Divide between ‘hard-liner’ and ‘pragmatist’ has widened fault lines in Taliban regime 

Divide between ‘hard-liner’ and ‘pragmatist’ has widened fault lines in Taliban regime 

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The “ideologues” seem to have won the internal power struggle sidelining the “pragmatists” as the new Taliban administration takes charge in Afghanistan. The conservative regime has added some more ministers last week in the so- called “caretaker” set up but that would not change its hard-line image. 

There is still no woman in the cabinet and the addition of a few members from a minority ethnic group hardly changes its non-inclusive character. The new additions also belong to hard-line factions of the Taliban. It’s evident that the Taliban administration seeks to enforce its ultra-conservative agenda ignoring international concerns over a worsening human rights situation. 

Backing away from its promises, the new Taliban administration has stopped women government employees from returning to work and has yet to reopen secondary girls’ schools. The return to the old order as existed under the previous Taliban administration is a manifestation of the hard-line “ideologues” getting the upper hand in the organization. 

The first sign of a divide emerged earlier this month when the Taliban named what the group described as a “caretaker administration.” With Mullah Baradar being assigned to a secondary position in the cabinet it was evident that the moderates were marginalized. The deputy leader of the group, who led the peace negotiations with the Americans had emerged as the face of the Taliban. 

For the past two years Mullah Baradar had been heading the Taliban’s political office in Doha before the takeover of Kabul by the group. He had emerged as a smart negotiator. He had also traveled to various capitals and interacted with foreign officials in Doha giving him greater exposure to the outside world.  

It’s evident that the Taliban administration seeks to enforce its ultra-conservative agenda ignoring international concerns over a worsening human rights situation. 

Zahid Hussain

Mullah Baradar was expected to lead the new administration. But to the surprise of the international community he was named as one of the two prime ministers under a relatively unknown Mullah Hasan who was chosen to head the government. A member of the previous Taliban regime, he remained obscure during the war in Afghanistan. 

Mullah Hasan is considered close to Mullah Haibatullah Akhund, the supreme leader of the Taliban who is known for his rigid religious views. He may not be part of the government but he seems to have considerable influence over the ideological wing of the group. He has not been seen in public even after the Taliban takeover of the country. Yet his role as the main ideologue of the Taliban cannot be underestimated. 

Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, who was deputy head of the Taliban political office in Doha and a leading member of the Taliban team in the peace talks with the US officials, has also been marginalized. Instead of being appointed as foreign minister he has been named deputy to Mullah Amir Muttaqi, who has no experience of dealing with the outside world. 

Curiously, both Mullah Baradar and Stanakzai have not been seen in public after the formation of the Taliban government. There have been some media reports of violent exchanges between the supporters of Mullah Baradar and the Haqqanis who also got a large share in the government. That indicates complete control of the hard-liners, making it more difficult for the international community to recognize the new dispensation. 

The divide between the “ideologues” and “pragmatists” raises questions about the Taliban maintaining its unity. It’s evident that the Taliban government with its hard-line approach is pushing Afghanistan to the medieval age. Moreover, the refusal to include other Afghan groups and broaden its narrow base is likely to fuel discontent among minority ethnic groups. The spontaneous protests by women and other sections of Afghan society may turn into organized movements if the Taliban continue with their hard-line policies. 

There is no indication that with their restrictions on women right to work and their access to education, any country will recognize the Taliban government. Some analysts believe that the threat of international isolation may sharpen the power struggle between the hard-liners and pragmatists who favor a more moderate approach. 

International recognition is extremely important for the Taliban government in order to deal with multiple problems. Afghanistan is on the brink of a human catastrophe with worsening economic conditions. According to a recent UN refugee agency report, over 90 percent of Afghans are believed to be living below the poverty level. 

Without international help, more people could be pushed into starvation. These are some of the more serious problems the Taliban administration needs to focus on. The economy cannot be revived under a regressive rule. The future of the Taliban government will also depend on who wins the internal struggle. Afghanistan is once again at a crossroads. 

*Zahid Hussain is an award-winning journalist and author. He is a former scholar at Woodrow Wilson Centre and a visiting fellow at Wolfson College, University of Cambridge, and at the Stimson Center in DC. He is author of Frontline Pakistan: The struggle with Militant Islam and The Scorpion’s tail: The relentless rise of Islamic militants in Pakistan. Frontline Pakistan was the book of the year (2007) by the WSJ. His latest book ‘No-Win War’ was published this year.

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