Taliban deny rift within ranks of new Afghan leadership

Afghanistan's acting deputy PM Abdul Ghani Baradar speaks during an interview in Kandahar where he denied reports that he was hurt in a clash with a rival faction of the Taliban (Photo: Reuters)
Afghanistan's acting deputy PM Abdul Ghani Baradar speaks during an interview in Kandahar where he denied reports that he was hurt in a clash with a rival faction of the Taliban (Photo: Reuters)


Abdul Ghani Baradar, now deputy prime minister, appears on TV to halt rumors of his death

KABUL : Taliban leaders insisted that there is no rift within the Islamist movement over how to rule Afghanistan, with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the deputy prime minister, appearing Thursday on state television to squelch rumors of his death or injury.

Mr. Baradar, who headed the Taliban’s political office in Doha, Qatar, and signed the February 2020 Doha agreement on the withdrawal of American troops, skipped Sunday’s meeting between the Taliban leadership and the visiting foreign minister of Qatar, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani.

Sheikh Mohammed’s trip was the first and so far only public ministerial-level visit to Kabul since the Taliban seized the Afghan capital on Aug. 15 and proclaimed a restoration of their Islamic Emirate, deposing the Afghan republic established following the 2001 U.S. invasion.

Mr. Baradar, a relative moderate, was flown back to Afghanistan aboard a Qatari military aircraft last month, and his absence from the meeting with Sheikh Mohammed sparked a swirl of social-media speculation about conflict within the Taliban.

Kabul residents relayed rumors about an alleged shootout in the presidential palace between Mr. Baradar and leaders of the Haqqani family, another power center within the Islamist movement. It didn’t help that it had taken days for Mr. Baradar to surface on video since then.

“The media talking about disputes between us is completely wrong. We are more kind to each other than family members," he said, sitting on a green couch in an interview on Afghan state TV that aired Thursday.

The interviewer and Mr. Baradar, who said in an earlier audio release that he had been traveling outside Kabul, both read their scripted questions and answers from sheets of paper.

“I didn’t know that the Qatari foreign minister was coming to Afghanistan. If I had known it, I would have delayed or canceled my trip," Mr. Baradar said in the TV interview. “We assure all Afghans that they should not worry at all."

Western officials said that Mr. Baradar was upset with the composition of the Taliban’s new government, introduced on Sept. 7. Belying the promises that Mr. Baradar’s office had made during peace talks in Doha, the new administration didn’t include any other political forces or technocrats.

The powerful interior ministry went to Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network, who is wanted by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation for his alleged role in the 2008 attack on the Kabul Serena Hotel that killed a U.S. citizen.

That Mr. Baradar, with all his connections in Doha, could have been out of the loop about the Qatari foreign minister’s visit to Kabul spoke volumes about his diminished role within the Taliban, some foreign officials said.

In Mr. Baradar’s absence, Mr. Haqqani met on Wednesday with the United Nations special representative for Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons. She stressed the need for all U.N. and humanitarian personnel to be able to work in the country without intimidation and obstruction, according to a U.N. release. On Thursday, she met with the Taliban government’s intelligence chief, Abdulhaq Wasiq.

Sirajuddin Haqqani’s brother Anas Haqqani, in a meeting with a few foreign journalists at the Serena Hotel on Thursday, dismissed reports of a rift between the Haqqanis and Mr. Baradar as malicious speculation planted on social media by the agents of the former regime.

“The propaganda increased to a level that even close friends started doubting," Mr. Haqqani said. “I swear to God that there is nothing like this between us. Disputes over power are impossible in the Emirate. The system is built not on personalities but on belief."

Catch all the Politics News and Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates & Live Business News.