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By Farzad Lameh
KABUL – Afghanistan has seen an increase in violence attributed to a growing divide between Taliban commanders and their fighters, the Afghanistan National Directorate of Security [NDS] said March 17.
“Due to the disobedience by lower-level fighters of orders from the Quetta and Peshawar councils as well as from the Haqqani network, significant disagreements have appeared,” NDS spokesman Lotfullah Mashal said.
In 2010, militant attacks increased by 28% compared to 2009, according to a UN report, “Annual Report 2010: Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict.”
“The Taliban in co-ordination with al-Qaeda have increased their suicide attacks in order to hide their failures,” Mashal said, attributing a growing number of suicide attacks to the Taliban leadership’s orders because everyday fighters have been refusing to attack Afghan and coalition forces.
In February, mid-level Taliban commanders in Pakistan admitted in media reports that they were often hesitant about following orders to carry out Afghan attacks.
Even though some segments of the militancy have seemed to part ways with the Taliban, other extremists are entering Afghanistan.
Airstrikes in North and South Waziristan, for example, have forced Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) fighters to flee to Afghanistan.
“We have arrested citizens of Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan who were working for the Taher Uldash terrorist group and the (IMU) based in North Waziristan,” Mashal said. “They were commuting to Kunduz, Takhar and other parts of northern Afghanistan regularly.”
In the past few months, hundreds of militants have renounced violence and joined the peace process across Afghanistan. This, too is another sign of internal differences, officials said.
“Most Taliban fighters have realised that the ongoing fight is an imposed war on Afghans and (has nothing to do with) Islam and God, so they are now renouncing the violence,” Gul Badshah Majeedi, a member of the Afghan parliament, said. “And this can absolutely cause a rift between Taliban fighters and their leaders.”
“In some cases, they have had armed clashes,” he added.
One of the most noted clashes began with the February 2010 arrest of the Afghan Taliban’s top deputy commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, in Pakistan. By summer two new deputies to Mullah Omar were fighting each other to fill his shoes and lead the fighters in Afghanistan.
In June, militants loyal to the deputies, Mullah Abdul Qayum Zakir and Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor, fought each other in a protracted battle that claimed dozens of lives.
In yet another incident, a meeting of Taliban leaders in December resulted in a knife fight; no guns had been allowed into the meeting.
“Killing of civilians could be a significant reason for disagreement between the Taliban fighters,” Majeedi said. “Some of them oppose targeting civilians, but some of them are still doing it.”
In 2010, 2,777 Afghan civilians died in combat and terror-related activity. Three-fourths of the deaths were attributed to anti-government elements, the UN report said.
Another cause of the rift is tied to the influx of foreign fighters,” Homeland Development Party leader Asef Baktash said.
“Those foreigners … disrespect the Afghan culture, and it has caused an increasing disagreement among militants,” Majeedi said. “In southern Afghanistan, it happened that foreign fighters have attacked the Afghan army but let the international troops go.”
“I think a rift between the Taliban could put an end to this movement since non-coordination destroys the foundations,” Baktash said.
And if the Taliban continue killing civilians, they will become even more reviled in society, he added.