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By Abdul Ghani Kakar
QUETTA – The killing of high-profile Afghan Taliban members in Quetta is further confirmation of the ideological differences among militant factions and could foreshadow more difficulties within the group at large, analysts and Taliban members say.
The most recent ones to die were Molvi Abdul Raqib, a refugee affairs minister during the Taliban reign in Afghanistan, who was killed February 17, and Maulana Abdullah Zakri, killed January 29.
Other militant elements who opposed Zakri's ideology and his teaching within the Taliban movement most likely killed him, Zakri's elder son, Abdul Qayum Zakri, told Central Asia Online.
"We have no enemy except those who can't see Afghanistan as a peaceful state...," Zakri said. "The on-going war in Afghanistan is a selective war with foes targeting top religious leaders to eliminate their future political influence."
Last December, two other veteran Afghan Taliban leaders, Mullah Abdul Malik and Noorullah Hotak (the Taliban-era governor of Zabul Province), were killed in Quetta.
"Some Afghan warlords are the main rivals of the Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan," Mohammad Taqi Hanfi, an Afghan-based security analyst, said in offering a theory about who was behind the killings. "They killed several key Taliban local and top leaders in Afghanistan and may also have a hand in the recent killings of Taliban leaders in Pakistan".
Reasons behind the rift
Analysts offered several possible motives for the slayings.
"Taliban Shura members targeted in Quetta had key positions [during the Taliban period in Afghanistan] and feuded internally over command and control and reprisal attacks," Abdul Haleem Moalim, a senior Afghan leader of Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan, told Central Asia Online. "That could be a reason."
Prof. Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Pakistani defence analyst, expounded upon that theory.
"The divisions within the Taliban have ... been worsened by diverging attitudes [among the Taliban] toward the external sponsors who fund them," Rizvi said.
Short-term ramifications of in-fighting
Zakri was considered a close ally of Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Muhammad Omar and was linked with the Taliban's central shura in Quetta, which is responsible for the operational command of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Mamoon, a senior Pakistani intelligence official who identified himself with only one name, told Central Asia Online.
In the shorter term, the recent assassinations could well bode more militant-on-militant deaths.
An unidentified Taliban leader read the Afghan Taliban Shura's message during Zakri's funeral prayer. The killing of Zakri and other senior Taliban leaders will not go unavenged, the shura said in the message.
Zakri's assassination is seen as a great loss, Maulana Asmatullah, head of a Pakistani pro-Taliban religious party, Jamiat Ulama-e-Islam Nazriathi [JUI(N)], said.
"Abdullah Zakri's more than 30 years of influential Islamic teachings will remain alive in the hearts of all Taliban, and one day they will bring to justice" those who killed him, Asmatullah said.
Retaliatory slayings among militants are not unheard of. Late last year, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in North Waziristan. Nasiruddin Haqqani, son of the Haqqani Network (HN)'s founder, was fatally shot days later in Islamabad, apparently by TTP members who accused the HN of disclosing Hakimullah's whereabouts.