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Where are the missing Taliban leaders? Rumors revolve around the fate of two senior officials

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Those rumors gained so much traction in recent days that Taliban spokesmen were forced to avoid questions about whether one of the group’s most prominent figures, Mulla Baradar, was injured or even killed in a dispute in ADMISSION last week with the powerful Haqqani network, which holds key positions in interim governmentwith

Similarly, Taliban officials have repeatedly said that the movement’s supreme leader and commander-in-chief, Haibatullah Akhundzada, will soon be out in public. He does not – prompting rumors that he is ill or even dead.

Elsewhere, a politician subject to such speculation would call a press conference or make a television appearance to set the record. In Baradar’s case, a modest 39-second audio recording was released on Monday, along with a handwritten note from his assistant. No videos or images were coming. The last time Baradar was seen was in a brief appearance at a hotel in Kabul in the first week of September.

In the audio clip, Baradar is quoted as saying: “There are some conversations in the media. I was on a trip these days. I went somewhere and thank God we are all fine. Some of these media networks do this kind of propaganda. “and tell such shameful lies. Reject this conversation boldly. There are no issues, no problems, praise God. I assure you 100%.”

Baradar is the head of the Taliban’s political office and led it Doha Negotiations with the former government and the United States. Some expected him to be appointed prime minister, but after lengthy negotiations on the form of the new government, Baradar was appointed deputy prime minister.

Rumors of internal divisions were fueled by Baradar’s absence from the delegation which met with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani in Kabul on Sunday. Taliban officials explained that he was not in Kabul but had gone to Kandahar, where supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada is said to have been stationed.

The invisibility of the Taliban leadership is not a new phenomenon. This is not a group that feels the need to communicate with the outside world. In many ways, the Taliban’s PR efforts have become much more sophisticated in the last two years, with social media accounts in several languages ​​and spokespersons like Zabihullah Mujahid holding news conferences. The Taliban produced an extraordinary volume of video as its fighters attacked across the country in August.

But that most compelling communication strategy does not extend to leaders who have spent most of their lives fighting guerrilla warfare and in some cases years in prison. The Taliban remain a secret organization.

Azaz Syed, a Pakistani journalist who has reported on the Taliban for years, told CNN: “Most top Taliban leaders – especially the Haqqani family – avoid exposure or public appearance because they are convinced that their identity would help the ‘enemy’. “to target them.” Old habits seem to die a lot.

There is no better example of the Taliban attitude towards publicity and transparency than the circumstances of the tuberculosis death of its co-founder and first leader, Mullah Omar. He died in 2013, but the group did not reveal the fact just two years later. This in itself was an indication of deep divisions within the group, particularly over the peace negotiations, which many of the Taliban military commanders resisted. The divisions were so sharp that some commanders left the group to join the emerging ISIS branch in Afghanistan.

Officials have repeatedly said that senior Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhundzada will soon be made public.  He has not done it yet.

The current supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, was elected in 2016 in a broken governing council meeting, or shura, in the Pakistani city of Quetta – the headquarters of the exiled Taliban. He has not made a public appearance in the five years since. For most of 2020, not a single statement came out on his behalf. A senior Taliban official, Moulawi Muhammad Ali Jan Ahmed, told Foreign Policy last year that Akhundzada had been hit by the coronavirus, which affected many senior Taliban officials.

“Our leader is ill, but he is recovering,” Ahmed told Foreign Policy in an interview in June 2020Other Taliban sources told Foreign Policy that they thought Akhundzada had died from Covid-19.

In the month since the Taliban took power in Kabul, only one statement has been issued on behalf of Akhundzada, in which he said: “I assure all compatriots that the figures [ministers in the Taliban government] will work hard towards respecting Islamic rules and Sharia law in the country. ”

Afghanistan is now one of the very few countries without women in high government ranks

If there are serious divisions within the Taliban leadership today, they may have their roots in that shura of 2016. A compromise was reached to keep the group together, with two appointees appointed: Mullah Jakub, the son of the first Taliban leader , Mullah Omar; and Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the Haqqani network.

They are both in the new government, respectively as defense and interior ministers. Littleshte seen little for either, despite their importance in maintaining key security portfolios.

However, Sirajuddin’s uncle, Khalil, who has been appointed minister for refugees, has been more prominent, addressing tribal rallies and even giving interviews to selected foreign journalists. GeoNews’ Azaz Syed met him in Kabul last month.

“Among Hakan, Khalil Haqqani is really more prominent in social gatherings,” Syed said. “However, he is also very careful about his safety – every time he moves around the city, a car transport and 313 Special Brigade security guards give him security.” The defense is probably not surprising, as he has a $ 5 million reward in his head courtesy of the U.S. government, while his nephew Sirajuddin has a $ 10 million gift.

In this febrile atmosphere, anything that comes out in connection with a dispute or clash between rival elements will be in carefully whispered expressions off the record. The Taliban’s machinery and internal decision-making give a new definition to the dark word.

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