Taliban chief dead, Baradar hostage? Reports suggest big leadership crisis in Afghanistan

NEW DELHI: Is Afghanistan deputy prime minister Mullah Baradar being held hostage in Kandahar? Has Taliban chief Haibatullah Akhunzada died? 
An air of secrecy surrounds the two Taliban leaders who were initially tipped to be No.1 and 2 in Afghanistan's latest power structure. 
Baradar has barely been seen since he was reportedly involved in a violent clash with the Haqqanis during government formation talks. He recently resurfaced in Kandahar to deliver a video message to scotch rumours that he was seriously injured in the attack. 
But observers told UK-based magazine The Spectator that the message appeared to be more of a hostage video. 
"He [Baradar] has held a large meeting of tribal elders who support him, but at the same time was forced to read a statement on the state-run TV network, which has been taken over by the Taliban," The Spectator reported. 
Baradar, the big loser?
It is said that Baradar was the principal loser during negotiations to form the government in Afghanistan since he was earlier tipped to be the head of the new dispensation. 
Following the talks, he was relegated to the deputy PM's post. 
The big step down happened during discussions with Haqqanis where things got heated. 
It is reported that Baradar wanted more roles for Afghanistan's minorities and argued that the country's flag should fly alongside Taliban's. 
It is not known what exactly angered the Haqqani network — a US-designated terrorist organisation. But at one point during the meeting, Khalil ul Rahman Haqqani rose from his chair and began punching the Taliban leader. 
The Spectator said that a violent fight ensued between the supporters of Baradar and Haqqani, with "furniture as well as large thermos flasks full of hot green tea being thrown around". 
Other reports said there was gunfire during the fight in which a number of people were killed and injured. 
The people aware of the developments said the head of Pakistan’s ISI head Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed, who was in Kabul during the discussions, backed the Haqqanis over Baradar. 
Incidently, Baradar had spent about eight years in a Pakistan prison before the Trump administration facilitated his release to participate in peace talks. 
The Spectator report said that ISI chief ensured that all key positions in the new Afghanistan government went to Pakistani loyalists, principally from the hardline Haqqani network, while those who led the Doha negotiations were downgraded. 
A headless Taliban?
While Baradar remains in Kandahar, the whereabouts of Haibatullah Akhunzada are still not known. 
Taliban have promised time and again that Akhunzada will make an appearance soon, but it is yet to happen. It's been well over a month since they took over Kabul. 
The Spectator cited rumours that Akhunzada could even be dead. 
Such speculation over Taliban leaders has been fed by the circumstances surrounding the death of the movement's founder, Mullah Omar, which was only made public in 2015 two years after it happened. 
Mullah Hassan Akhund, who is the prime minister of Afghanistan, appears to hold no power, according to the report. 
This means that an effectively headless Taliban look less in control now than they did over 20 years ago when they were last in power. 
Moreover, the challenge to rein in the Haqqanis, who are looking increasingly powerful in Afghanistan, also weighs heavy. 

The Spectator said that Sirajuddin Haqqani, the country's interior minister, has praised suicide bombers while his uncle Khalil — the one who allegedly attacked Baradar — made a number of public statements about the value of international jihad. 

Source: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/south-asia/hostage-video-mullah-baradars-recent-appearance-signals-taliban-leadership-crisis/articleshow/86371641.cms


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