Accessibility links

Breaking News

The Azadi Briefing: Taliban Divisions Come Out Into The Open

In what may be a sign of growing infighting, Taliban Defense Minister Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob said that the militant group "should never be arrogant" and must "always respond to the legitimate demands of the nation."
In what may be a sign of growing infighting, Taliban Defense Minister Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob said that the militant group "should never be arrogant" and must "always respond to the legitimate demands of the nation."

Welcome back to The Azadi Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan. To subscribe, click here.

I'm Mustafa Sarwar, a senior news editor at RFE/RL's Radio Azadi. Here's what I've been tracking and what I'm keeping an eye on in the days ahead.

The Key Issue

Key Taliban officials have recently appeared to criticize the militant group's supreme leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, whose repressive policies have alienated Afghans and isolated the Taliban's unrecognized government internationally.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Taliban's powerful interior minister, gave a speech on February 11 in which he appeared to accuse Akhundzada of "monopolizing power" and "hurting the reputation" of the militant group.

Another influential Taliban official, Defense Minister Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, said in a February 15 speech in Kabul that the militant group "should never be arrogant" and must "always respond to the legitimate demands of the nation."

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi on February 16 that "all members share the same thoughts, beliefs, and ideology," adding that Haqqani and Yaqoob were merely making suggestions.

Why It's Important: Haqqani and Yaqoob's public comments appear to have lifted the lid on the widening rifts within the Taliban, which has come under national and international condemnation for its severe restrictions on women's rights and human rights abuses.

As the Taliban has attempted to transform from an insurgency into a functional government after seizing power in 2021, there have been mounting reports of infighting.

Akhundzada, who rarely travels outside his stronghold in the southern province of Kandahar, has consolidated power and empowered ultraconservative clerics who share his extremist views.

What's Next: It is unclear yet if growing internal and foreign criticism will force Akhundzada to moderate his policies.

Experts do not expect internal differences to lead to an open revolt. But the infighting suggests that a growing number of Taliban officials believe change is necessary.

The Week's Best Stories

  • A devastating humanitarian and economic crisis has forced some Afghans to turn to the booming methamphetamine industry to eke out a living and stave off starvation. Thousands of people are believed to be earning money by collecting ephedra, a wild herb that is used to make crystal meth. "For now, it is our only source of income," harvester Ahmad Wali told Radio Azadi. "We collect it from the mountains and sell it in the city."
  • After 30 years in business, Gul Rahman says he may have to close his Kabul butcher's shop. The economic collapse since the Taliban regained control in Afghanistan has seen demand for meat plummet. "I can say many people can't afford to buy meat once a month," Rahman told Radio Azadi in this video. "People have a lot of troubles. If it goes on like this, I guess I will leave this occupation because there's no business."

What To Keep An Eye On

Taliban fighters stormed the offices of the private Tamadon TV station in Kabul on February 14, a witness told Radio Azadi on condition of anonymity.

The armed men, who identified themselves as Taliban Interior Ministry personnel, seized three vehicles belonging to the TV station. It was unclear if any staff members were detained.

A spokesman for the Taliban later said that "our forces entered the television [station] by mistake." The Afghanistan Journalists Center, a local watchdog, accused the Taliban of "intimidation."

Broadcasting mainly religious content, Tamadon TV was established by Ayatollah Mohammad Asif Mohseni, a prominent Afghan Shi'ite cleric who died in 2019.

Why It's Important: In the past, Afghanistan's Sunni Taliban rulers have suppressed the country's Shi'ite Hazara minority.

Since regaining power, the Taliban has tried to assuage Hazara fears of discrimination and persecution. But rights groups have documented the extrajudicial killings and forced evictions of Hazara by the Taliban in parts of the country.

The raid on Tamadon TV is also the latest attempt by the Taliban to suppress media freedom in Afghanistan. The militants have waged a brutal crackdown on dissent that has targeted journalists, human rights defenders, and intellectuals.

The Afghanistan Journalists Center said it recorded 260 cases of press-freedom violations in 2022, including "detentions, threats, assaults, and restrictions on media outlets, journalists, and in particular women journalists."

That's all from me for now. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have.

Until next time,

Mustafa Sarwar

If you enjoyed this briefing and don't want to miss the next edition, subscribe here. It will be sent to your inbox every Friday.

  • 16x9 Image

    Mustafa Sarwar

    Mustafa Sarwar is a senior news editor for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, one of the most popular and trusted media outlets in Afghanistan. Nearly half of the country's adult audience accesses Azadi's reporting on a weekly basis.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.

Radio Azadi is RFE/RL's Dari- and Pashto-language public service news outlet for Afghanistan. Every Friday, in our newsletter, Azadi Briefing, one of our journalists will share their analysis of the week’s most important issues and explain why they matter.

To subscribe, click here.