Over the past week, interior ministers of the Taliban have freely spoken out against Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, the Supreme Leader of the Taliban. The ministers made their comments days apart, giving the rest of the world a better perspective to what is happening internally in the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Its beginning to look as if there are two factions emerging in the Afghan government, one being focused on maintaining the traditional hardline approach to social issues, while their opposition has seemingly taken a more conciliatory approach.
Around September of 2022, it became clear that two ideological factions began to form over various social issues, primarily that of education for women. The minority opinion, at the time, was disheartened to see Mawlawi Habibullah Agha appointed as the Minister of Education due to his hardline conservative approach. It is said that Agha mentored Akhundzada and is responsible for the current ban on education for women above a sixth-grade leve, however, the true extent of his influence on Akhundzada is unknown. Akhundzada has since appointed multiple hardliners, similar to Agha, in various positions of power.
In the current administration, there are at least three ministers who are not considered hardliner conservatives. Sirajuddin Haqqani, the first deputy leader of Afghanistan and the interior minister, Second Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi, and Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, the second deputy leader of Afghanistan and Defense Minister. Their positions as first deputy leader, second deputy prime minister, and second deputy leader, respectively, denote them as being high ranking officials that advise the Supreme Leader on various issues.
On February 11, Haqqani was the first to make comments during a graduation ceremony at an Islamic religious school in Khost. Haqqani stated, “Monopolizing power and hurting the reputation of the entire system are not to our benefit,” and added, “The situation cannot be tolerated.” He further stated that the Taliban has shouldered more responsibility and “it requires patience and good behavior and engagement with the people.” He also stated that the Taliban should act in a way so that they are not hated by the people of Afghanistan. The comments were seen by many, especially on Twitter, as being directed toward Akhundzada and the other hardliners. No other comments have come from Haqqani concerning the speech. He has stated previously that he supports finding some sort of permanent solution for the education of women in Afghanistan and seems to also support women attending schools and universities, potentially to better the Taliban’s image and help it on its way to becoming the recognized and legitimate government of the country.
Hanafi gave a speech on February 13, which supported Haqqani’s comments about shouldering responsibility and also supported the notion of women in education. Some of his comments alluded to the responsibility and necessity for the scholars and educators to ensure that education is offered and the manner it is offered in is respected. As for Yaqoob, he stated in a February 15 speech that the Taliban “should never be arrogant” and has to “always respond to the legitimate demands of the nation” somewhat echoing the sentiment that came about with Haqqani’s speech.
With the Taliban following through with its continued ban on women receiving an education past a sixth-grade level, it seems likely it will remain as long as Akhundzada is in power and is supported by his hardline ministers. However, the fact that this discussion is being had by members of the Taliban government shows to many experts that the issue of education for women represents a deeper desire to reconnect to the rest of the world in a political and socioeconomic manner. The Taliban have made significant steps recently to attract foreign investment and financial aid, with some speculating they may be willing to bend certain cultural norms in order to look more appealing to these foreign investors.
The only response that came from the hardline faction was by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, whom stated,”… all members share the same thoughts, beliefs, and ideology.” He also said the ministers were simply making suggestions. Typically with Taliban leadership, disputes are kept private and resolved quietly. To have such potential criticism openly given shows that there may be cracks developing in the unity of Taliban, though it is thus far considered highly unlikely these are the kind of cracks that could destabilize a regime.