The man the United States and its allies hoped would be a moderate voice in Afghanistan’s Taliban government has been sidelined after a dramatic shooting at the presidential palace in Kabul, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the most public face of the group that led the peace talks with the United States, was physically attacked by a leader of the Haqqani Network appointed by American terrorists in early September during talks in the palace on the formation of the cabinet. the people said, asking not to be identified discussing the incident.
Baradar had lobbied for an “inclusive” cabinet that included non-Taliban leaders and ethnic minorities, which would be more acceptable to the rest of the world, the people said. At one point in the meeting, Khalil ul Rahman Haqqani got up from his chair and began beating the Taliban leader.
His bodyguards entered the fray and opened fire on each other, killing and wounding several of them, the people said. Although Baradar was not injured, he left the capital and headed to Kandahar, the group’s base, to speak with Supreme Leader Haibatullah Akhundzada, the spiritual leader of the Taliban.
The cabinet lineup released on September 7 did not include anyone outside the Taliban, and about 90% of the ads were for the group’s ethnic Pashtuns. Members of the Haqqani family received four posts, and Sirajuddin Haqqani, a leader of the Haqqani Network who is on the FBI’s Most Wanted list for terrorism, became acting interior minister. Baradar was named one of the two deputy prime ministers. The Taliban and Haqqani groups merged around 2016.
People said the head of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, who was in Kabul during the discussions, backed the Haqqanis over Baradar, who spent about eight years in a Pakistani prison before the Trump administration facilitated his release to participate. in peace talks. The little-known Mullah Mohammad Hassan was chosen as prime minister instead of Baradar because he has better ties to Islamabad and is not a threat to the Haqqani faction, they said.
Pakistan’s military media office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
For the past week, members of the Taliban have rejected reports of a clash. Baradar appeared on state television Thursday to deny rumors that he had been injured or even killed. Baradar was not present on September 12 to welcome Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, and missed the first Taliban cabinet meeting this week.
“Praise God, I am safe and sound,” he said in the direction of the letter. “Another statement made by the media that we have internal disputes is also not entirely true.”
He dismissed speculation about his absence during the visit by the Qatari delegation, where other members of the cabinet, including several Haqqanis, were present. The Gulf state had hosted Baradar for several years and facilitated negotiations with then-Secretary of State Michael Pompeo to end America’s longest term.
“I was not aware of the visit of the Qatari foreign minister,” Baradar added. “I was traveling during the Qatari Foreign Minister’s visit to Kabul, and I was unable to shorten my trip and return to Kabul.”
Contacted by phone, Taliban spokesman Bilal Karimi said Baradar “was not marginalized and we hope that he will return soon.”
“There are no differences between the leaders of the Islamic Emirates,” Karimi said. “They do not fight for any position in the office or the government.”
Divisions within the Taliban are a troubling sign for Western nations that have urged the group to implement more moderate policies, including respect for women’s rights. China and Pakistan are pressuring the United States to unfreeze Afghanistan’s reserves as the country faces skyrocketing inflation and a looming economic crisis.
The relationship between the Haqqani faction and the Taliban has long been uneasy. Still, Anas Haqqani, a key leader of the group, also took to Twitter to deny any breakup.