Similarly, Taliban officials have repeatedly said that the movement’s supreme leader and commander-in-chief, Haibatullah Akhundzada, will soon make a public appearance. He hasn’t – fueling rumors that he is ill or even dead.
In other countries, a politician subject to such speculation would convene a news conference or make a television appearance to set the record straight. In Baradar’s case, a 39-second audio recording of modest quality was released on Monday, along with a handwritten note from his assistant. No videos or pictures were showing up. Baradar was last seen in a fleeting form at a hotel in Kabul in the first week of September.
In the audio clip, Baradar purportedly says: “Something is going on in the media. I went on a trip these days. I went somewhere and was praising God that we are all well. Some of these media networks Do this kind of work. Propaganda and tell such shameful lies. Reject this thing with courage. No problem, praise God. I am giving you 100% assurance.”
Baradar’s absence in a delegation that met Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani in Kabul on Sunday sparked rumors of an internal rift. Taliban officials said he was not in Kabul but had gone to Kandahar, where supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada is located.
The invisibility of the Taliban leadership is not a new phenomenon. It is not a group that feels the need to communicate with the outside world. In many ways, the Taliban’s PR effort has become much more sophisticated over the years, with social media accounts in multiple languages and spokespersons such as Zabihullah Mujahid holding news conferences. The Taliban produced a large number of videos of their fighters raiding the country in August.
But that more assertive communication strategy doesn’t extend to leaders who have spent most of their lives in guerrilla warfare and, in some cases, years in prison. The Taliban remains a secret organization.
Ajaz Syed, a Pakistani journalist who has reported on the Taliban for years, told Granthshala: “Most prominent Taliban leaders – especially those from the Haqqani family – avoid public displays or appearances because they are convinced their identity will help the ‘enemy’ .’ to target them. It seems old habits die hard.
There is no better example of the Taliban’s attitude to publicity and transparency than the circumstances of its co-founder and first leader Mullah Omar’s death from tuberculosis. He died in 2013, but the group did not reveal the fact until two years later. This in itself was a sign of deep division within the group, particularly over peace talks, which were opposed by many Taliban military commanders. The divisions were so intense that some commanders left the group to join an emerging ISIS ally in Afghanistan.
The current supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, was elected in 2016 at a fractal meeting of the leadership council, or shura, in the Pakistani city of Quetta – the Taliban’s headquarters in exile. Since then he has not appeared in public in five years. Till 2020, not a single statement came out in his name. A senior Taliban official, cleric Muhammad Ali Jan Ahmed, told Foreign Policy last year that Akhundzada had been stricken by the coronavirus, affecting several senior Taliban officials.
In the month after the Taliban came to power in Kabul, only one statement has been issued in the name of Akhundzada, in which he said: “I assure all countrymen that the figures [ministers in the Taliban government] Will work hard to uphold Islamic rules and Sharia law in the country.”
If there are serious divisions within the Taliban leadership today, they may have their roots in that 2016 Shura. An agreement was reached to keep the group together, which appointed two representatives: Mullah Yacoub, son of the first Taliban leader, Mullah Omar; and Haqqani Network leader Sirajuddin Haqqani.
They are both in the new government as Defense and Interior Ministers respectively. Despite their importance in holding key security portfolios, little is seen of either of them.
However, Sirajuddin’s uncle Khaleel, who was appointed minister for refugees, is more visible, addressing tribal gatherings and even giving interviews to select foreign journalists. Ajaz Syed of GeoNews met him in Kabul last month.
“Among the Haqqanis, Khaleel Haqqani is actually more visible at social gatherings,” Syed said. “However, he is also very careful about his safety – whenever he goes into the city, cars and a vehicle of security guards from the special 313 Brigade provide him security.” The security is perhaps not surprising, as he has a $5 million bounty on his head, courtesy of the US government, while his nephew Sirajuddin has a $10 million bounty.
In this feisty environment, anything that emerges about a brawl or confrontation between rival elements will be carefully whispered off-the-record. The internal conspiracy and decision-making of the Taliban gives a new definition of the word opaque.
Credit : www.cnn.com