Taliban leaders in Afghanistan pushed back Sunday against a new United Nations assessment that they face internal power struggles and maintain a strong link with international terrorist groups.
In a statement, chief Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denounced as baseless and "full of prejudice" the report that the U.N. Security Council's Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team released earlier this month.
It said that under reclusive supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban had "reverted to the exclusionary, Pashtun-centered, autocratic policies" of their previous rule in Kabul from 1996-2001. The Taliban come from the majority ethnic Pashtun Afghans and their critics say other ethnicities lack representation in their administration.
The assessment said that "some dissent is apparent within the Taliban leadership," but the authority of Akhundzada was increasing, and "cohesion" in Taliban ranks would likely be maintained over the next one to two years.
The Taliban chief has been "proudly resistant to external pressure to moderate his policies," and other leaders in his administration could not "influence policy sustainability." The report noted "little prospect of change in the near to medium term."
Mujahid rejected the U.N. allegations, saying the Taliban make all decisions in line with "Islamic Sharia guidelines." He said the report's authors "deliberately distorted the facts" or lacked access to the information.
"Rumors of disagreement between the leaders of the Islamic Emirate, in particular, are a continuation of the propaganda of the past twenty years," Mujahid stated, using the official title of the Taliban government.
Akhundzada is based in the southern city of Kandahar, Afghanistan's second largest, and rarely leaves what is known as the birthplace of the Taliban. The report described him as "reclusive and elusive."
Through several decrees, the Taliban chief has imposed sweeping restrictions on Afghan women, barring most of them from work, public spaces, and university education. He has also banned teenage girls nationwide from attending schools beyond the sixth grade.
The Taliban recently also instructed international charities to cease all educational activities for Afghan children, a move the U.N. denounced as another "horrendous step backward" for the people of Afghanistan.
Akhundzada has rejected international criticism of his government and calls for removing curbs on women as interfering in Afghan matters.
The report cited an unnamed U.N. Security Council member as saying the "reclusive and elusive" Taliban chief suffers from kidney problems and survived two spells of COVID-19 infection, weakening his respiratory system.
Last month, Akhundzada reportedly held a secret meeting with Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani in Kandahar. Neither side confirmed the interaction that reportedly took place on May 12 and focused on the need to lift bans on women and promote Kabul's engagement with the global community. The talks would have marked the first time the Taliban chief is known to have had with a foreign leader.
Rise in terrorism
The U.N. report alleged that terrorists had "greater freedom of maneuver" in Afghanistan since the Taliban reclaimed control in August 2021 after waging a deadly insurgency against the United States-led NATO forces for almost two decades. It added that the Taliban's link "remains strong and symbiotic" with terrorist groups such as al-Qaida and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP.
"There are indications that al-Qaida is rebuilding operational capability, that TTP is launching attacks into Pakistan with support from the Taliban, that groups of foreign terrorist fighters are projecting threats across Afghanistan's borders, and that the operations of ISIL-K are becoming more sophisticated and lethal," the report said using an acronym for Islamic State's regional affiliate, Islamic State-Khorasan.
Mujahid said the Taliban are not allowing anyone to use Afghan territory against other countries.
"The Islamic Emirate emphasizes that the publication of such biased and baseless reports by the Security Council does not help Afghanistan and international peace and security; rather, it increases worry among the people and raises doubts about the independence and impartiality of the United Nations."
Authorities in neighboring Pakistan have repeatedly complained about a rise in TTP-led cross-border attacks, saying the leadership of the so-called Pakistani Taliban is directing terrorism against the country from Afghan sanctuaries.
The violence has killed hundreds of Pakistanis, mostly security forces. The latest TTP attack occurred in North Waziristan, a volatile remote district on the Afghan border, killing three soldiers and three militants, according to a military statement.