Taliban Confused and Nervous

The Taliban carried out many deadly remarkably vicious attacks in Kabul in recent days which claimed many innocent lives. These attacks may be an apparent attempt by the Taliban leaders to portray unity, boost the morale of the cadres and to show that the jihad against government forces and their foreign backers continues despite internal chaos.

The Taliban has been in turmoil since it confirmed that its leader Mullah Omar, long hidden from the public eye, was dead. The death of Mullah Omar takes away the main centre of gravity in the jihadi movement that competes with Islamic State its now rival. Taliban since its inception enjoyed monopoly of being only jihadist group but now it faces a tough competition from Islamic State. Many analysts believes Mullah Omar’s death poses an existential crisis for the Afghan Taliban potentially presaging a splintering of the movement as the Islamic State group gains a toehold among insurgents enthralled by its battlefield prowess.

The group has suffered a string of recent defections to Islamic State, with some insurgents voicing disaffection with the current new leader Mullah Mansor which is not at all as charismatic like- Mullah Omar. So now Taliban is feeling unsecured in lack of unifying leader like Omar. So to unify the movement and cadres these deadly attacks were carried out in Afghan capital.

Mullah Omar’s death was a “huge boon” for the local branch of IS, which a Pentagon report in June said is in an initial exploratory phase in Afghanistan. Taliban are afraid of the potential rise of the Islamic State militant group in Afghanistan as they know it will rise on the cost of Taliban only if they fail to project unity they will soon become irrelevant.

The Taliban and IS don’t share much ideological ground. The Islamic State espouses a brand of Salafism at odds with the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam in Afghanistan. But the groups have differing ambitions. The Taliban is focused on creating an Islamic state in Afghanistan with defined borders, while ISIS is seeking to create a border-less mega-state spanning entire continents. So they both have conflicting interest and can’t survive simultaneously in the same area.

Taliban realises the importance of being united or else face existence that’s why they are realigning themselves. The man who will replace Omar, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor, was Omar’s deputy and has been effectively leading the Taliban since Omar’s death, and perhaps before that. His selection seems to suggest that the Haqqani Network, a faction that has gradually become powerful enough to rival the Quetta Shura within the Taliban, was willing to compromise on leadership, rather than pressing for Omar’s son, whom the Haqqanis were rumoured to favour.

The two deputies to Mansoor, however, are one of the leaders of the Haqqani Network and a former Taliban judge who is said to be close to the Haqqanis. That signals a kind of grand compromise between the Quetta Shura and the Haqqanis, who’ve struggled for dominance over the years. The most logical conclusion is that both the Quetta Shura and the Haqqanis have concluded that, at this moment, projecting Taliban unity is much more important than their squabbling.

Further strengthening this interpretation is that the announcement seems to have been made in haste to gain much control, which follow immediately on the public acknowledgment of Omar’s death. But another important faction among the Taliban consisting of Mullah Zakir, Mullah Yakoob (Mullah Omar eldest son), and Mullah Manan opposed this realignment of Mullah Mansoor group and Haqqani network. So the air is still not clear over the issue of new leadership so Mullah Mansoor the new leader is under pressure to deliver and boost the morale of loyal cadres which is being done by carrying out recent attacks.

Now the Taliban can see a potential cost associated with the slow collapse of the Afghan government and the country. Gradualism begets disorder, a power vacuum and internal Taliban strife. In other words, the longer it takes for the Ghani government to fall, the greater the chances for Islamic State to undermine the Taliban.

The Taliban want to avoid a situation in which, having won their long war against the U.S. and its Afghan regime, they have to fight another civil war against an Islamic State offshoot for control of the country. Hence new Taliban leadership wants to project themselves hard on the battlefield and negotiate with the position of strength in the peace talks. But Taliban has to rethink about this strategy as with so much civilians casualties’ Afghan government will be in intense pressure from the civil society to stop all peace talks with the group and announced a full-fledged military operation against Taliban. In that scenario equations for Taliban will change drastically.

About the Author
Manish Rai is a columnist for the Middle East and Af-Pak region; Editor of a geo-political news agency Views Around (VA)