Monthly Afghanistan News Roundup – February 2023

Monthly Afghanistan News Roundup – February 2023

By Ozair Khan

Within the framework of the Fiqhi Pathways project implemented jointly by CPI-Geneva and the Swiss FDFA’s Peace and Human Rights Division, engagement with Deobandi scholars of or close to Taliban and Pakistan is pursued to promote governance in line with IHL and Islamic jurisprudence through Fiqhi dialogue exchanges. This monthly newsletter aims to keep track of the discussions and debates among scholars on issues of governance policies of the Taliban, especially in the areas of education, social policies, and statecraft and governance institutions.

1. Crackdown on Salafi communities

The Islamic Emirate has banned Friday prayers in several Salafi mosques. This has followed a string of restrictions in the past few months. Several Salafi scholars were killed or kidnapped. Salafis lay the responsibility on the Taliban, but the Taliban claim ISIS is at fault. [1]

2. Apparent intra-Taliban disagreements

Prominent Taliban figures have recently criticized the ban on girls’ education, such as Abdul Salam Hanafi, the Taliban Deputy Prime Minister, who tweeted on 13 February:

“We can’t develop the country without high-standard educational institutions. The responsibility of a religious leader is not to tell people about the prohibitions alone, but he should identify a solution.” [2]

Sirajudin Haqqani also declared on 12 February:

“Let everyone hear this. Nobody should have that much power and authority to violate the rights of the people that they extract favors from them. That can no longer be tolerated.” [3]
Echoing the same crticicism, the Taliban’s own Central Minister Shahabuddin Delawar said on the occasion of the commemoration of Soviet forces retreat:

“The system should listen to and support the legitimate demands of the people.”In response to these statements, the governor of Kandahar, Muhammad Yusuf Wafa, said on 12 February:
“Everyone must accept and follow every order and decree of the Supreme Leader, Sheikh Hebatullah Akhundzada because we all pledged allegiance to him in hardship and ease.” [4]

More importantly, Zabihullah Mujahid, the very spokesperson of the Islamic Emirate, said during a ceremony attended by university instructors:“According to religious principles, anyone can criticize for the purpose of reform.”

However, he then added:
“The manner of criticism, following ethical guidelines, is that if someone has a criticism of the Emir, a person in charge, Minister, Deputy Minister, or director—Islamic ethics suggest that it is better to not denigrate him [publicly] but rather to respect his dignity. In a safe, discreet, and protected manner, approach him so that no one else will hear, and then mention the criticism which is the great Islamic ethic.

”He finally mentioned that if the various criticisms are respectful, then:

“The system officials should have the patience to listen to the people’s criticisms and questions.” [5]

Due to these statements, some journalists have theorized that Haibatullah Akhunzadah could be overthrown or that there is going to be armed infighting within the Taliban. Bilal Sarwary, an influential Afghan journalist, tweeted:

“What began as whispers & rumors of rifts within the ranks, have now turned into words of soft weapons spoken behind the mic[rophone]s. How long before the actual weapons are pointing at each other.” [6]

3. Claim of unity

On 15 February, a BBC reporter asked Zabihullah Mujahid about tensions among the Taliban. Mujahid explained that there are different views on some subjects, but that differing is innate to human nature, and even in close-knit close families, there are often disagreements. Mujahid also claimed that what the West considers criticism from inside the Taliban ranks is rather brotherly advice.

On another occasion, on 16 February, Mujahid declared:

“Those who want to create disunity among the leadership of the Islamic Emirate and spread rumors about it will take such dreams to the grave.” [7]

The following day, the political deputy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, who several times seemed to criticize the functioning of the Islamic Emirate, stated:

“Disobedience, rebellion, and opposition do not exist in the Islamic Emirate (..) No one has a problem with anyone. We consider the orders of our leaders to be obligatory on us because we have pledged allegiance to them whether we liked them or not. The United States has spent millions to show otherwise, but it’s not true.” [8]

4. Bilawal Bhutto at the Munich Security Conference

At the the Munich Security Conference, Bilawal Bhutto, the Pakistani Minister of Foreign Affairs, explained that the current Pakistani government will stop the policy of political appeasement with the Pakistani Taliban (TTP). Bhutto criticized the previous government of Imran Khan for having opened a pandora’s box when it started engaging with this banned armed group without addressing vital problems such as disarming.

On Afghanistan, Bhutto said it was wishful thinking from the West to hope for a resurgence of the National Resistance Front against the Taliban rule. He criticized the US for complaining about the Taliban and hoping for their demise because they shouldn’t have left if they didn’t want them there. Bhutto emphasized that since the Taliban are in power, the international community should act according to this reality, pleasing or not.

Bhutto then criticized the Taliban for not being proactive enough to expel terrorist groups using Afghan soil to prepare attacks against Pakistan and other neighboring countries. He then added that trying to change the Afghan Taliban with threats is counterproductive and that there is a need for a conducive environment to engage in dialogue. Bhutto then said he truly hopes the Taliban will let Pakistanis help them. [9]

In response to Bhutto’s statements, the Minister of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Abdul Qahar Balkhi tweeted:

“The Islamic Emirate has proven in practice to regional & world countries that, with professional & experienced security forces, it has not allowed anyone to use the territory of Afghanistan against others. It should be noted that Afghanistan’s security is now much better than many countries around the world.” [10]

5. New religious council in Nangarhar

On 21 February, Haibatullah Akhunzadah approved the establishment of a new religious council in the province of Nangarhar. [11] The 25 members of the delegation include some non-Mullah figures as well. It follows the efforts of the foundation of similar institutions in many other provinces, which was discussed in the January 2023 news roundup. [12]

6. Hekmatyar downplays the IS threat

On 20 February, during a sermon, Gulbudin Hekmatyar, leader of the Hezbe-Islami political party, downplayed what he perceived as an exaggeration of the ISKP threat in foreign media. He said these armed groups barely hold any territorial control. However, Hekmatyar then added that this exaggerated threat could be used as a pretext to invade Afghanistan as happened with Iraq. He also hypothesized that IS would emulate the Northern Alliance 20 years ago, i,e., it would take advantage of the chaos to further its plans. Hekmatyar urged the Islamic Emirate to be ready to fight back. [13]

7. Islamabad warns  Kabul

On 23 February, the Pakistani Defense Minister and Intelligence chief led a delegation to Kabul to discuss cross-border issues like open trade, as well as security. [14] The fine details of the conversation are not known, but an official who wanted to stay anonymous explained to Anadolu Agency:

“Our delegation delivered a very loud and clear message to Afghan Taliban leadership to stop Afghanistan-based militants of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) from launching any spring offensive inside Pakistan and eliminate them from Afghan soil.” [15]

According to the same source, Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Islamic Emirate’s First Deputy Prime Minister, denied the presence of TTP on Afghan soil.

8. Assassination of a prominent IS-KP figure

The Islamic Emirate claims to have killed the Islamic State in Khorasan’s former military chief Qari Fateh, on 27 February. In its official statement, the Afghan Taliban referred to Qari Fateh as “Chief Khawarij.” [16]


















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