mercoledì 9 novembre 2016
THE RENOVATION OF THE TALIBAN MOVEMENT (OSS 2/2016)
di Claudio Bertolotti
The death of Mullah Mansour e the appointment of the new Taliban leader
On the insurrectional front, recent dynamics have changed the internal Taliban organization.
The 22nd of May a U.S. drone attack in the Pakistani area of Baluchistan killed the Taliban leader mullah Aktar Mohamad Mansour, criticized successor of mullah Mohammad Omar, the charismatic and historic head of the Taliban, died in 2013. The Mansour’s appointment was the main cause of the fragmentation process of the Taliban movement.
The current head of the Taliban, the Amir-ul-Momineen (‘King of the believers’) is now Mawlawì Haibatullah Akhundzada, former Mansour’s deputy; a role, apparently, fully recognized by the Taliban Supreme Council (shura).
Who is the new Taliban leader? Haibatullah is a mujaheddin without combat experience, influencer and top advisor of Mullah Omar, a key and influencing figure and a very respectable theologian (‘Mawlawì’ title indicate him as religious scholar): a complex profile mainly theoretical that could facilitate the Taliban reunification process thanks to a creed and symbolic approach.
Despite of his lack in military experience and operational and strategic capabilities, the Taliban’s new chief, Mawlawì Haibatullah Akhundzada, has a reputation as a respected religious scholar and comes from a strong tribal background because Haibatullah's Noorzai sub-tribe is one of the three big Durrani major tribes opposing the Ishaqzai tribe from which the former Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour comes. In particular, the new Taliban leader comes from the Panjwai district (province of Kandahar). The tribal factor is decisive in the internal Taliban dialogue process; for this reason, the nomination of Mawlawì Haibatullah Akhundzada is an option presented by the Taliban as joint and shared.
Mawlawì Haibatullah Akhundzada is being closely observed to see if he will try to shape the insurrectional objectives and ways. It is necessary to look at the strength of the other leadership members, the increasing role of the Rahbari Shura – the most important Taliban council – and consider Pakistan’s role in decision-making. It will not be easy for Haibatullah to change approach and policy on the conduct of the war and on the role of the Taliban in the struggle for power without the support of the other key players.
Haibatullah derive his authority and legitimacy by the appointment of the Rahbari Shura and not because he had been chosen by Mullah Omar; it means that he would seem to have little choice than mullah Mansour, his predecessor, given his absence of leadership practice, but to rely heavily on Taliban bodies to run the armed opposition group.
Haibatullah is seen as a hardliner, but this may not automatically carry any evident policy consequences. He directly endorsed the major Mansur’s policies, including the support to sensitive decisions (for example the jihad against a competitor or opposite factions and approving, with ‘directives’, female’s education, etc.), so it would be bizarre if he wanted to change any of the policy lines he inherited from the former head of the movement.
On the one hand, it is likely that Haibatullah’s possible subordination to the Taliban’s bureaucracy will boost the movement’s evolution into a more institutionalised system; this assessed evolution to institutional decision-making has also become the only approach to maintain what is missing of the movement’s unity (that actually it never existed).
On the other hand, the growing weight of the bureaucracies in the Taliban organization does not mean the movement is moving toward any form of ‘democracy’ in its internal decision-making process because not all the senior leaders are equal and have the same authority in accordance with their personal capabilities, tribal connections, geographical provenance (for example leaders from Kandahar area – the ‘Kandaharis’ – have more influence and power), and, in particular, military experience.
Looking for an internal stabilization
Confirming a role maintained by his predecessor Mansour, one of the Emir Haibatullah Akhundzada’s deputies is Sirajuddin Haqqani, head of the al-Qaeda linked ‘Haqqani network’ and son of the strong mujaheddin Jalaluddin Haqqani, died in 2014.
The second deputy, who represents a significant change, is Mullah Muhammad Yaqoub, son of Mullah Omar. On the one hand, Yaqoub is in a position of secondary importance, powerless and weak in real control capabilities.
On the other hand his appointment represents a sort of reconciliation with the factions hostile to mullah Mansour side which is looking with favor to the group loyal to mullah Mohammad Rassoul (at present possibly detained in Pakistan), former Nimruz governor and responsible for the ‘conquest’ of Kunduz city in September 2015.
The appointment of Mullah Yaqoub is a political choice opening to the factions excluded so far – and not recognizing the legitimacy of the previous leadership –, and would demonstrate the will of reunification of the fragmented insurrectional front.
It is clear that the balance of power involving the threefold leadership is unbalanced: the chief, mawlawì Haibatullah, with a religious and symbolic role; a deputy, mullah Yaqoub, powerless and without substantial capability; a second deputy, Sirajuddin Haqqani, respected military commander linked to al-Qaeda and other armed opposition groups, with a high financial capability.
Who are the deputies of the new Taliban leader?
Deputy Amir Sirajuddin Haqqani (son of Jalaluddin Haqqani’s, former prominent commander during the anti-Soviet jihad and then high-level figure during the Taliban era) is one of the few non-southerners commander with a very important role within the Taliban movement, even though he is not totally recognized as adequate by parts of the movement. His appointment was welcomed in Loya Paktia (Paktia, Paktika, Khost, Logar and Ghazni) but his role has been met with concern elsewhere because the affinity of Sirajuddin (and the ‘Haqqani network’) with the Pakistani military and intelligence service.
His role in decision-making is prominent and strengthened by the results and the capability of his military network on the battlefield – the so called ‘Haqqani network’ – responsible for most of the important and complex operations during the past decade in south eastern Afghanistan and in the capital Kabul.
Because of the well-known Haibatullah’s lack of military experience, is role as the deputy for military affairs is furtherly increasing, in particular in operational planning.
In April 2016, deputy Amir Mullah Muhammad Yaqub was appointed as military commander for the 15 southern and western provinces under the overall chief of the Military Commission (at the present it is not confirmed if Yaqub is still in charge). This choice was a reaction to the growing concerns by military leaders in the south and southwestern region about Sirajuddin Haqqani (who is a non-Kandahari leader) achieving an important role in the military leadership, as he was acting as a deputy for military affairs. It is interesting underline that he has studied under the guidance of Haibatullah in Quetta (where he has spent his entire adult life); it would make him particularly compliant of his ‘teacher’. Yaqub spent his life in Pakistani madrassas, thus he is not deeply in touch with the Afghan dynamics. But despite of this, it is assessed that he has the loyalty and the support of a number of commanders and some prominent leaders, as well as Gul Agha, the head of the Financial Commission, Qayum Zaker, a respected commanders in the south, mawlawi Shirin, in charge of the war for the remaining 19 provinces in the east and north, and Nuruddin Turabi, former justice minister.
Extra key figures of the movement are: Amir Khan Muttaqi, the Head of the Cultural Commission, member of the Rahbari Shura and running the Taliban’s media machine; mawlawì Hamdullah Nanai, former communication minister, from Kandahar, influential in security and military areas; Sadar Ibrahim, Chief of the Military Commission, from Helmand; Amir Khan Haqqani (not belonging from Jalaluddin Haqqan family), Deputy Chief of the Military Commission; Abdul Qayum Zaker (former Guantanamo detainee) former chief of the Military Commission leading Taliban forces during the ‘surge’ of American forces in 2009-2012; mawlawì Abdul Kabir, former Taliban-era military chief of the eastern zone; mullah Muhammad Abbas Akhund, former minister of health, at present he is the chief of the corresponding Health Commission which negotiates with international health and humanitarian organisations for access to areas under the movement control; Gul Agha (aka Hedayatullah), the head of the Financial Commission, from Helmand.
Analysis, assessments and forecast
The Taliban internal dynamics are not directly connected with the progresses on the battlefield; progresses that are characterizing the current year through the ‘spring offensive’ that obtained positive results and more ground control for the Taliban, as evidenced by the siege of Tirin-Kot, provincial capital of Oruzgan, and the defeat of the Afghan security forces. An episode followed to the successes in Helmand in August, in Kunduz one year ago, the escalation of violence in Kabul and the substantial monopoly of the violence in southern and eastern areas.
On the one hand, according to the U.S. government watchdog ‘Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction’ (SIGAR) in July, after 15 years of war the Taliban movement is able to control more of the country than at any time since U.S. and international troops started military operations in 2001. On the other hand, the United Nations Secretary-General assessed in June that the general security situation in Afghanistan is worsening significantly, following a negative trend for the Afghan government’s capabilities to maintain the control of eastern, southern and peripheral areas. In the complex, the fragile economy, political and security situation is worsening. These reported successes on the Taliban front is part of the Taliban dynamics characterized by an internal stabilization process followed the death of the former leader Mansour.
Concluding, more in general the economic, political and security situation is worsening. A multilevel crisis that is complicating the peace-process that at the present is in ‘stand-by’, waiting for the Taliban at the negotiation process table opened by the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and United States). However, the Taliban – and their leadership – are still looking for a reason to take part to the peace-talks.