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Taliban officials are denying that co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar “was injured or killed in a clash” stemming from his apparent marginalization in the incoming regime, after his withdrawal from the public eye triggered widespread speculation.
“He says it is lies and totally baseless,” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said, touting a recording attributed to the absent chieftain.
Baradar led the militant group’s negotiating team during the United States-Taliban peace talks during President Donald Trump’s tenure, culminating in a deal in which the U.S. agreed to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan and pressured the central government to release 5,000 imprisoned terrorists. Yet when the resurgent Taliban swept into Kabul after a blitz through the country’s provincial capitals, Baradar found himself relegated to the post of deputy prime minister in a government that seemed designed to contain internal rivalries rather than satisfy international demands for an “inclusive” regime.
“It's hard to say who's really going to be wielding the power behind the scenes,” said the Heritage Foundation’s Jeff Smith, a researcher who specializes in South Asia. “We do know that there are different factions in the Taliban ... some of them care more about international recognition than others. Some of them have gotten used to a Western standard of living and are less hard-line on certain issues.”
Baradar reportedly is at odds with the Haqqani Network terrorists who have a long-standing relationship with Pakistani intelligence services and thus represent a crucial link to the Taliban’s main foreign patron.
“Mr. Baradar and Khalil ur-Rahman Haqqani — the minister for refugees and a prominent figure within the militant Haqqani network — had exchanged strong words, as their followers brawled with each other nearby,” the BBC reported. “The row also reportedly stemmed from divisions over who in the Taliban should take credit for their victory in Afghanistan.”
Those tensions seemed apparent when the militants hesitated to unveil its new government for a week after the U.S. exit, a delay that persisted until the visit of a senior Pakistani intelligent official. The homogeneity of the new regime drew criticism from U.S. and European officials, who hope that the desire for foreign aid will induce the Taliban to accede to Western demands about human rights protections and safe passage for Americans and Afghan partners still stranded in the country.
“The country is in so many ways ... fractured among different groups — different ethnic groups, [regions], different outside actors that may be supporting one group or another,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Monday. “Ironically, it would be profoundly in the Taliban's interest to actually put forward a genuinely inclusive and representative government because ... those who are left out [will eventually] try to assert, one way or another, their rights and needs.”
Shaheen, the Taliban spokesman, maintained that Baradar had “issued a voice message” that established his liveliness. "The Taliban has released video that it claims was taken of Baradar at a recent meeting in Afghanistan's southern city of Kandahar," Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Afghanistan affiliate said. "But the footage only shows the back of a man's head."
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Original Author: Joel Gehrke
Original Location: Taliban officials insist co-founder hasn’t been murdered by internal rival