Taliban’s internal rifts over power struggle continue amid uncertainty, UNSC report

The UN Security Council’s monitoring team report indicates that the Taliban leadership faces internal rifts amid a power struggle between Kandahar factions loyal to the group’s supreme leader Hibatullah Akhunzada and Kabul factions primarily controlled by the Haqqanis and headed by Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani.

The UNSC’s Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team report stated that Akhunzada retains his tight grip on all decisionmaking while Haqqani, who shares the Kabul power base with Defence Minister Mullah Mohammad Yaqub Omari, the son of Taliban founder Mullah Omar, has grown more skeptical of Akhunzada who remains uncompromising and more religiously conservative.

According to the report, Haqqani has established an alliance with Omari to mobilize support among the influential ulama shuras to undermine Akhunzada’s religious legitimacy with the eventual goal of “declaring him unfit to lead” and promote Omari to the role of the supreme leader.

The report added that Mulla Omar’s son has not expressed strong ambition for power, he rather focuses on strengthening his position by “establishing tactical alliances with rivals” for the leadership, such as Mullah Baradar and Sirajuddin Haqqani, while concurrently establishing ties with foreign partners.

The report citing several Member States suggests that Sirajuddin is keen to “play kingmaker rather than seek the role of Amir for himself” and indicates that Akhunzada’s poor health, caused by the weak respiratory system and kidney problems, could lead to natural succession.

Despite the Taliban leadership showing unity outside their circles, these rifts were particularly exposed in February 2023 when Sirajuddin Haqqani criticized the Taliban’s supreme leader in Khost and Defence Minister Mullah Mohammad Yaqub Omari followed suit.

The report shows that since the criticism from top Taliban leaders, Akhunzada stepped up his own security in Kandahar, removing the Ministry of Interior and General Directorate of Intelligence personnel from his bodyguard.

The Taliban Amir, the report reveals, also tried to dismiss Haqqani as Interior Minister and Omari as Defence Minister; however, no resignations followed highlighting how the Kabul base power defied the Amir’s decision.

Additional signs of dissent followed in March 2023 when the Taliban’s Finance Minister, Gul Agha Ishakzai, resigned from the lucrative post citing that he “could not tolerate differences with the Amir” and expressed his resentment at Akhunzada’s decision of a blanket ban on opium cultivation in Gul Agha Ishakzai’s home area of southern Afghanistan.

The UNSC’s monitoring team report asserts that although dissent has become more serious and more public, the role of the Taliban’s Amir is paramount and cannot be denied despite the Taliban prioritizing unity, at least in the media.

However, the report concludes that a possibility remains that Akhunzada might be unable to maintain unity in the medium term should the internal rifts and divide deepen, leading to a forced succession in the longer term.