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How real is the threat of Taliban infighting?

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21.09.2021

In recent days, reports have abounded of disputes within the Taliban, purportedly fueled by the formation of a hardline, non-inclusive interim government disdained by the group's moderate factions because of its lack of non-Taliban leaders and ethnic minorities.

Several accounts have provided striking details of a physical altercation earlier this month between lead representatives of the moderate and hardline camps — Mullah Baradar, the recently appointed deputy prime minister, and Khalil ul Rahman Haqqani, a leader of the Taliban's brutal Haqqani Network faction and Afghanistan's new refugees minister.

Haqqani reportedly rose from his chair and punched Baradar. Their bodyguards brawled, leading to several deaths. Combatants hurled "furniture and large thermos flasks full of hot green tea." The scene, as described in these reports, resembles a mix between a militant melee and an episode of The Jerry Springer Show.

If such reports of internal tensions are accurate, then such strains could well intensify in the coming weeks, with the Taliban under great stress as it tries to consolidate power, gain domestic and international legitimacy, tackle an ever-worsening economic crisis, and fend off a terrorist threat posed by its Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K) rival.

Michael Kugelman, Afghanistan and South Asia expert

Talk of Taliban fracturing, however, shouldn't be overstated. We lack definitive proof about the alleged squabbling. Caution is also in order because, in the past, when the group confronted dissent within its ranks, it acted brutally to squelch it before it could become a serious threat.

Additionally, internal tensions haven't prevented the Taliban from achieving just about everything it's set out to do over the last 20 years.

Writing in 2019, Afghanistan expert Andrew Watkins noted that "every instance of dissent and disunity in the last decade that the Taliban perceived as a threat was harshly, even brutally suppressed." He also stated that internal rifts had declined since Mullah Akhundzada, the group's current supreme leader, assumed power in 2016.

Indeed, there are strong indications of unity within both the military and political ranks of the Taliban. Over the last few years, when the Taliban has announced several brief truces, fighters have laid down their........

© Deutsche Welle


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