These splinter groups have demonstrated their strength recently, with two brazen shootings — one of a high-ranking Taliban leader and the other of a senior member of the Afghan government’s High Peace Council.
That new violence has added to the difficulty of striking a deal with the Taliban as the clock continues to wind down with only two and a half years to go before the planned withdrawal. Failure to figure out all these new players in Afghanistan’s varied ethnic and political groups threatens to plunge the country into more civil strife.
“I am very pessimistic,” said Moeed Yusuf of the US Institute of Peace in Washington.
He warns that Afghanistan seems poised to repeat the devastation of the early 1990s after the Soviet withdrawal. At that time, rival rebel factions previously united against the Soviets turned their guns on each other, killing tens of thousands of civilians and paving the way for the Taliban takeover.
As more decision-makers emerge on the scene, it is becoming more difficult to secure a peace deal that can withstand the test of time, Yusuf said.
“Whatever peace you come up with, I believe it is not sustainable, and I believe we are probably going to see a repeat of the 1990s, where you go for a few years and then it all starts to fall apart,” he said.
The US began the clandestine talks with the Taliban last year, aided by Germany and secretly held in Qatar. A senior US diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the goal for Marc Grossman, Washington’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, was straightforward: Get an Afghan peace deal. That goal has run into a series of problems.
The Taliban broke off talks earlier this year, saying the US reneged on a promise to release Afghan prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. To get the Taliban back to the table, the US last weekend said it was mulling a proposal to transfer some Guantanamo Bay inmates to a prison in Afghanistan. But Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahed told the news agency that the group wants the prisoners freed unconditionally before resuming talks.
In the last six months, the Taliban have had increasingly violent clashes with a militant group called Hizbe Islami, led by warlord Gulbadin Hikmatyar. That fighting escalated to all-out war in some parts of Afghanistan.
Hikmatyar is a former American ally who is now on Washington’s wanted list. The Taliban worry that Hikmatyar’s group, which is close to the government of President Hamid Karzai and has held parallel talks with the Americans, will make its own peace deal. The fissures in the Taliban movement have been further widened by the emergence of the splinter groups opposed to the peace talks.
Here is a look at some of those groups:
— The Jihadi Shura of Mujahedeen for Unity and Understanding. This previously unheard-of group has lashed out at Taliban talks with the United States, urged more war and criticised battlefield skirmishes between the Taliban and other insurgent groups.
Although the group’s size is unknown, its views were put forth in a communique that was circulated in Pakistan’s tribal areas near the border with Afghanistan, suggesting a wide reach among Afghans living near the frontier.
“We consider talks in the presence of the invading crusaders as a conspiracy in the way of the establishment of a real Islamic system, for which millions of sincere youth have embraced martyrdom,” said the communique, a copy of which was acquired by the news agnecy.
— The Dadullah Front. This group is believed to get most of its strength in the Taliban strongholds of southern Helmand and Kandahar provinces. According to Taliban members familiar with the organisation, it is led by Daddi Allah, the brother of Mullah Dadullah, a one-legged Taliban commander who was killed by US forces in 2007.
His death ended a spree of beheadings and kidnappings.
Daddi Allah has threatened to kill pro-peace activists, and he accused the Taliban and its leader, Mullah Omar, of orchestrating the death of his brother.
In May, the Dadullah Front claimed responsibility for killing Maulvi Arsala Rahmani, a member of the government’s High Peace Council and an ex-Taliban member. The group vowed to kill anyone who talked peace while foreign soldiers were still in Afghanistan.
— The Feday-e-Mahaz, or ‘Suicide Brigade’. This group is led by Omar Kitab, who had been aligned with Mullah Dadullah before his death. Kitab was also close to the Taliban military shura until earlier this year, when he broke away following the announcement of talks with the United States.
Rogue Taliban members opposed to talks attacked and nearly killed Agha Jan Motasim, one of the most powerful members of its ruling council and an advocate of a peaceful end to the war. Although no one took responsibility for the attempted assassination, members of either the Dadullah Front or the Suicide Brigade are believed to be behind it. Motasim, seriously wounded in the attack, went to Turkey for treatment and was later threatened with death if he continued to talk to the media.
The United States has watched the tensions grow as both Washington and Kabul have pursued the peace process, said US National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor. “While we are not surprised to see greater splintering among the Taliban, we remain open to talks with those who want peace,” he said.