Taliban supreme leader's warning on infiltrators exposes deep divisions

By Pakistan Forward and AFP

In this photo taken August 16, Taliban fighters stand guard along a street near Zanbaq Square in Kabul. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

In this photo taken August 16, Taliban fighters stand guard along a street near Zanbaq Square in Kabul. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

KABUL -- A statement from the supreme leader of the Taliban Thursday (November 4), warning against the danger of turncoats and infiltrators in the movement, shows the extent of the divisions rocking the militants.

Reflecting the seriousness of the threat, the reclusive Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada issued a rare written public statement to urge Taliban commanders to purge their ranks.

In it he says "all those elders of their groups must look inside their ranks and see if there is any unknown entity working against the will of the government, which must be eradicated as soon as possible".

"Whatever wrong happens, the elder will be responsible for the consequences of the actions in this world and in the afterlife," he warned, in a statement tweeted out by multiple Taliban accounts.

Taliban commanders insist that they can re-establish stability and security, but there have also been killings blamed on Taliban elements.

Last week, gunmen who presented themselves as Taliban fatally shot three wedding guests in a dispute about the playing of music, which the movement frowns upon.

A Taliban spokesman insisted the killers were not acting under orders and promised to punish them.

In his statement, Haibatullah said Taliban unit commanders must take the time to sit down with their recruits to "try to work on their manners and behaviour so that these mujahideen can work better for their leaders".

'Jihad' against China

Haibatullah's statement comes as the Taliban split over a variety of issues, including the group's relations with China.

While Taliban leaders have been cosying up to Beijing in hopes of receiving cash and international legitimacy, group members on the streets of Afghanistan are expressing outrage over China's suppression of a widely trusted Koran app and its oppression of Muslims in Xinjiang.

In the Muslim-majority Xinjiang region, Chinese authorities have imprisoned more than one million Uighurs and other Muslims -- including ethnic Kazakhs and Kyrgyz -- in as many as 400 detention facilities that include "political education" camps, pretrial detention centres and prisons.

Independent investigations and interviews with former inmates indicate physical and psychological torture, brainwashing, systematic rape, forced sterilisation of Muslim women, forced organ harvesting, sexual abuse and other horrors.

Rights groups, Western governments and many Muslims say China's atrocities amount to genocide.

Beijing last month also ordered Apple to remove the Quran Majeed app from its App Store in China, disabling it for millions of users.

While the Taliban leadership has appeared to be willing to overlook China's atrocities, rank-and-file members feel differently.

"China is openly insulting Muslims' virtues and sanctities, and [the regime] persecutes its Muslim population," said Hamza Mahajir, a member of the Taliban in Herat city.

"The time has come for jihad against the Chinese government."

"The best weapon to prevent the Chinese regime's atrocities and torture against Muslims in [China] is to stage jihad," he added.

Leaders' absence stirs discontent

Taliban fighters are similarly disillusioned by the reclusiveness of Haibatullah and other leaders who have continued to live in the shadows and refused to appear in public.

Haibatullah addressed a madrassa in Kandahar October 30, but the Taliban issued only an audio recording of the event.

With more than two months having passed since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, average Afghans and even Taliban fighters are raising questions about the Taliban's elusive "commander of the faithful".

The Taliban leadership's refusal to appear in public or to deliver on its promises has led to a growing distrust among the group's ranks.

"Haibatullah is alive, inshallah, but I do not know why he has so far not appeared in public," said Gulab Mansori, a Taliban fighter based in Kabul, in October days before Haibatullah's Kandahar trip.

The Taliban have always been dishonest with the people of Afghanistan, said Ahmad Behruz, a Kabul-based political analyst.

He gave the example of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, whose whereabouts were for years unknown by ordinary Afghans as well as by members of the Taliban.

When Mullah Omar died in 2013, the Taliban waited two years to confirm his death.

"If Haibatullah is alive, he should appear in public and talk with the public and explain his group's reason for waging the war and the massacre of innocent civilians," he said.

Security deterioration

Meanwhile, the Taliban have been unable to ensure security in Afghanistan, which has faced a spate of terrorist attacks and rising crime.

The Taliban's takeover in August was painted by the group as a watershed moment for the country's security.

But after 20 years of guerrilla warfare, the Taliban have been forced to expand their ranks rapidly by recruiting former foes, allied Islamist militants and young madrassa students.

Now that it is the government, the movement faces attacks in its turn from hardline factions like the Khorasan branch of the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS-K).

The groups are bitter rivals, but both have employed tactics like suicide bombings and civilian massacres to destabilise the former regime.

These challenges were laid bare on Tuesday when an ISIS attack on a military hospital in the heart of Kabul killed a senior Taliban commander.

Hamdullah Mokhlis, a member of the hardline Haqqani Network and an officer in the Badri Corps special forces, is the most senior figure to have been killed since the Taliban seized Kabul.

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