War-weary Afghanistan’s wait for a Taliban government to take shape appeared to stretch potentially longer after the outfit’s co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was reported injured in a clash late on Friday between his group and ally Haqqani Network, prompting ISI chief Lt Gen Faiz Hameed to rush to Kabul on Saturday in a quick change of role from professed bystander to active troubleshooter.
“Don’t worry, everything will be okay,” PTI quoted Hameed as saying in a video clip from a presser on his arrival in Kabul. Asked if he would be meeting the Taliban leadership, the ISI chief paused to look at Pakistan’s ambassador to Kabul, Mansour Ahmad Khan, before responding himself, “I have just landed. We are working for peace and stability in Afghanistan.”
The first official visit by any top Pakistani official to Afghanistan since the country fell to the Taliban was apparently hastened by the latter’s worsening dispute with allies and factions over its choice of Haibatullah Akhundzada as the supreme leader. News agency ANI quoted the unverified Twitter handle of the Panjshir Observer that the gunfire heard in Kabul on Friday night was the result of a power struggle between Baradar and Anas Haqqani.
Writing for the US-based website 19fortyfive.com, Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute said the Taliban couldn’t meet its target of unveiling a new government on September 3 because the Haqqanis and several other Taliban factions wouldn’t accept Akhundzada as their supreme leader.
The delay may have signalled a much greater crisis within the Taliban, bringing ISI out of the woodwork and forcing it to depute a delegation led by Hameed for the “emergency trip” to Kabul, Rubin said. According to him, “a unitary Taliban” has always been an illusion as “the Quetta Shura is different from the Haqqani Network is different from the Northern Taliban”.
Amid what seemed to be ISI’s open intervention in the crisis within the new regime, former Afghanistan vice-president Amrullah Saleh was quoted as saying in a “dispatch from the frontline” to the UK-based Daily Mail that despite Pakistan’s claims to the contrary, the Taliban were being “micromanaged” by the ISI. “The Taliban’s spokesperson receives directions, literally every hour, from the Pakistani embassy,” he said.
The Pakistan Observer reported that the ISI chief was expected to meet Taliban leaders and commanders. “Issues relating to Pak-Afghan security, economy, and other matters will be taken up with the Taliban leadership,” the report said, quoting sources.
According to another Pakistan newspaper, Express Tribune, Hameed will also discuss the matter of repatriation and transit through Pakistan of foreign nationals and Afghans fleeing Taliban rule. “The issue of pending requests from countries and international organisations for the repatriation/transit through Pakistan and the need to determine the mechanism through which Pakistan could allow these, in coordination with the ground authorities in Afghanistan will be discussed during the meeting with the Taliban officials,” it said. The intelligence chief will spend a day in the Afghan capital, Geo News reported.
Hameed’s visit to Kabul came after army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa met British foreign secretary Dominic Raab earlier in the day and said Pakistan would assist in the formation of an inclusive administration in Afghanistan. Raab had arrived in Islamabad on Thursday night to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.
Some Afghan factions seek a more inclusive government and are not enthusiastic about efforts to fight the Panjshiris, Rubin wrote in 19fortyfive.com. The Taliban largely conquered Afghanistan on the back of political deals rather than military victories and are unenthusiastic about the losses they now sustain in ground fighting in the valley and its approaches, he said.
It is Hameed and the factions to which he directly dictates that want to finish off Ahmad Massoud and Amrullah Saleh, the two main leaders of the resistance, he added.