The Taliban’s sweeping orders to restrict women’s rights have exacerbated divisions within the militant group to the point that rival factions are surrounding themselves with loyal troops, according to people familiar with the matter.
The Taliban last week banned women from going to university or working in non-governmental organizations, adding to this year’s guidelines banning them from using gyms, amusement parks and public baths – as well as the ability to travel more than 70 kilometers (43 miles) without a male escort. These measures aroused the indignation of the Afghans and the international community, some friendly Islamic countries having even expressed their opposition.
The Tory decrees were ordered by the rarely seen supreme leader of the militant group, Haibatullah Akhundzadawho rules from the southern city of Kandahar and issues edicts through a religious council of Taliban clerics, said the people, who asked not to be identified while discussing sensitive topics.
A group of Taliban leaders are pushing back Akhundazada, the people said, led by the defense minister Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, son of the group’s late founder, Mullah Mohammad Omar, and Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, head of the Haqqani network, which is on the FBI’s most wanted list for terrorism. Their attempts to meet with the supreme leader to discuss the matter have so far been rebuffed, the people said.
Tensions are so high now that the two factions are rounding up loyal personnel in case the conflict escalates into fighting, the people said. Yaqoob and Haqqani hold their ground in the capital Kabul, while Akhundzada’s base is Kandahar – where the Taliban movement originated in the early 1990s.
While Afghanistan has a national army made up of Taliban soldiers and some troops from the US-trained force that was defeated last year, many senior ministers in the current government are former heads of war or militia leaders who continue to retain thousands of combatants.
Due to their positions in government, the young Taliban leaders – Yaqoob and Haqqani – have access to billions of dollars worth of military equipment left over from the US military. Akhundzada loyalists are mostly drawn from local armed militias in Kandahar and like-minded religious leaders who have their own fighters, the people said.
Bilal Karimi, a spokesman for the Taliban-led government, denied any “disunity and discord among the Taliban leadership” over the orders given to the women, and said he was unaware of any attempt to Yaqoob and Haqqani to meet Akhundzada.
“Every member of the Islamic Emirate respects and obeys the orders of the Supreme Leader,” Karimi said in a phone call. “The power of obedience is unbreakable.”
Yet Yaqoob and Haqqani expressed a difference on issues of women’s rights. A spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, Abdul Nafi Takor, said by telephone that Haqqani “wants a resolution of the issue of education and employment of women, and the creation of a purely Islamic environment in which girls and women can study and work”.
A defense ministry spokesman, Enayatullah Khwarizmi, declined to comment on Yaqoob’s views on the latest restrictions on women. In an interview with National Public Radio in August, Yaqoob said it was “serious” to pave the way for all girls to return to school.
Neither spokesman would comment on suggestions of discord between the two ministers and Supreme Leader Akhundzada.
This is not the first time that fissures have erupted within the Taliban over issues such as women’s rights. The New York Times reported earlier this year that Mahdi Mujahid, a Shiite Taliban commander, had severed ties with the group’s leaders and led an uprising in his northern hometown of Balkhab. This resulted in weeks of fierce fighting until Mujahid was apprehended as he fled to Iran and then killed.
When the Taliban took control of Kabul last year, the group’s leaders sought to reassure the world that they would do more to respect women’s rights, including ensuring they received an education. But Akhundzada earlier this year hinted at a return to the tough laws in place when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s.
“Why are you interfering in our affairs? I’m not here because of your orders, I’m not accepting them, and I’m not stepping forward based on them,” he said in an extremely rare appearance during a religious event in the capital Kabul in June, referring to international calls for more freedom for Afghan women. “I also don’t compromise on Sharia even if you use an atomic bomb.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said decisions banning women from education and work could be “devastating” for the Afghan people and thwart Taliban efforts to gain recognition and support. Countries like Pakistan and Qatar, both of which have close ties to the Taliban, have expressed disappointment and called for a review of the decisions.
In Afghanistan, some men have also protested against the decision to ban women from attending universities. Several aid organizations – including the largest group working in the country, the International Rescue Committee – have suspended operations following the decision to ban female workers, potentially disrupting humanitarian aid to millions of people during the harsh months of crisis. ‘winter.
Many Taliban leaders educate their families — including their daughters — in places like Pakistan, Qatar or the United Arab Emirates, according to Graeme Smith, senior consultant for the International Crisis Group’s Asia program, which focuses on Afghanistan.
“The emir’s push for a more conservative set of policies is straining the Taliban’s traditional cohesion,” he said. “The Emir personally wanted a more conservative policy, and he asserted his growing influence by quashing the more pragmatic elements of the Taliban.”

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