Taliban leader confirms infighting and vows revenge, plots to kill Quetta Shura leadership
Mullah Ghulam Hassan, from his videotape.
A senior Taliban commander has issued a scathing statement about the death of Maluvi Mohammad Ismail, the former Deputy Military Council Chairman for the Taliban's Quetta Shura, who was reportedly killed in Taliban infighting last month. Mullah Ghulam Hassan, a senior Taliban commander once based in Ghazni province and a close ally of Ismail, blamed Afghan, Pakistani, and American intelligence agencies for creating divisions among the Taliban.
Hassan also threatened several senior Taliban officials for their part in conspiring against the unity of the Taliban, in a videotaped statement sent to a Pashto news website called Taand on May 10, 2012. It is not exactly clear when the videotape was made. [Click here for video.]
Maluvi Mohammad Ismail, a top Taliban commander in southern Afghanistan who had long been under suspicion by other Taliban for graft, extortion, and robbery, was reportedly arrested by Taliban fighters in April. In early May, former Taliban members and Afghan intelligence officers confirmed that Ismail had been executed by Taliban fighters linked to Pakistani intelligence, for allegedly engaging in backdoor talks with the Afghan Government and for accepting large sums of money to participate in such talks.
In the nearly 28-minute-long interview, titled "Taliban Commander says Mullah Ismail is innocent," Hassan leveled a number of serious charges against the senior Taliban leadership, marking the first time that ferocious infighting among the Quetta Shura's most senior members has been thrust into the media spotlight so publicly.
Hassan accused Mullah Abdul Qayum Zakir, the Military Council Chairman for the Quetta Shura and Ismail's replacement, of orchestrating the kidnapping and torture of Ismail at the discretion of a number of Taliban commanders who had problems with Ismail. In the most daring revelation of the interview, Hassan vowed to avenge the mistreatment and dishonor brought upon him and Mullah Ismail, by killing Zakir and four other top Taliban leaders; including Hafez Majeed Noorzai, a prominent and fearsome old guard Taliban commander from Kandahar province, Mullah Salim Hotaki, and Kamil Tamim.
In March, the Taliban claimed that they had arrested Mullah Ghulam Hassan along with Mullah Ahad Agha from Zabul province. The Taliban accused the two leaders of conspiring with the Afghan government and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) leaders in Afghanistan and accepting unspecified large payments for participating in backdoor peace talks with the Afghan government. In light of the Taliban's claim to have detained him, it is not immediately clear how Ghulam Hassan was able to make his video interview, but reports in March and April confirming Hassan's arrest might have been misinterpreted.
Hassan's videotaped statement rejected all allegations of misconduct against him and Ismail, and he identified Taliban commander Maluvi Sadiqullah as having contacts with the United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) office in Kandahar. Hassan also denied accusations that he had contacts with the Afghan government and that he had mishandled 8 million Pakistani rupees (approximately $88,000). To the contrary, Hassan claimed that he had been instrumental in securing the release of several Taliban commanders from Afghan custody, and blamed Sadiqullah as being one of the conspirators against him and Ismail.
At one point in the videotape, Hassan addressed Taliban members and religious clerics directly, warning them that some senior Taliban officials such as Maluvi Sharafuddin and "some others" were behind this conspiracy against him and Ismail. On April 17, Sharafuddin, the Taliban's shadow governor for Zabul province, was reported to have been gunned down, along with his aide Murad Khan Kamil [possibly Kamil Tamim] and three others, by unknown assassins in the Saro Nasar neighborhood of Quetta, Pakistan.
Conspiracy behind the rift
Hassan claimed that the Taliban have targeted him and Ismail because of their deep knowledge of crimes committed by senior Taliban leadership, including many of those serving as Council Chairmen for the Quetta Shura. Hassan accused Hafiz Majeed, a legendary Taliban commander who once served as the Quetta Shura's Intelligence Chief, of having sold advanced surface-to-air missile platforms, including American "Stinger" missiles, to Western intelligence organizations. It was unclear whether Hassan was implying that Majeed had participated in the "Stinger buy-back" program launched by the US in 2005.
Hassan also claimed to know which Taliban members had been behind the conspiracy to release Ismail Khan, the current Afghan Minister for Water and Energy, from a heavily fortified Taliban prison in Kandahar while the Taliban regime was in power. Khan, a leading anti-Taliban mujahideen commander, was arrested by the Taliban in 1997 and escaped from custody under mysterious circumstances in 1999.
Hassan vowed to disclose the names of those Taliban leaders behind the release of a seven-man Russian cargo plane crew that was captured after being forced to land in Kandahar province in August 1995. The flight crew was supplying lethal aid to the anti-Taliban bloc known as the United Islamic Front when the plane was intercepted by Taliban aircraft and forced to land. The crew members were tortured, starved, and imprisoned for 378 days before they staged a daring escape -- convincing guards to allow them to conduct maintenance on the marooned aircraft -- the ruse gave the crew enough time to quickly power up the cargo jet and take off, eventually reaching safety in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. The incident has long been a source of conspiracy and friction among Taliban factions as a major intelligence and security failure.
Hassan went on to accuse the Quetta Shura and its top leaders of graft and embezzlement, and said that Azizurahman, a Taliban official based in Qatar, was mishandling funds ($2 million) and maintaining links to US intelligence organizations and to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI).
Hassan's lengthy and fiery diatribe against senior Taliban figures and the powerful Quetta Shura is the latest indicator that unity and cohesion among various Taliban factions is in serious jeopardy. The apparent execution of Maluvi Ismail last month, the reported assassination of Maluvi Sharafuddin in Quetta, and now Hassan's vow to hunt down and kill senior Quetta Shura members all reveal a side of Taliban political posturing rarely exposed to outside observers.