Mullah Omar, the Taliban insurgency’s undisputed leader since it rose up against the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, is facing his first serious challenge from within.
It comes from the old-timer fighter from the Soviet War of the 1980s, the warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani, his former strategic adviser and fellow Pashtun, who has now turned against him.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terror sources, Haqqani recently circulated a letter calling for a change in the Taliban’s leadership. While not so far authenticated, the letter confirms spreading reports of serious cracks in the Taliban’s ageing leadership, partly over the movement’s direction and methods.
Written in Pashto under the title of the “Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan”, the published letter attributed to Haqqani contemptuously refers to Mullah Omar as an illiterate, whose mistakes in his seven years as head of the Taliban movement could bring about its demise.
He accuses the one-eyed Omar of nepotism, appointing his relatives Mullah Jan Muhammad Baloch, Mullah Azizullah Eshaq Zai and others to key positions.
Even worse, their orders, says Haqqani, caused the deaths of such loyal commanders as Mullah Dadullah, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Osmani and Mullah Abdul Manan, for the crime of criticizing Omar and his kinsmen.
They were either murdered or liquidated, says Haqqani, following deals between the Taliban leadership council based in Quetta, Baluchistan and Pakistani intelligence (ISI).
Omar’s rival urges the transition of the Taliban leadership to a person “who is literate and knowledgeable about political issues.” He decries the neglect of productive diplomacy to bolster the insurgent movement’s international ties and image.
The Haqqanis are more ruthless than Mullah Omar
The letter’s reference to the need for a leader to unite the movement further denotes the infighting and dissent preying on the Taliban’s ruling caste.
Haqqani himself appears to be the cause of at least one controversy in the Pashtun- dominated fundamentalist movement. He is credited with introducing Taliban’s current tactics against US and coalition forces in Afghanistan, especially suicide bombings, which were unheard of in Afghanistan before, and remain controversial even among Taliban commanders.
Many Afghans consider them to be contrary to Islam and to the tribal Pashtuns’ code of honor.
Some consider Haqqani’s embrace of suicide killing to demonstrate the increasingly powerful sway Al Qaeda holds over him. But the outstanding feature in this veteran’s record from the days of the 1980s war against the Red Army is his extreme flexibility in his alliances. Then he worked with American, Saudi and Pakistani intelligence agencies, earning millions of dollars. He came close to Osama bin Laden and when Taliban seized power in Kabul, the warlord from Khost, in the Paktia region, was appointed a cabinet minister.
To this day, his ties with Pakistani intelligence most probably keep him alive, although the Americans have repeatedly asked for them to kill him.
His son Sira Juddin Haqqani is said to outdo his ruthless father and to have brought an unprecedented level of brutality to the conflict. The “Haqqani network” is considered more dangerous than Mullah Omar.
The rift driven in the Taliban leadership by the Haqqanis’ ambitions and brutal methods may present an opportunity for the US-led coalition to drive a wedge in insurgent ranks.