Leadership: Taliban Troubles Escalate

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January 24, 2008: There are some serious internal rifts in the Taliban, and also tensions between the Taliban and al Qaeda. At the center of it all is Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar, who desperately wants to regain power in Afghanistan. This may be one reason why some Pakistani Taliban leaders have signed truces with the Pakistani government, so the movement can focus on Afghanistan. But al Qaeda has larger ambitions, and would like to leverage the Taliban's influence with the Pushtun tribes (on both sides of the border) to further the jihad in Pakistan.

There are other problems as well. Mullah Omar has "sacked" Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, and then indicated that what he really did was just cut Mehsud loose. That's mainly because Mehsud is a powerful tribal leader, and no one in the region dares to defy him by accepting Omars appointment as new leader of the Pakistani Taliban. Apparently Omar does not have enough power among Mehsud's jihadis (core Taliban fighters) to actually remove him from command.

Mehsud, who's 34 or 35, is accused by the Pakistani government, of organizing the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. He also has strong ties to al Qaeda. On top of that, he has ties to the Dadullah brothers, who ran the unsuccessful "Spring Offensive" last year, but have become non grata with the Taliban senior leadership. Mullah Dadullah was killed last Spring, possibly fingered by someone in the Taliban leadership, in order to get rid of him. The younger Dadullah brother is the Taliban commander who refused Omars order to give up control of Taliban forces in southern Afghanistan. Omar and the younger Dadullah are currently calling each other names.

Part of this escalating mess is a generational shift. Omar, and the other senior Taliban leadership, earned their reputations during the 1980s war with Russia. A new generation is more interested in the enormous wealth being generated by the Afghan heroin trade.

Another reason for the leadership crises is tribal politics. The Taliban draws its strength from factions in about half a dozen major Pushtun tribes on both sides of the border. The Taliban goals are derived from ancient customs within these tribes (strict religious rules, hostility to outsiders, no education for women, and so on). Omar got respect because he ran the government of Afghanistan for five years. That's a big deal, but it's also ancient history. Today, the tribes are looking after themselves, not Omar.

 


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