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The Changing Dynamics of Political and Security Landscape Within Afghanistan: An Analysis
Ajay Mohan
2023-07-24
Region : Central Asia, Afghanistan, Economy,
Issue : Security, Terrorism,
Alternative Scenarios for Shift in Power
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There have been rumors and speculations about internal divisions within Afghanistan's Taliban. However, since the Islamic extremist group regained control of the country in 2021, it has surprisingly demonstrated a remarkable level of cohesion as both a military force and a political entity. The group's commanders and politicians receive their directives from a potent leadership council, not located in Kabul, but situated in the Taliban's historical stronghold of Kandahar, in the southern region of Afghanistan.
Continue power struggle within the leadership some Taliban leaders believe that if the economy collapses, international isolation intensifies, and foreign resources dry up, it will be challenging to maintain their hold on power. This group includes more internationally-oriented members of the Taliban, such as Acting First Deputy Prime Minister Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and powerful military commanders like Acting Minister of Defense Mullah Yaqub, son of the Taliban's 1990s leader Mullah Omar, and Acting Minister of Interior Sirajuddin Haqqani.
These leaders and other Taliban officials have tried to persuade Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada an Afghan Deobandi Islamic scholar, the current leader, to reverse some controversial policies, such as the bans on girls' education and women's employment. Akhundzada refused to consider western demands to restore women’s right in exchange for desperately needed financial support.. Despite being chosen in 2016 for his perceived weakness in decision-making, Haibatullah has ruled with an iron fist, and the power struggle surrounding these edicts has become an internal issue. It is believed that Haqqani supports the idea of reinstating certain rights to education and employment for Afghan girls and women that were prevalent before the Taliban's rise to power in 2021. As well as son of founder Taliban late Mullah Omar Acting Defence Minister Muhammad Yaqoob Mujahid said “we should never be arrogant and should consider the legitimate demands of people.” According to political analyst Tariq Farhadi in a statement to CBS News, the recent decrees originate from the Taliban leader based in Kandahar, but significant dissenting voices have emerged from within the Taliban itself.
The possibility of a power change within the Taliban in 2023 is uncertain. A direct internal coup is risky and could lead to execution and splintering within the group. Achieving a power change through the reinstatement of the Rahbari Shura, a leadership council arrangement where decisions are reached by consensus, would be less risky but still difficult to achieve, as Haibatullah shows no intention of giving up power.
The recent U.S. agreement to release a prominent Afghan drug trafficker, Bashir Noorzai, in exchange for an American hostage may increase the likelihood of an internal power change. Bashir has influence within important tribal networks, similar to Haibatullah, and his support for a leadership reshuffle could lend legitimacy to such a move.
However, external assassination attempts on Haibatullah could backfire, leading to a hardening of rigid policies, even among Taliban commanders who do not necessarily support them, due to their need to demonstrate loyalty. Past experiences, such as the U.S. assassination of former Taliban leader Mullah Mansour in 2016, show that such actions can be strategic blunders.
Furthermore, uncertainties exist regarding the Taliban leadership succession. While Baradar has significant internal credentials, he lacks a military power base and would face strong opposition from Pakistan. On the other hand, despite Pakistan's dissatisfaction with Siraj's inability to control the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its terrorist attacks in Pakistan, he remains Pakistan's principal asset in Afghanistan. However, the Kandahari Taliban, including Yaqub and Baradar, do not support him becoming the new Amir.

The Nexus of Internal Militancy and External Terrorism
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Since the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan, terrorists from the Middle East, Central Asia, and Pakistan have been drawn to the country, with some allegedly supported by regional governments. Surprisingly, Sirajuddin Haqqani, the acting minister of interior, allowed al-Qaida's leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to live in Kabul, where a U.S. drone strike eventually killed him.
Given the Taliban's history of jihadism, political alliances, and the need for foreign fundraising, severing ties with other terrorist groups was unlikely. The main concern has been whether the Taliban would prevent these groups from launching attacks abroad. Apart from the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), there have been no such attacks, and the Taliban made some efforts to appease international actors, like China, by moving Uyghur militants away from the Afghanistan-China border. However, the Taliban has struggled to contain the urban terror campaign of its rival, the Islamic State in Khorasan (ISK), which seeks to spark sectarian conflict in Afghanistan and undermine the Taliban's power.
The critical question for 2023 is whether terrorist attacks by ISK or other Afghanistan-linked groups abroad will lead external actors to provide significant material support to anti-Taliban armed groups. Currently, the most visible anti-Taliban faction, the National Resistance Front (NRF), remains weak and lacks tribal support. Its attacks on the Taliban have had minimal impact so far.
A potential challenge to the Taliban's rule would arise if significant factions within the group split off due to internal power struggles or frustration with the economy's collapse and declining income. The implementation of the Taliban's drug ban could further exacerbate tensions. However, in a renewed civil war scenario, the NRF would face limited chances of victory. Instead, various Taliban factions and ISK would likely carve up Afghanistan.

The Unfolding Consequences of Afghanistan's Internal Dynamics
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Internal Power Struggles
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The Taliban, known for its tightly-knit hierarchical structure, may also face internal power struggles. Competing factions with differing visions for the country's future could emerge, potentially leading to a fractured and unstable political landscape. Resolving such disputes peacefully will be crucial to avoid plunging Afghanistan into further turmoil.
Regional and International Engagement
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The role of regional and international actors will significantly impact Afghanistan's internal political situation. Neighboring countries, such as Pakistan, Iran, and China, will seek to safeguard their interests while addressing security concerns. International actors, including the United States and European countries, will closely monitor the Taliban's actions to assess the group's commitment to human rights, counter-terrorism efforts, and diplomatic engagement.
Human Rights and Women's Rights
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The treatment of human rights, particularly women's rights, will be a litmus test for the Taliban's governance. The international community will closely scrutinize the Taliban's actions in this regard, and any repressive policies may trigger sanctions and diplomatic isolation.

Economic Stability and Development
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Afghanistan's economic stability and development are essential for its political resilience. The country faces significant economic challenges, including the impact of COVID-19, dependence on foreign aid, and the need for infrastructure development. Addressing these economic issues will be critical to garnering domestic support and maintaining political stability.

Counterterrorism Efforts
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Afghanistan's role in counterterrorism efforts will continue to be a major concern for the international community. The Taliban's commitment to preventing terrorist groups from using Afghan territory as a safe haven will be closely monitored, and its cooperation in fighting global terrorism will shape its relations with other countries.

Regional Security Implications
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The internal political situation in Afghanistan has broader regional security implications. The rise of the Islamic State in Khorasan (ISK) and other terrorist groups poses a threat not only to Afghanistan but also to neighboring countries. Cooperation among regional stakeholders will be crucial in addressing these security challenges effectively.

In conclusion
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The situation within the Taliban leadership is complex and uncertain. A power change within the group is not guaranteed, and various factors, including internal dynamics and external pressures, will influence the outcome. Afghanistan remains vulnerable to terrorist activities and internal power struggles. The role of external actors and the actions of terrorist groups like ISK will significantly influence the country's stability and security in the coming year.
About Author: Ajay Mohan is Director- Foreign Observer Research India (FORE INDIA)
The views expressed above belong to the author(s)
The views expressed above belong to the author(s)

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