Since the reemergence of the insurgency in 2002, Afghanistan has witnessed a largely united insurgent front under the banner of the Taliban. To date there have been few records of disputes and differences within the Taliban. The unity of different groups of insurgents under the Taliban banner and the obedience of the rank and file of the group to the orders of Mullah Omar as their only Amir has been a key to the success and revival of the Islamist resistance. But seven years after the fall of the Taliban, disputes about the direction of the movement have begun to emerge within Mullah Omar’s mujahideen.
Small clashes inside the insurgency have been followed by deep divides within the Taliban. A recent letter from Jalaluddin Haqqani has asked for a change in the leadership of the Taliban. Haqqani is a respected veteran commander of the anti-Soviet insurgency of the 1980s and is now a powerful authority within the current insurgency, well known for his dedication to jihad and the suicide attacks carried out under his orders in many parts of Afghanistan. Unlike many elements of the Taliban leadership, Haqqani was little influenced by the religious and political thought of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1980s and early 1990s.
The open letter to Taliban fighters and other Afghan insurgents is written in the Pashto language under the logo and title of the “Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan.” Haqqani’s message describes Mullah Omar as an illiterate person and claims that his erroneous decisions might cause the collapse of the Taliban (Payman Daily [Kabul], June 14). As stated in Haqqani’s letter, it is time for the neo-Taliban to change the head of the Taliban leadership council. Haqqani claims to have consulted many Taliban commanders who were in agreement that this is the right time to bring about changes in the leadership (a full facsimile of the letter is published at www.kabulpress.org/my/spip.php?article1816).
Haqqani suggests that the passage of time has led to the understanding that errors by the Taliban leadership have caused the loss of many prominent commanders, including Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Osmani, Mullah Dadullah, Mullah Abdul Manan and Mullah Saifullah Mansoor. The veteran jihadi commander believes that the Taliban’s shura (consultative council) in Quetta has made a deal with intelligence agencies to kill those insurgent commanders who are opposed to working with Mullah Omar’s representatives. Singled out for criticism is Mullah Omar’s cooperation and coordination with his relatives, such as Mullah Azizullah Eshaq Zai, Mullah Abdul Shakoor and Mullah Jan Muhammad Baloch, whom Haqqani accuses of issuing orders that have caused losses to Taliban forces. Haqqani claims that those loyal leading commanders of the Taliban who learn of the shura’s deals with intelligence agencies and no longer want to work with them have either been killed by Taliban figures or murdered by foreign forces allied with the Taliban leadership.
In other parts of his letter, Jalaluddin Haqqani informs the Taliban that the leadership of the organization is not hereditary and that one family should not lead the Taliban forever. Instead, he suggests that the Taliban leadership should be given to a person who is literate and knowledgeable about political issues. He should also have the ability to bring positive changes for the political development, unity and international relations of the Taliban. The Taliban needs to have productive diplomacy around the world and Haqqani points out that not all countries and governments are foes of the Taliban. Criticizing past decisions of Mullah Omar, Haqqani stresses that the leadership system of the Taliban with its poor decisions and egotism has led to the infamy of the organization and threatened it with collapse.
Although the authenticity of this letter has not been confirmed, many local observers believe that the rift within the Taliban is both real and serious. To date, neither Mullah Omar nor Haqqani have made any public statements regarding the letter’s publication. The media sources which published the letter, Payman Daily and Kabul Press, are both critical of the Karzai government. Kabul Press has a history of receiving and publishing documents of this type and its editor was jailed for a time last year by the National Security Directorate for his criticism of their activities.
Jalaluddin Haqqani has a strong influence in eastern Afghanistan and the North Waziristan tribal agency of Pakistan, which puts him in a far stronger position than any other leader of the Taliban except Mullah Omar. His “Haqqani Network” has proved highly effective in striking government and Coalition targets, leading him to be regarded in some quarters as already a greater threat than Mullah Omar. A confrontation between Mullah Omar and Jalaluddin Haqqani over the leadership of the neo-Taliban, however, may provide the opportunity for a Coalition/Kabul government success against the insurgents, who continue to control at least 40 percent of Afghanistan.