Reports of Taliban infighting may be greatly exaggerated

AP Photo/Zabi Karimi

Is there trouble brewing in paradise for the new Taliban regime in Kabul? That’s the picture that some people are attempting to paint this week. Suggestions are being made that there is a new, kinder, gentler wing of the Taliban that doesn’t want to be quite as extreme as the version that was in charge before 9/11. But the “hardliners” among the old Taliban crew aren’t having any of it and want to go back to the old days. The Associated Press picks up on that theme this week, saying that the infighting is so bad that some of the Taliban leadership might be on the way to killing each other off.

Friction between pragmatists and ideologues in the Taliban leadership has intensified since the group formed a hard-line Cabinet last week that is more in line with their harsh rule in the 1990s than their recent promises of inclusiveness, said two Afghans familiar with the power struggle.

The wrangling has taken place behind the scenes, but rumors quickly began circulating about a recent violent confrontation between the two camps at the presidential palace, including claims that the leader of the pragmatic faction, Abdul Ghani Baradar, was killed.

The rumors reached such intensity that an audio recording and handwritten statement, both purportedly by Baradar himself, denied he had been killed. The Pashto-language letter had a stamp from the office of Baradar, who had served as the chief negotiator during talks between the Taliban and the United States.

I’m sure there would be plenty of us who would be cheering from the sidelines if the Taliban suddenly started imploding and taking each other out, but is there really any evidence that it’s actually happening? The AP is basing their entire report on comments given to them by two anonymous Afghan sources. The biggest bone they’ve found to chew on is a claim that Taliban cabinet member Abdul Ghani Baradar was a “pragmatic” moderate who was arguing with the old guard and had possibly been killed. (He later showed up very much alive and said he hadn’t even been in the city at the time.)

None of this is to say that there isn’t at least some amount of “friction” between the various terrorist leaders who are now cobbling together something resembling a government in Afghanistan. As with any other group, I’m sure some of them have different opinions on various policy matters. (Should we disembowel the ones who helped the Americans first or just lop their heads off immediately?) And realistically, whenever you group together a vicious pack of dogs like this there are bound to be a few fights over whatever scraps are available.

With all of that said, however, how many of you honestly believe that there are any senior members of the Taliban who are championing women’s rights and hoping for a more fair social order in Afghanistan? Keep in mind the fact that Baradar was part of the “political” arm of the Taliban tasked with negotiating with the Biden administration and the UN. Sure, he was saying that they were planning a more “inclusive” government and would assure women’s rights. But that’s what he had to say in order to ensure that the deals kept being made and he maximized the amount of foreign aid coming into the country. But the Associated Press seems to have taken that as meaning that he really believed in those values and would be championing them himself.

Call me cynical if you like, but I’m not buying it. This is the same organization that we had to chase out of power twenty years ago and they don’t seem to have changed a bit. Just look at the makeup of their new cabinet, as we’ve discussed here in the past. If there is a “pragmatic” or moderate wing of the Taliban, they didn’t manage to land any positions of power so they’re clearly not holding many cards at this point. Even more likely is the probability that they don’t even exist and this was all an act for the cameras until they solidified their position of control. Beyond that, it’s the same old pack of murderous thieves. Perhaps there are a few of them who are slightly less likely to whip out a steel pipe and start beating any woman who goes outside without a burqua. But only slightly. And there seem to be very few of them.