Sirajuddin Haqqani
Sirajuddin Haqqani's speech has been seen as a direct challenge to the group's supreme leader, Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada. Photo: RTA Pashto

Senior Taliban leaders publicly question their chief as internal rift mounts

Tensions continue to mount within the Taliban as senior leaders have publicly criticised their supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada. The rift within the group has been brought to the surface, with a powerful senior leaders warning against the “monopolisation of power” and “imposing views on others.”

On 11 February Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani Network and the Taliban government’s interior minister, made a speech in which he criticised some members of the group and stated that they had “forgotten the people.” Haqqani’s speech was seen as a direct challenge to Akhundzada’s leadership. Sirajudding Haqqani is on the FBI’s wanted list with a $10 million reward for information leading to his arrest.

The next day, the Taliban’s longtime spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, advised that criticisms should be expressed confidentially, suggesting that public criticism would be “an insult” to their leader.

On Sunday, the governor of Kandahar, Haji Mohammad Yousuf Wafa, a close ally of Mullah Hibatullah, spoke out in support of their leader, emphasizing that the group had pledged allegiance to him and “must obey his orders.”

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And on Monday, the group’s deputy prime minister, Abdul Salam Hanafi, joined Sirajuddin Haqqani in an apparent criticism of their leader, arguing that a religious ruler’s duty wasn’t just to prohibit things but also to provide alternatives. Hanafi also emphasised the need for both “modern and religious sciences” on which Afghanistan’s independence depended, argued.

The Taliban’s severe restrictions on women and girls’ rights and widespread human rights abuses have faced global condemnations and have exacerbated the country’s already dire humanitarian crisis.

The group’s supreme leader, Mullah Hibatullah Akhundza, and his “Kandahar-based clique” are accused of power-grab, with some figures within the group seeking to remove his position and replace him with a Rahbari Shura (Leadership Council.)