle.  The Haqqani network is nothing but a proxy of Islamabad. Hence, for establishing peace in Afghanistan, it is imperative that that Afghan government enters into a new peace process with Taliban, but one which is without Pakistan’s involvement.

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