Taliban In Transition 2 ; Who Is "In Charge" Of Taliban Now?
As "everyone" knows, the ultimate key player is the Pakistan ISI !
Author: Borhan Osman
Date: 22 June 2016
The new Taleban leader, Mullah Haibatullah, is being closely scrutinised to see if he will try to shape the goals and methods of the insurgency. The question is not just whether he wants to, but if he can. Gone are the days when the amir of the Taleban, by mere virtue of his position, had absolute power. In this second dispatch on the new Taleban leadership, AAN’s Borhan Osman looks at the strength of other members of the leadership, the increasing role of the Rahbari Shura, and assesses Pakistan’s role in decision-making. He argues that Haibatullah will not find it easy to change policy on major issues without the backing of other key players.
The Taleban are mourning their second leader in a year. Any hope that the loss of first Mullah Omar (his death was revealed in July 2015) and now Mullah Mansur (killed in an American drone strike in May 2016), would bring any let up in the fighting have proved vain. So also, has the prediction that a new person in place, intimidated by Mansur’s killing, would embrace the idea of peace talks. Neither has happened, at least, so far.
According to the most popular theory in Kabul, Islamabad is at the helm of the Taleban
s Pakistan in charge?
In assessing Pakistan’s role in Taleban decision-making, it is useful to bear in mind that ‘Pakistan’, in this context, may be understood more accurately to refer to the ISI and associated politicians who think the Taleban insurgency is beneficial to their nation. It is questionable whether Pakistan’s actual national interests are served by encouraging war in Afghanistan. That caveat aside, ‘Pakistan’ undoubtedly influences the Taleban in a number of complex ways, and vice versa, and the interests of the two converge in a number of respects. However, as far as Pakistan’s role in Taleban agenda-setting is concerned, examples from the interactions involving Islamabad’s attempts to get the Taleban to talks in recent years show that there are also important ways in which their goals diverge. This has resulted, at times, in tension or even outright animosity.
The Taleban have been using Pakistan as their rear base, supply hub and training and recruitment ‘camp’, with the knowledge of the Pakistani government and its active support for years.
The Taleban need Pakistan for shelter. Pakistan hopes to use the Taleban as a tool of influence. Yet, this is not just a quid pro quo relationship. There is also an overlap of ideologies in some aspects. The idea of jihad that is so deeply ingrained in the Pakistani state and establishment entailed that a group claiming to be engaged in a holy war against Western ‘occupation’ readily finds a supportive hand from many Pakistani security officials and politicians
Pakistan "pretends" that it has "no control" over Taliban ; reality is quite different !
Although the relationship between Pakistan and the Taleban has largely been symbiotic, it has not always been smooth. During the past 12 years, the Taleban has lost (in the form of death or protracted confinement) 12 of its key leaders and senior members for what is understood to have been not toeing Pakistan’s line. Pakistan has effectively killed two deputy leaders who, consecutively, presided over the re-emergence of the Taleban as an insurgency after 2003, when Mullah Omar was forced by security to give up any day-to-day running of the movement. The former defence minister, Mullah Obaidullah, died in Pakistani detention in 2007, while his successor, Mullah Baradar, has been lingering in detention since 2010, his mental ability and physical health reported as being hugely impaired. Both become victims of what a Taleban official told this author as entertaining “too much [of an] independent and Afghan-centric” vision for the insurgency. Both men were understood to be involved in secret talks with Afghan officials, without Pakistani endorsement or sanction.
In another example, when Pakistan pressured the Taleban to send senior members to the second round of the Murree Process (which ended after the leaking in late July 2015 of the news of Mullah Omar’s death two years previously), Mansur started looking at Iran as a possible temporary base for himself in order to evade Pakistani pressure.
Therefore, his travel plans were leaked to the Americans, who "halaled" him with a drone; killed two birds with one stone and later on shed crocodile tears !
Perhaps the most intense struggle to control decision-making came with Islamabad’s desire for senior Taleban to show up for ‘peace talks’ with the Afghan government in March/April 2016 held in Pakistan. Whether or not Pakistan wanted real negotiations in good faith is another matter, but they did want the Taleban to show themselves at the table. Mansur did not want this.
The Taleban-Pakistan relationship cannot be characterised, then, as just one of puppet and puppeteer. If the Taleban merely took instructions from Islamabad or Rawalpindi, they would have already met more than once with the Afghan government. In other words, theirs is not a linear command-and-control relationship. Instead, the relationship has the appearance of a joint venture or business partnership, from which each party has derived mutual benefit – shelter for the Taleban in return for influence for Pakistan over an armed insurgency on its neighbour’s soil.
On decision-making, however, the Taleban still have some autonomy.
Taleban decision-making then and now: Mullah Omar and his immediate successors
The Taleban have changed a great deal in the two decades of their existence in how they take decisions. A gradual delegation of power has followed their fall from power in 2001, transforming the ‘one-man show’ to a more collective form of leadership.
With the news in July 2015 that Mullah Omar was dead and had been for two years, Taleban leaders ceased to be able to invoke absolute obedience merely by virtue of sitting in the position of amir. For the first time, a leader’s actions could be questioned and, for the first time, senior members of the movement went public with their disagreement with the leader of the Taleban, the amir ul-muminen
The 10 most powerful men in the Taleban (not in any order of influence)
. Mullah Omar’s son Mullah Muhammad Yaqub, Deputy Amir. Yaqub was thrown into the spotlight while still in his late 20s, as news of his father’s death spread in July 2015. His name instantly emerged as someone who would help lend legitimacy or lack thereof to Mullah Omar’s successor. ...
Yaqub has spent his entire adult life in Pakistani madrasas and is therefore not actually in touch with the realities of Afghanistan. He is too young and inexperienced to personally exert greater power in the files and ranks or in the decision-making at higher echelons.
2. Sirajuddin Haqqani, Deputy Amir. He is one of the few non-southerners who has come to have a prominent role at the national level within the Taleban, even though he is not completely acceptable to parts of the movement.
Some observers keenly predicted Sirajuddin’s further elevation as Mansur’s successor in the wake of the latter’s death. However, that scenario always looked unlikely given it would have polarised the movement. His appointment could have lead the Taleban towards a fate similar to that of the Tehrik-e Taleban Pakistani (TTP)
3. Head of the Cultural Commission, Amir Khan Muttaqi. He runs the Taleban’s media machine and was the Taleban’s information and culture minister and education minister and (a cabinet level post) head of the Edara-ye Umur (Administrative Office). A member of the Rahbari Shura who does not operate very publicly, he is considered a shrewd operator who has strategically positioned himself within the oligarchy.
4. Former communication minister, Mawlawi Hamdullah Nanai. He was one of Mullah Omar’s few confidantes and is widely respected in the movement. During Taleban rule, Nanai served as minister of both communication and public works.
Hailing from Kandahar, Nanai is mainly influential in security and military areas, rather than in politics.
5. Chief of the Military Commission, Sadar Ibrahim. As head of the powerful Military Commission, Sadar leads the Taleban’s war operations and is the movement’s quasi-defence minister.
6. Deputy Chief of the Military Commission, Amir Khan Haqqani. Member of the Mullah Madad Khan (not Jalaluddin Haqqani) family and well-known among Taleban for its contribution to the anti-Soviet jihad and the Taleban military in the 1980s and 1990s, respectively,
...he was a graduate of the Dar ul Uloom-e Haqqania Madrasa in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan (it has many alumni among Taleban commanders and leaders).
7. Former chief of the Military Commission, Abdul Qayum Zaker. As profiled in an earlier piece, Abdul Qayum Zaker was the head of the Military Commission and leading Taleban forces during the ‘surge’ of American forces from late 2009 to 2012.
He is one of the hawkish and militarist members of the Rahbari Shura and is a former Guantanamo detainee.
8. The former Taleban-era operational chief of the eastern zone, Mawlawi Abdul Kabir. During Taleban rule, Kabir was one of the two deputies of the Sarparasta Shura and also head of the eastern zone and governor of Nangarhar
He has been one of the most politics-oriented leaders in the Taleban. He has been critical of the ruthless killing of Afghan civilians by Taleban fighters.
9. The former minister of health, Mullah Muhammad Abbas Akhund. As profiled in an earlier piece, the former health minister till recently headed the parallel Health Commission which negotiates with international health and humanitarian organisations for access to areas under Taleban control.
He has turned from being hostile to Pakistan and its intelligence services to one of its friends, developing cordial relations after being appointed by the Taleban as its main liaison with Islamabad around 2012
10. Gul Agha (aka Hedayatullah). He is the head of the very important Financial Commission. He was one of Omar and Mansur’s most trusted people, who virtually acted as gatekeeper to both.
(1) The wave of fragmentation in the ranks of the TTP has not ceased since the emergence of rifts over the leadership during the last years of Hakimullah Mehsud which were exacerbated by the transition of leadership after he was killed in 2013 to Mullah Fazlullah. Fazlullah does not come from the TTP core of Mehsud tribals.