Top Taliban Leaders Consider Deposing Supremo Akhundzada Over Afghan Women’s Education

Last Updated: January 30, 2023, 19:10 IST

Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada (left) and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. (Reuters/News18 File)

Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada (left) and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. (Reuters/News18 File)

First Deputy Prime Minister Mullah Baradar front-runner as issue of women’s education splits Taliban, a high-level source tells News18

Senior Taliban functionaries are considering deposing supreme leader Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, top sources in Afghanistan said, as mounting frustration on the issue of women’s education threatens to rupture the unity of the government.

First Deputy Prime Minister Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is emerging as the person most likely to supplant Akhundzada if the Amir-ul-Momineen is ousted, a high-level source told News18, emphasizing that the discussions are at an early stage.

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The decision, in December last year, to ban women from universities, has become a flashpoint in the top echelons of the Taliban. As News18 reported, Interior (Home) Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani and Defence Minister Mullah Mohammad Yaqub are not in favour of the crackdown by the hardliners and want the government to reverse course.

But their negotiations with the supreme leader have not borne fruit as Akhundzada is insisting that he will not reverse the ban under international pressure. But Haqqani and Yaqub are unwilling to accept this position, arguing that international support is vital for Afghanistan, the sources said.

“This (Akhundzada’s) is not a logical reason,” a top source said. “High officials are therefore thinking about a solution and how to change the leader.”

The doors of education are shut to women and girls from middle school onwards, and all women in public are required to cover themselves from head to toe in a burqa. Recently, the government also banned women from working in non-governmental organisations which help provide aid in the impoverished country.

Haqqani and Yaqub (the son of Taliban founder Mullah Muhammad Omar), who lead the moderate faction, have been attempting a rapprochement with major foreign powers as they struggle to manage Afghanistan’s shattered economy. Together they control the security forces and hold sway over large swathes of the country.

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One of the options that Taliban officials considered was to have Haqqani as the Amir-ul-Momineen but the interior minister is not interested in the position. Besides, he may not enjoy acceptance in the southern region of Kandahar, which is the Taliban’s headquarters. Yaqub was also considered for the job, but his youth (he is thought to be about 33 years old) went against him. This meant that Baradar has emerged as the likeliest contender for the top post in the Taliban.

It will not be easy to depose the Kandahar-based Akhundzada, though, as he enjoys the support of key governors and has loyalists in several branches of the government. The governors of Kandahar and Khost provinces are thought to be loyal to Akhundzada, and so also some military commanders.

Afghanistan said it had outlawed university education for women because women were dressing ‘improperly’: in the words of the higher education minister, ‘as if they going to a wedding instead of college.’

The ban came in the backdrop of a widening political schism between the moderate and extremist factions of the Taliban. The moderates, led by Haqqani and Yaqub, are pitted against the supreme leader Akhundzada and his allies in the Taliban heartland of Kandahar.

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