A Harbinger of the Taliban’s Future Policies: Mohammad Mohaqiq

Publication: Militant Leadership Monitor Volume: 12 Issue: 8

As the Taliban completed its takeover of Kabul on August 15, a group of influential Afghan political leaders boarded a plan and escaped to Pakistan. The delegation included the speaker of the lower house of the Afghan parliament, Rehman Rehmani, as well as Ahmad Zia Massoud and Ahmad Wali Massoud, the brothers of the famed Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, and others. Their ranks also included Haji Muhammad Mohaqiq, a famed Shia Hazara mujahideen leader who fought against the Soviet Union in the 1980s and against the Taliban in the 1990s (al-Jazeera, August 16; Twitter.com/AmbassadorSadiq, August 15). He was a stakeholder in the government of President Ashraf Ghani, and appears to be in a position to continue to exert influence in a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

Mohaqiq was born in 1955 in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, Balkh province. He reportedly attained a bachelor’s degree in Islamic Studies from Iran. He speaks Farsi, along with Uzbek and Arabic. He joined mujahideen resistance forces in 1978, soon after the Saur Revolution  that placed a communist government in power in April of that year (Afghan Bios, February 2, 2020).

Little information is available that describes Mohaqiq’s activities during the Soviet-Afghan War, but he rose to prominence in its immediate aftermath. Following the Soviet retreat, Mohaqiq became a leader of Hezb-e Wahdat, an Islamist political party that aimed to represent Afghanistan’s Hazara community. From his perch in Hezb-e Wahdat, Mohaqiq was an important Hazara leader in the Northern Alliance during the Afghan civil war of the 1990s. After the fall of the Taliban government following the invasion by the U.S.-led coalition in 2001, Mohaqiq was appointed to the position of vice president and minister of planning in Hamid Karzai’s interim government. He ran for the presidency in 2004 against Karzai, and came in third with approximately 11 percent of the vote. Mohaqiq supported Karzai in the 2009 election, but ended his support in 2010. He became a harsh critic of the administration, citing Karzai’s attempts to negotiate with the Taliban as a betrayal that was doomed to failure (Afghan Bios, February 2, 2020).

In 2011, Mohaqiq formed a new political party, Jabha-e Milli-e Afghanistan (National Front of Afghanistan), alongside fellow anti-Taliban warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum and Ahmad Zia Massoud (RFE/RL, November 11, 2011).

Having supported Abdullah in the 2014 elections, Mohaqiq became his chief deputy when Abdullah was placed in the position of chief executive in a power sharing agreement with Ghani, following those contentious elections. Mohaqiq operated in this position until January 2019, when President Ghani attempted to fire him. Ghani’s office cited Mohaqiq’s intensive lobbying for Iranian interests as the reason for his dismissal (Salaam Times, February 8, 2019). This episode followed years of Mohaqiq expressing pro-Iranian views. The Shia Hazara leader met with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in November 2017 and again in November 2018. Ghani reappointed Mohaqiq as an adviser in January 2021 (Gandhara, January 14).

Mohaqiq ignited a political scandal when, on November 26, 2017, he praised the people from Afghanistan who participated in the Syrian civil war. The “Fatemiyoun Brigade” consists of Shia Afghan refugees and immigrants to Iran and was formed in 2014 by the Iranian government to fight in Syria on behalf of President Bashir al-Assad. A video of the remarks, made during Mohaqiq’s trip to Tehran, leaked online. Both Ghani and Abdullah’s offices reiterated the government’s position that it does not support its citizens taking part in foreign wars (Salaam Times, December 1, 2017).

Mohaqiq is one of the many Afghan warlords who in the last few weeks have attempted to mobilize their old militias as part of the “public uprising forces” that fought Taliban fighters before the fall of Kabul (ANI News, August 11; Times of Israel, August 12). Mohaqiq, alongside Abdul Rashid Dostum and Atta Mohammad Noor, attempted to mobilize their militias in Balkh province, before it fell to the Taliban on August 14 (al-Jazeera, August 14).

As Kabul fell, Mohaqiq took to social media, claiming in a Facebook post that, “People were saved,” and that the Afghan government was corrupt. Some analysts speculated that this was an attempt by Mohaqiq to soften his own image and make himself an acceptable political leader to be included in any potential transition government established by the Taliban in Kabul (Twitter.com/EzzatMehrdad, August 19). However, the Taliban’s acceptance of Mohaqiq could prove unlikely, given his decades-long history as a major anti-Taliban commander and status as a Shia Hazara. Some of Mohaqiq’s fellow warlords that were formerly part of the Northern Alliance, including Atta Mohammad Noor, have sworn to continue fighting the Taliban (Khaama News Agency, August 15).

Mohaqiq’s current position in the fast-moving and dangerous Afghan political scene is in flux. His recent actions indicate that he might be willing to cut a deal with the Taliban and be included in a potential power-sharing government. However, his long history of fighting the Taliban could make this proposition unlikely, or at least untenable in the long-term. For the Taliban to consolidate power, however, they will need to entice influential ethnic minority figures like Mohaqiq. Failure to do so will allow Mohaqiq and other warlords to gather their militias and engage in a civil war against the Taliban. As many world governments and media organizations speculate on how the Taliban will form a new government and the level to which opposition figures will be allowed influence, Mohaqiq will be an important figure to watch. His inclusion in a Taliban-led government would be substantial, given his past and ethnic and religious background. He is among the most influential of the Hazara politicians in Afghanistan, so his inclusion in or exclusion from a Taliban-led power sharing government will be a harbinger of the movement’s trajectory.