Speech Offers Rare Glimpse Into Taliban Inner Politics

Offering a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the Afghan Taliban, the group publicly shared a speech in which its deputy leader seemed to be chiding a gathering of Taliban fighters for their internal rivalries, lack of motivation, and disciplinary issues.

The date and place of the speech by the head of the deadly Haqqani network, Sirajuddin Haqqani, was not clear.

Haqqani started off by lauding his followers’ performance on the battlefield that he said helped “crush the arrogance of the rebellious emperors of the world” and provided an atmosphere in which they could gather and “sit together with confidence.”

However, he soon turned to warnings of becoming complacent and craving materialism over the “sincerity and pure intentions” of the “jihad” that they launched two decades ago.

“If you show such inclination, success will turn into failure and degradation,” Haqqani warned his followers.

He also chided Taliban members for becoming lax in jihadi duties.

“Now, for example, in Nangarhar, we need Mujahideen formations to come to us from Wardak, Ghazni, other provinces, so when we say to the Mujahideen that they are needed there then sometimes they say: We have passed our turn, it is winter, we will go in the spring. … So what if it is winter or if it is spring? Isn’t the duty obligatory, because you have pledged that we will obey in both hardships and ease?” he said.

Tensions within

His address described how, as the group expanded its organizational structure, rivalries emerged, threatening to undermine the unity of the organization.

“[S]ometimes one commission considers itself against another commission as one state against another,” he lamented, urging that the members of the group should refrain from “propagating against each other and conspiring.”

He warned of the enemy benefiting from the differences among them. “The only reason for this misfortune is pessimism, discord and verbal disputes,” he said.

Haqqani went on to lecture Taliban members on following their local leaders for the cause, even if they disliked them.

“Just say to yourself, that I will keep my mouth shut, I will continue this service with courage and sincerity. I will give and I will obey,” he instructed, while telling the leaders to also focus on self-improvement.

Commenting on complaints he had received from various parts of the region, he warned relatives of fighters killed in battle to take care of their widows and children.

“We have heard that the widow of the martyr has been kicked out of the house by the brother of the martyr and she is forced to beg in the bazaar,” he said, saying this happened to dozens of women.

Discussing the political developments and the deal Taliban signed with the Americans in Doha in February of last year, he tried to garner confidence in the process by describing the pains Taliban head Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada took over every point.

“In a simple detail, which is superficial, he refers it to the leadership council and after the leadership council he refers it to the sheikhs, and after complete satisfaction, he sends it the office in Qatar,” Haqqani said.

He also told the military arm of the group to refrain from doubting the efforts of the political office in Doha, which he said was working hard.

“[D]o not be influenced by the biased propaganda of the enemy,” he said.

Haqqani accused the Americans of “treachery” and violation of the Doha agreement but insisted that the Taliban would stick to the deal as long as the other side did not break it.

Does Taliban really have drones?

He warned, however, that the Taliban had acquired drone technology and missiles along with military strength. If the deal was broken, the fighting this time would be so fierce, the enemy would “wish the battlefield was like in the past.”

The references to weaponry and fierce fighting, according to Andrew Watkins of the International Crisis Group, an independent conflict resolution organization, are more of a morale-boosting effort than a military strategy.

“His message is actually, wait, be patient. It is OK to be patient, because, unlike in the past, we have more advanced weaponry now,” Watkins said.

He added that there was some evidence of the Taliban using prototypes of armed drones, but it was impossible to know the number they possess.

“To date, their value is more of propaganda and morale (the same way Siraj mentions them here!) than it is a strategic military shift,” Watkins said.

Haqqani’s comments come at a time when the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden is reviewing the Doha deal and, in particular, the May 1 deadline for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan.

In an interview with VOA’s Afghan service this week, Republican Congressman Mike McCaul said he hoped that U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad will discuss the withdrawal timeline with the Taliban in Doha and take them on board for an extension.

Khalilzad is in Kabul and is scheduled to make trips to other regional capitals and Qatar to try to accelerate a peace process that seems to be facing uncertainty.

Haqqani also chided his followers for their behavior toward the local population that, he said, already feared the Taliban due to “propaganda of the world.”

“One evening, I saw Mujahideen vehicles speeding so fast that people would avoid them,” he said, telling the listening audience to keep their pride and arrogance for the invaders and treat the locals humbly and with respect.

“[D]on’t do things that make you look unaccountable,” he said, adding that the militant group had an extensive structure for solving problems.

“If there are land disputes and other legal issues … the Islamic Emirate has set up its own organs for everything. There are courts, there is a military commission, there is invitation, there is intelligence, there are civilian casualties and there are complaints … everything is there,” he said.

It was rare for the Taliban to widely publicize the message of anyone other than their supreme commander, Akhundzada, according to senior journalist Tahir Khan who has been covering the Taliban for years.

One possible reason for the message, Khan said, was to mitigate problems within the Taliban ranks while also showing the world that the group held its own accountable.

“Sirajuddin Haqqani is widely respected among the Taliban. This message will be taken seriously among the rank and file,” Khan said.