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Top Taliban Official's Public Criticism Reignites Internal Rift Speculations

FILE - Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani speaks during a ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of the victory over the government of communist regime, in Kabul on April 28, 2022.
FILE - Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani speaks during a ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of the victory over the government of communist regime, in Kabul on April 28, 2022.

Senior leaders of Afghanistan’s ruling Islamist Taliban have recently resorted to rare public criticism of each other, reigniting internal rift speculations over whether girls should be allowed to receive an education.

The war of words began last Saturday when the influential Taliban interior minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, lashed out at his leadership for “monopolizing” power, though he did not name anyone.

“Our views and thoughts have dominated us to such an extent that power monopolization and defamation of the entire [ruling] system have become common,” Haqqani told a religious gathering in his native southeastern Khost region. “This situation can no more be tolerated.”

The minister added that the Taliban administration should desist from adopting policies that would drive a wedge between “the [ruling] system and the people, allowing others to exploit it to defame Islam.”

Haqqani’s remarks seemingly were directed at the Taliban supreme leader or emir, Hibatullah Akhundzada. The reclusive leader ordered the banning of Afghan women from most workplaces and all education since his hardline group seized power in August 2021. Akhundzada's edicts are supported by a handful of his close associates.

On Sunday, chief Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid pushed back on Haqqani’s criticism without naming him.

“Our Islamic ethics bind us to not publicly criticize or vilify the emir, minister or a government official,” Mujahid told a gathering in Kabul in a speech aired by Taliban-run official television. “You must approach him and convey your criticism privately and safely, so no one else will hear it.”

Separately, the deputy Taliban minister of justice, Abdul Ghani Faiq, also cautioned officials against undermining the ruling dispensation. He spoke at a graduation ceremony of defense attorneys in Kabul.

“If he is an employer, or employee, or anyone else, or if he is in a ministerial position in the Islamic Emirate, and then he moves against the Islamic Emirate, this is not tolerable,” Faiq was reported as saying by the Afghan media. He used the official title for the Taliban government.

Haqqani is among Taliban leaders who support lifting the ban on girls’ education, according to foreign diplomats who have interacted with the interior minister.

“Now that we are in power, it is our responsibility to heal the wounds of our people and bring them relief,” Haqqani said in his speech.

The interior minister is on the U.S. list of most wanted men for plotting terrorism against American nationals. His so-called Haqqani network of militants staged high-profile deadly attacks in support of the Taliban insurgence against the United States and NATO troops in Afghanistan for almost 20 years until the Taliban retook control of the country 18 months ago.

The international community has refused to grant legitimacy to the Taliban administration, citing bans on women and other human rights concerns.

“What is clear is that a reform movement must gather force from within the Taliban to get Afghanistan to open girls' schools and let women back at work; all Islamic rights,” Torek Farhadi, a former Afghan official, and political analyst, told VOA in written comments while responding to questions on the public exchange of criticism between Taliban leaders.

“No one else can spearhead this but the Taliban themselves, and time is of the essence, because teenage girls have lost more than a year, and a general mood of hopelessness encourages the educated youth to migrate out of the country,” Farhadi added.

Taliban leaders have long dismissed reports of any internal rifts as Western media propaganda.

Akhundzada has refused to meet foreign delegates and rarely leaves the southern Kandahar city, regarded as the spiritual headquarters and birthplace of the Taliban.