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CWA # 559, 26 September 2021

Conflict Reader
Afghanistan: Who is who in the interim Taliban government? And, what would be the government structure?

  Vineeth Daniel Vinoy

Taliban is trying to emulate the Iranian governance model with Hibatullah Akhunzada as a religious supreme leader focusing on the doctrinal matters of the Taliban and Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund as the leader of the government, with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and Mullah Abdus Salam as his deputies.

Two questions: Who will govern Afghanistan? What will be the structure of the government?
 
Haibattullah Akhunzada 
Akhunzada is the most prominent leader of the Taliban and the religious head of the organisation. He came to power in 2016 after his predecessor Akhtar Mohammed Mansoor was killed in a drone strike. Earlier, he served as a top judge in the Taliban regime and has been more a religious scholar than a military commander. As the leader of the Taliban, he has tried to unite various factions and consolidate power.

Abdul Ghani Baradar 
Baradar is the co-founder of the Taliban, with Mullah Omar. He is the most prominent face of the Taliban. During the US-Taliban negotiations, Baradar led the negotiations. Heading the political office, he has tried to gain the legitimacy of the Taliban. 

Muhammed Yaqoob 
Yaqoob is the son of Mullah Omar; currently, he is the Taliban military commander with a moderate face. He had instructed the fighters not to harm the Afghan military and the government, and also not to loot empty houses. He has also instructed to enure the functioning of marketplaces and shops keep functioning. He is popular due to his relation to Mullah Omar.

Sirajuddin Haqqani 
Son of the Afghan Mujahideen commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, Sirajuddin has maintained a low profile. He has been linked in various bombings across Afghanistan. His network is considered a terrorist group by the US.
Ideologically he is a hardliner, and his fighting on the ground has given him legitimacy 

Abdul Hakim Haqqani 
Abdul Hakkim heads the Taliban's negotiating team in charge of the peace talks with the former US-backed government. He also heads a senior council of religious scholars.

Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai
Stanikzai travelled the world extensively as deputy foreign minister when the militants last controlled power in Afghanistan. He has led delegations to China to meet government officials, according to a Reuters report. Stanikzai is also Abdul Hakim Haqqani's deputy negotiator on talks with Afghan government officials.

Likely structure of the Taliban government 
Taliban is not a monolith; post-Mullah Omar, there has been factionalism within. Whether the current structure of the caretaker government will be continued is something to be seen. It is believed it would be a Talibanized Iranian Model. 
The Emir al-Mu'min Haibattullah Akhunzada has remained the central authority with three deputies: Mulla Abdul Ghani Baradar, Mohammed Yaqoob and Sirajuddin Haqqani. Along with these three deputies, the Emir is guided by Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the head of the political office in Doha. Along with him is Abdul Hakeem Haqqani, a part of the political office and the head of the judicial wing of the Taliban. 

These leaders oversee the Rhabhari Shura (main leadership council of the Taliban). The Rhabhari Shura is in charge of the specialised commissions that look into daily activities of the government - covering education, military, media, among others. The Shura is believed to be a liaison for other terror organisations like Al Qaeda. Earlier, shadow governors or regional commanders controlled the provinces; a regional council advised them. These regional councils elected a district mayor, and a deputy assisted him. A district council guided the deputy and the mayor. While this was the governance framework, the Taliban had also established a unique justice system based on Sharia law. This system of justice that worked at the provincial level consisted of a judge and two ulemas. 

The Haqqani network under Sirajuddin Haqqani had risen in prominence. Haqqani's hard-line fundamentalist ideas have been well accepted among Taliban fighters who see Haqqani as a natural leader. The Haqqani network oversees the Peshawar Shura (Leadership Council) that liaises with Pakistan's Inter-services Intelligence (ISI). Haqqani has been a vital element in the Taliban's overall structure. 

Considering the factionalism within, any permanent government formation will be based on a consensus reached between the Haqqani Network and the Rhabahri Shura and other shuras that fought under the Taliban flag. Taliban's spokesperson has said women will not be included in the council now or in the future; Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah are not said to be a part of the high council. 

So far, it seems like the Taliban is trying to emulate the Iranian governance model with Hibatullah Akhunzada as a religious supreme leader focusing on the doctrinal matters of the Taliban and Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund as the leader of the government, with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and Mullah Abdus Salam as his deputies. As of now, Muhammed Yaqoob and Sirajuddin Haqqani are appointed as the Defence Minister and Interior Minister respectively.

The Haqqanis are currently advocating a religious theocratic form of government based on Islamic law; they feel that the Taliban should not include outsiders and other stakeholders in the government formation. The Rhabahri Shura, on the other hand, wants an 'inclusive' 'moderate' government. Should the Rhabhari Shura members get the critical leverage in government formation, one can expect a moderate form of an inclusive government. Baradar favours forming a moderate government to gain the legitimacy of other countries, whereas Haqqani favours a government that would help them gain legitimacy from their cadre. 

Taliban's final government will depend on their prioritisation of legitimacy. Do they favour external legitimacy from other countries and internal legitimacy from the people of Afghanistan, or do they favour internal legitimacy that they gain from their cadres? This prioritisation would ultimately define how the Taliban government will be formed. The battle between the factions in the Taliban should be carefully looked upon and analysed to see how the government is running or how the government is responding to such a crisis. 

We do not know how the Taliban will move forward in announcing the permanent government. However, it will be influenced by factions that come on top during the internal Taliban negotiations.

The above commentary was first published in NIAS Conflict Reader.


About the author
Vineet Daniel Vinoy is a post-graduate scholar at the Department of History and International Studies, CHRIST (Deemed to be University)

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