KARACHI: The Afghan Taliban are still maintaining a close relationship with Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) as the faction has become “too big a problem” for the Afghan Taliban to address at present, given their other challenges.

According to a UN Security Council Report, the Afghan Taliban’s proximity to the TTP, whom they consider a part of the “emirate”, could become a regional threat as the faction might provide an umbrella under which militants seeking to avoid the purge by the Afghan Taliban could gather.

The report also called the Afghan Taliban government “highly exclusionary” and “repressive towards all forms of opposition” while also mentioning increased friction between ultra-conservative leaders in Kandahar and officials in Kabul who want to present themselves as “pragmatic and willing to engage internationally”.

The Afghan Taliban have provided safe havens and material and logistical assistance to TTP. Although, they did not support its attacks against Pakistan directly.

Officials in Kabul, hardliners in Kandahar ‘at odds on key issues’

The estimated strength of TTP fighters in Afghanistan was 4,000 to 6,000, based mainly in the eastern provinces of Nangarhar, Kunar, Logar, Paktika, Paktiya and Khost.

Since its ceasefire agreement with the Pakistan government ended in November 2022, TTP has launched more than 100 attacks against Pakistan, said the report by UNSC’s Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team released earlier this month.

While the Afghan Taliban have targeted the IS-K — the group posing the most significant security challenge to the regime since the takeover — it has largely looked the other way when it came to the Al Qaeda of the TTP.

Friction among ranks

The Afghan Taliban leadership is split between two power bases in Kandahar and Kabul.

“The Kandahar group consists primarily of loyalist clerics close to Hibatullah [Akhunzada], while the Kabul-based faction represents the Haqqanis and much of the working de facto Cabinet,” the report stated.

There is a “growing frustration” among officials in Kabul over the centralisation of power in Kandahar and over key policy decisions, such as the ban on girls’ education.

Taliban’s spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid has rejected the reports of strife, calling them baseless and hostile.

In a speech in Feb 2023, Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani criticized the group’s emir, Hibatullah Akhunzada without naming him.

Following the speech, the Afghan Taliban emir heightened his security in Kandahar, removing the Ministry of Interior and General Directorate of Intelligence personnel from his security detail.

“The possibility that Hibatullah might be unable to maintain unity in the medium term remains, setting the conditions for a forced succession in the longer term,” the report stated.

Flowing revenues

The report also shed light on the intricate network of revenue collection which has allowed the Afghan Taliban to maintain the governance structure even though the economy was crippled by foreign sanctions and two-thirds of the population was in need of humanitarian assistance.

“The [Afghan] Taliban have expanded the sophisticated system of taxation developed during its time as an insurgency into a national system of revenue collection, in order to prevent economic collapse.”

The system has benefitted from more transparency in the collection of taxes, customs duties, mineral extraction, new forms of fees on various businesses such as ushr (agricultural tithe) and reduced corruption in cross-border trade.

The inflation declined in February 2023 to 3.5 per cent and Kabul has also paid outstanding electricity, gas and petrol import bills to external suppliers to ensure power supply in the country.

The system has resulted in a revenue collection of 193.9 billion Afghanis ($2.2 billion) between February 2022 and March 2023, as reported by the World Bank.

The majority of the revenue was collected from three sources; the Revenue Department, Customs, and non-tax revenue in the form of fees from other government agencies.

The Afghan Taliban are using cryptocurrency to support their activities, while also relying on cash alternatives like prepaid cards, and bank and gift cards.

Other sources of Taliban funding include the cultivation of cannabis (hemp) and its manufacture into hashish, producing an annual revenue of $150m, as well as increased production of methamphetamine.

Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2023

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