Rifts widen within Afghan Taliban as faction claims killing of leader's brother
HERAT -- An Afghan Taliban splinter group has claimed responsibility for the killing of the brother of the Taliban's supreme commander during an attack on a mosque near Quetta, Pakistan.
The Taliban have vowed to investigate the assault, according to local media.
The High Council of the Islamic Emirate, a Taliban faction led by Mullah Muhammad Rasool, said it was behind the attack.
Internal tensions within the Taliban emerged shortly after the death of Taliban founding leader Mullah Mohammad Omar was made public July 9, 2015, more than two years after he had actually died.
The High Council comprised of thousands of militants led by Rasool split from the main Taliban group -- the Quetta Shura -- and declared itself an independent entity, in protest of the ascension of Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansoor, Haibatullah's predecessor.
"Our operatives had been monitoring Mullah Haibatullah, and this attack was conducted by people who were previously close to Mullah Haibatullah," Mullah Manan Niazi, deputy leader of the High Council, said in an interview with Salaam Times.
"The reason for the attack was the group's deals with Russia and Iran that are not in favour of the Islamic Emirate or of the people of Afghanistan," he said. "Haibatullah's puppet group is under attack by all the followers of the Islamic Emirate" and has lost credibility."
Haibatullah himself lives on a military base in Pakistan, Niazi claimed.
"Four years ago, we stood against Mullah Mansoor in Pakistan... they martyred Mullah Mohammad Omar and Mullah Obaidullah," he said.
The group led by Haibatullah "receives orders from foreign countries. They have been misusing the Islamic Emirate and its achievements and receive support from the intelligence [agencies] of neighbours," said Niazi.
"The Taliban under Mullah Haibatullah's leadership do not have any mercy, and in the past few days, 250 people have lost their lives in Herat, Badghis and Farah provinces [in bombings launched by the group]," he said.
"They're our enemy, and we will kill them anywhere we find them."
The drawn-out peace talks between the United States and the Taliban in Qatar indicate that the Taliban is not independent and that the countries that support them are intervening to influence the outcome, according to Niazi.
Haibatullah's faction does not want to make peace and neighbouring countries are using the group to ensure their own interests in Afghanistan, he said.
"Promises that the Haibatullah group makes to the United States are lies as the group does not want to make peace," he emphasised. "This group does not have the ability to decide because its decision-making power is controlled 100% by Iran and Russia."
"The conditions the Taliban presented in the peace talks are not compatible with the demands of the Afghan people, and they are not in favour of the public and the Islamic Emirate," he added. "The Taliban's representatives in Qatar don't have the courage to talk and negotiate, so how will they be able to decide on the future of Afghanistan and set up an Islamic state?"
Neighbouring countries probably are using the Taliban in the peace talks to achieve their own goals, agreed Sayed Ashraf Sadaat, a civil society activist in Herat.
"Bargaining over terms of the peace agreement between the United States and the Taliban has taken much longer as eight phases of talks have already passed," he said. "This means the Taliban do not want to reach a deal with the United States solely by themselves, as interests of the countries that support the Taliban may be part of these talks."
Regional and neighbouring countries want their interests guaranteed in the talks and while their demands might not come up directly in talks, it is possible that the Taliban are presenting them indirectly, he added.
"Neighbouring and regional countries do not want peace in Afghanistan, and they try to create obstacles," Sadaat added.
"Even if the peace is ensured, these countries will have evil demands that are dangerous to Afghanistan," he said, referring to Russia, Iran and China.
Internal rifts widen
The recent assassination is the latest violence between the two Taliban factions.
More than 300 fighters have been killed and more than 300 injured from both sides in the past three years, according to local authorities in Herat.
A clash on August 6 between Haibatullah's and Rasool's groups in Guzara District of Herat Province left 34 militants dead from both sides.
In addition to the killing of Haibatullah's brother, two other attacks on his faction in Pakistan left two commanders dead on August 17 and 18.
"As the feuding between the Taliban factions started, the group's power has waned rapidly, and it left many areas," said Herat governor's spokesman Jilani Farhad. "Civilians who were in favour of the Taliban have now distanced themselves from them because of their rifts, and they no longer trust them."
"The Taliban no longer have their former power ... as they used it up [through their infighting]," Farhad added. "After battles between the Taliban factions erupted, government rule has expanded to many of the districts the Taliban controlled in the past."
The clashes between militant groups have weakened them, agreed Muhammad Rafiq Shaheer, a political affairs analyst in Herat Province.
"An increase in rifts between the Taliban has impaired the group," he said. "Members of the group don't agree on many things, and they have used their weapons against each other."
This infighting only helps the public and the Afghan government, he said.
"The Taliban no longer have a co-ordinated force that can fight with the security forces as they have been broken into pieces," Shaheer said.