Friday, October 22, 2021

Taliban: Victorious, the Taliban face a fierce new test in Afghanistan

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KABUL: Having conquered Afghanistan, the Taliban now face the formidable task of keeping the peace within their own ranks and leading a country on the brink of ruin, experts say.
To outsiders, hardliners can appear homogeneous and united on all ideological and strategic issues.
But like any other large political organization, the decades-old Islamist group has its divisions, rivalries, loyalties and factions.
The fissures were largely kept in check during the 20-year effort to defeat US-led foreign troops and a Kabul government widely vilified as corrupt.
With that common enemy defeated, just a few weeks after the Taliban rule, the group’s divisions appear to be gaining ground.
On Monday, rumors that a shooting between rival factions in the presidential palace had killed the co-founder and now Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Ghani Baradar forced him to post an audio message saying he was still alive.
Before that, the appointment of an interim government exposed the group’s political tensions and perhaps sowed the seeds of future trouble, according to Niamatullah Ibrahimi, an Afghanistan expert at Australia’s La Trobe University.
The main roles were divided between the old guard of the Taliban from their spiritual birthplace, Kandahar, including Baradar, and the Haqqanis, a family grouping with ties to Al-Qaeda and Pakistan’s powerful Interservice Intelligence spy agency.
Under the first Taliban regime in the 1990s, the Kandahar faction had been dominant, but many of the group’s recent military successes are due to the Haqqanis.
“We really shouldn’t underestimate the power of the Haqqanis,” says Ibrahimi.
“They have been the most sophisticated part of the movement militarily, maintaining important ties to Al-Qaeda and Pakistan’s ISI, but also having their own distinctive power base in Afghanistan.”
The scion of the Sirajuddin Haqqani family, described as a terrorist by the United States and targeted for a $ 10 million reward for his arrest, took control of the Interior Ministry, which will set the tone for the Taliban government.
He’s a “natural choice” for the position, according to Graeme Smith, a senior consultant at International Crisis Group.
“He organized some of the most elite combat units of the Taliban,” he says.
But Haqqani’s appointment has also made it even more difficult for Western governments to recognize the Taliban government or to release Afghanistan’s frozen central bank reserves in the United States.
Failure to secure that money and foreign acceptance could be seen as a blow to Baradar, a key player in the talks with the West that led to the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Without foreign recognition, the Taliban would be hard-pressed to manage what the UN has called an “economic crisis” in Afghanistan and an impending “humanitarian catastrophe.”
Factional rivalries could pose more problems with Afghanistan’s neighbors, experts say.
Outsiders and Taliban groups from western Afghanistan, including those with ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, were largely excluded from the government.
“The Taliban have opposed an inclusive cabinet, ignoring requests from prominent Afghan politicians and regional states to include non-Taliban figures in their senior ranks,” says Smith.
“This is good for the cohesion of the Taliban and will attract Taliban supporters, but it risks alienating other Afghans and the international community.”
Ibrahimi says that regional powers like Iran or Russia could very well re-finance power groups to secure their interests.
It is “a recipe for violent conflict or resistance from others,” he says.
“(It creates) opportunities for exploitation by regional powers that are not going to be happy with them.”
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