Future of Taliban leadership; what are the possibilities and scenarios?
It is unlikely that there will be a succession crisis for the current leadership of the Taliban, and the group have had a distinctive track record in this regard. Using past experiences, the Taliban leaders most likely will consider the political unity and solidarity of the Taliban as a "superior interest" and as a vital principle in the way of selecting the successor of Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada. So, they will think of a solution in advance to prevent any kind of disagreement in the selection of the leader's successor. Accordingly, it is likely that the Taliban leadership, along with the large Loya Jirga of Afghan religious scholars, which is usually held from time to time, will determine in advance the scope, activity limit and mechanism of the Ahl Al-Hall wa Al-Aqd for selecting a successor to the Taliban leadership.
By: Abdulrahim Kamel
The leader’s position in the Taliban structure
A Mono-structural and authoritarian system that do not have a relationship with the people, and the public has no role in appointing its officials is usually inflexible and is managed only on the basis of power.
In some forms of religious-traditional systems, such as the desired system of the Taliban, the two legal principles of "acquiring legitimacy" and "distribution of power" do not exist at all. In the political metaphysics and theological approach of the Taliban religious system, the basic principle of "religious democracy", as a contemporary theological and legal issue, is considered an innovation. This is why in the political words of the Taliban, people are only in the position of implementing the religious decrees of the government and have no legal and theological position to grant legitimacy to the ruler and have no legal share in power.
It is obvious that this formula is not a religious rule, and only related to the Taliban's perception of the religion; because, for instance in Iran, there is a religious government whose elements are all directly or indirectly elected by the people.
The only legal rule that is used today by absolute religious governments, like the Taliban, and is based on the traditions of the predecessor rulers (of course, this reference is also the point of discussion), is the Delegation Rule. According to the Delegation Rule, the ruler and religious leader grants authority to the officials of the executive and judicial departments on a temporary basis and with special conditions, according to his discretion and occasional needs. According to this point of view, whenever that official lacks special terms or conditions, that authority is automatically taken away from him, and whenever the ruler wills, he will withdraw that temporary authority from him, which in both cases, there is no legal and Shariah basis for objection.
From this point of view, two things are absolutely certain: First, in the words and political view of the Taliban, monopoly of the power and authority of the Sharia Ruler is an inherent principle, and delegation of authority to government officials is a lateral matter and an exception to that general rule. Second, the legal principle of "attorney or representation" has no place in the Taliban's religious government system, and under the title of western democracy, it is a heresy and lacks religious legitimacy. This is why that in the Taliban government, no one can ever get legal legitimacy based on public vote and start making laws.
The manner of the Taliban's governance over the past year shows that in the political structure of the Taliban, the head of the pyramid of power is held by Amirul Momineen (Commander of the Faithful). The Prime Minister is also appointed by the Amirul Momineen. But the authority of the Prime Minister only delegated to him by Amirul Momineen, and he himself does not have the right to appoint and delegate authority to any government official. That is why all officials are introduced by the proposal of the prime minister, and they are appointed and delegated authority only by the order of the Amirul Momineen. The judiciary branch is independent from the executive branch; it is under the leadership of Amirul Momineen and is a symbol of his spiritual and religious power. The head of the judiciary is directly appointed by Amirul Momineen and does not need the approval of any judicial council.
The Taliban government, both in the previous government and in the new one, has not shown interest in drafting the constitution. Because the nature of the constitution is that it defines and limits the rights and duties of the people and the ruler, determines the position and power of the government leadership, and determines how to distribute power and competences horizontally and vertically in the government structure. But according to the religious-traditional view of the Taliban, the position of Amirul Momineen and his governmental power is above the law and above the will of the people.
In addition to the views and general rules that the religious leaders of the Taliban have about the governance and the authority of the religious ruler, last year at the same time as the political disputes between the Haqqani network and the factions of Mullah Haibatullah and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar were raised by the media, a book entitled The Islamic Emirate and Its Systems was published by Abdul Hakim Haqqani, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Taliban. At the beginning of the book, an introduction was written by Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, which was a kind of seal of approval on the content of the book.
Although some analysts believe that the purpose of the book is to clarify the position of the government for the people, it seems that the book is seeking to show authority of the faction of Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban leader, to some of the Taliban factions in the leadership structure of the Islamic Emirate, who are either seeking to impose the caliphate on the Emirate or intend to oppose the leadership of the Emirate.
According to the orders of this book, the ruler is legitimized by force, and protesting against the ruler is not permissible, and anyone who opposes the leader, deserves to be punished by death as an outlaw. It is stated in the book that the ruler is permanent, immorality and corruption do not cause the removal of the ruler, and he is dismissed only if he turns into an infidel and apostate. The ruler has the authority to hand over the government to the person of his choice after himself, and any objection to it is forbidden by Sharia and results in being killed. According to the orders of this book, women and the general public have no role in choosing the ruler. Based on the book, there is no law except the rules of Sharia, and because the ruler is a religious authority, his words are the law. Perhaps this is the reason why the decrees of the government of the Islamic Emirate of the Taliban are now published as the decrees of Amirul Momineen and are binding.
This book and especially its introduction, which has been written by "Amirul Momineen" Haibatullah, conveys that in the Islamic system of the Taliban, the Amirul Momineen is an executive, legislative, and judicial official who can neither be elected (because the Ahl Al-Hall wa Al-Aqd recognizes his competence, and he becomes Amirul Momineen because of this recognition, not because of election by the people) nor can be dismissed. The rest of the structure of the government, the way they interact with the people, and the way they deal with the country's issues are done according to his discretion and orders.
It can be said that this book is the result of the Taliban's theoretical efforts for more than a year ago, in order to configure theoretically the political system and the position of the government leadership. If the Taliban wants to draft a constitution in the distant future, it will probably be based on the rules and principles of this book.
The possibility of changing the nature of leadership from ideological to political
The Taliban is a very pragmatic group and does not put any theory or law in the way of its political behavior, which might be cumbersome later. That is why the Taliban leaders answer all the key questions based on two general and vague rules: "Sharia rules" and "ethnic values", which are very general and interpretive in nature. These two rules are the basis of the legitimacy of all the actions and decisions of the Taliban. This is why that recently, the Taliban easily justified that the education of teenage girls is against the values and ethnic culture of Afghanistan and should be postponed until the next order, in spite of the insistence of great Hanafi scholars about the legitimacy of girls' education.
The pragmatism and lack of theory and codified rules in the Taliban system, have caused some analysts to refer to completely abstract sources, and by considering the Taliban as a pure Islamic movement, compare it with the standards and behaviors of the past religious regimes. The results of this type of research do not match so much with the realities in Afghanistan.
Those who have studied the Taliban movement from a sociological point of view and are closely familiar with the social contexts of Afghanistan, consider the Taliban as an ethnic group with tribal characteristics before considering it as a purely ideological group. In this view, Taliban is a social group with "tribal mentality" and "religious belief." According to this approach, the Taliban is an ethnic group consists of the large Pashtun tribe in Afghanistan, which has sought to take over “all” political power in Afghanistan in both periods of its rule.
From this point of view, the political style and tradition of Afghan kings, especially the nostalgia of Zahir Shah's reign in Afghanistan, is one of the clear images of the Afghan governance style for the Taliban. In this kind of governance, absolute power is in the hands of Pashtuns, and the Tajik, Uzbek and other minorities have not had the opportunity to participate in political power even despite having the common Hanafi religion. The Taliban’s interest for the revival of the constitution of the Zahir Shah era during the peace talks in Qatar, was also for this reason. In terms of religion, the Hanafi School is introduced as the only official religion of Afghanistan in Zahir Shah's constitution.
Experts who are closely familiar with the social culture, language and mentalities of the native Taliban and pro-Taliban Pashtuns, and have experienced living together with them, understand well that the monopoly of power in the Taliban government is a completely indigenous and ethnic phenomenon and desire. So, for the Taliban, accepting the proposal of the participation of other ethnic groups and religions in the form of an inclusive government in Afghanistan, which is now proposed by the countries of the region, is like drinking a cup of poison.
With this realistic approach in the analysis of the Taliban movement, it can be realized that the Taliban is a completely rural-social movement with its ethnic nature and essence, which has entered the political game of Afghanistan and the region by the intelligence sources of the region and the world.
Compared to other Afghan political and military groups, Taliban is the only political group that has used violence in political developments and gaining power in Afghanistan, and skillfully could legitimize this violence through religious ideology. In the past twenty years, the Afghan government and the political and jihadist factions of Afghanistan have legitimized their political behavior with Sharia rules, but the Taliban has turned Sharia rules into an ideology in accordance with their decisive behavior. The leaders of the Taliban knew that extreme and radical behavior is not justified by the general rules of Sharia, and that they have an urgent and vital need to make Sharia ideological.
With this realistic point of view, the nature of the Taliban movement is shaped by ethnicity, and its appearance is shaped by religious ideology. Therefore, by abandoning the ideological sharia, the Taliban has no justification for its political behavior, nor can it keep its soldiers more convinced, motivated and coherent. The Taliban leaders understand that as much as they needed ideological determination during the war, they are more in need of ideological sharia during the period of establishment and fighting against anti- Taliban rebels. Otherwise, the leadership of the Taliban cannot interpret any opposition to the Taliban as a "disobedience and rebellion against Amirul Momineen", and declare the blood of such a rebellion permissible.
The Taliban can only change from ideological leadership to political leadership in two ways. First, is to have a powerful and technical army that no longer needs native soldiers and general mobilization, and second is that all its behavior and government mechanism is regulated based on the laws and policies of the modern nation-state, which no longer needs any ideological justification. Therefore, the possibility of changing the manner and character of the Taliban leadership from ideological to political seems unlikely until the emergence of the second generation of Taliban rule.
Leadership alternatives after Mullah Haibatullah
To choose a leader in the Taliban system, four basic issues should be considered. First of all, the evidence clearly shows that the intelligence powers of the region and the world, including the United States, Arab countries, and Pakistan, played a role both in the creation of the Taliban group in 1990s, and in the re-establishment of the group. So, the involvement of these factors in the selection of Mullah Haibatullah's successor is also possible. Second, the Taliban are a religious-tribal group that have no special experience in governance, and only have some general teachings and perceptions of the history of early caliphs of Islam and the way Mujahideen governed in the 1990s.
Third, the experience and history of political life in Afghanistan clearly testifies that in order to gain a leadership position and ensure its durability in the structure of the Afghan government, two elements play a decisive role and are considered as the main factors: ethnicity, and the support of external powers.
Fourth, the leadership selection mechanism has a very decisive role in how to choose the successor of Amirul Momineen. The formation of the Ahl Al-Hall wa Al-Aqd council to elect the Amirul Momineen and his successor, is one of the religious and political traditions of Afghanistan, and the Taliban have considered this as certain. During the Mujahideen government in 1990s, Burhanuddin Rabbani was elected instead of Sibghatullah Mujadidi through the same Ahl Al-Hall wa Al-Aqd council. The function of the Ahl al-Hall wa Al-Aqd council is similar to The Assembly of Experts in Iran, with the difference that it is without codified laws and policies, and operates with tribal criteria and the simple historical model of the Saqifa Council in the history of Islam, which unlike a big national election, it can be easily controlled or directed.
Despite the political power and physical health of Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada the current leader of the Taliban, However, if something happens to him, figures such as Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Mullah Yaqoob, Mullah Abdul Hakim Haqqani and Sirajuddin Haqqani are currently more likely to succeed him.
The Taliban group is led by different intellectual and political factions, and each of them have a deep-rooted position among their supporters.
Traditional Mullahs who have a wide position and influence among the Pashtun people and often have large madrassas and Darul Ulooms (an Islamic seminary or educational institution similar to madrassa or Islamic school), have intellectual and political connections with the range of Kandahari leaders who are somehow close to Mullah Omar, the founder of the Taliban. After the US military attack on Afghanistan, these leaders established the Quetta Council under the leadership of Mullah Omar. Currently, the leadership pyramid of the emirate, the executive branch, the judiciary, the army and the intelligence service of the Taliban government is in the hands of the leaders of this council, which include Mullah Haibatullah as Amirul Momineen, Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund as the prime minister, Mullah Baradar as the first deputy prime minister, Mullah Yaqoob as the commander of the Taliban military, and Mullah Abdul Haq Vassiq, as the head of the Taliban intelligence service.
Compared to all Taliban leaders, Mullah Abdul Hakim Haqqani is more of a jurisprudential and scientific figure, and like Mullah Haibatullah himself, he has spent most of his life in judging, teaching and managing religious seminaries in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Although he was chosen as the leader of the Taliban negotiating team at the last stage of the peace talks between the Taliban and the United States in Qatar, he could never find another powerful position in the political and military fields in the Taliban structure, except for the religious and judicial position. Even though he himself was the leader of the negotiating team, he entrusted the signing of the political agreement to Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. This means that conservative figures never encroach on the sphere of influence of big rivals, and prefer more hassle-free situations.
In addition to his position as a judge in the Taliban Emirate, Mullah Abdul Hakim is now a trusted advisor for Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada. Despite this, politics has its own factors in the ethnic and traditional society of Afghanistan, and plays a more decisive role than the scientific and religious status of individuals. Hence, it seems very unlikely that Mullah Abdul Hakim Haqqani will put himself among the contenders to succeed the Taliban leadership and risk his life.
The second person from the leadership of Quetta Council, who has a traditional and popular position among the Pashtun people is Mullah Yaqoob, the son of Mullah Omar, the founder of the Taliban movement. It is natural that all supporters of the Taliban movement and thought, support him as the survivor of Mullah Omar's family and are emotionally attached to him. He is now the Minister of Defense of the Taliban government. But according to the tribal and religious spirit of the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, he is very young and his experience has been mostly in military warfare and battles in recent years; and even though it is said that he has received religious training, he is still not a doyen of the tribe, nor has he emerged as a prominent religious scholar. In the religious Ahl Al-Hall wa Al-Aqd council, these options can be observed as prominent criteria and should not be confused with the Loya Jirga in Afghanistan.
The third most powerful figure in the Quetta Council and in the leadership structure of the current Taliban government is Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the deputy prime minister of the Taliban government. He is one of the main founders of the Taliban movement. Mullah Omar called him “Baradar"(brother) because of his close relationship with Mullah Abdul Ghani.
If we consider the two principles of military and political power as the cause of the Taliban regaining power, Mullah Baradar was undoubtedly the most important political figure who, with his active diplomacy in Doha and the conclusion of a political agreement with the United States, caused the withdrawal of the United States, the collapse of the republic system, and the revival of the Islamic Emirate. In Afghanistan, he is known as a flexible, relatively nationalist and broad-minded person who is in favor of connecting with the Western world and getting Afghanistan out of political isolation. Obviously, he is in favor of some changes in the approach and behavior of the Taliban to align the Taliban with contemporary requirements and the demands of the international community.
Currently,the most powerful rival of the Quetta Council in the leadership structure of the Taliban government is the Haqqani network led by Sirajuddin Haqqani. In the political history of Afghanistan, Pashtuns based on their culture, dialect, traditions and political leadership are divided into two large social groups: southern Pashtuns and eastern ones. After inheriting all the party power and position of his father, Sirajuddin Haqqani formed the Miranshah Council in Waziristan, Pakistan. In 2007, facing the opposition of the powerful figures of the Quetta Council such as Mullah Baradar and Mullah Mansour, he sought political bargaining with regional powers including Russia, China, Pakistan, and other regional countries, especially Arab countries, and according to official reports, he raised about 66 million dollars from private donors in Saudi Arabia in 2008 alone. After declaring the autonomy of the Miranshah Council in the form of the Haqqani network, he stopped implementing the orders of the Quetta Council, and fought completely independently against the Afghan government and America, with the most violent guerrilla tactics and suicide bombings.
Finally in 2015, the Quetta Council merged with the Haqqani network by granting the position of first deputy leader of the Taliban to Sirajuddin Haqqani. This is why that Sirajuddin Haqqani’s followers have given him the title of Caliph and see him as a charismatic figure due to his hard fighting activities. Considering the military activities of Haqqani network, this hypothesis is more justifiable that if the Taliban group had not reached an agreement and alliance with this network, it would no longer have the ability to regain power after the defeat in 2001. Haqqani was the deputy of the Taliban group for many years, and now he is the interior minister of the Taliban government, and all the police forces, provincial governors and district governors throughout the geography of Afghanistan are under the rule and control of this network. This group has taken responsibility for the most terrible attacks of the Taliban in the last twenty years in Afghanistan, especially the suicide attacks. In terms of regional politics, the Haqqani network is known as one of the main allies of Pakistan's military and intelligence institutions.
Under these circumstances, the competition for Mullah Haibatullah’s succession is between two different political factions in the body of the Taliban system rather than among individuals. The Haqqani network has contented itself with Sirajuddin Haqqani as the only charismatic leader. It is possible for this council to form an intra-faction coalition in which Abdul Hakim Haqqani will be given the responsibility of the country's judicial and religious sector, Mullah Yaqoob will be given the responsibility of the army and the country's military power, and the leadership and political leadership of the Taliban Emirate will be entrusted to Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. But these mechanisms are not sufficient alone. As we said above, in the process of its formation, re-governance and survival, the Taliban have had a close relationship with the intelligence powers of the region and the world. Therefore, relying only on their internal and factional power, the Taliban cannot assume the leadership of the government, nor can they maintain their government and leadership. The political history of Afghanistan has many bitter experiences of such political ups and downs.
The current government of the Taliban overthrew the previous government of Afghanistan in a political agreement with the US, and currently a large part of the Taliban leadership is trying to establish a positive interaction with the US government. Meanwhile, Sirajuddin Haqqani the leader of the Haqqani network, extended a hand of friendship to America last year and officially announced that he no longer sees America as an enemy. But in the past year, he failed to gain the trust of America and there was practically no agreement between the US and the Haqqani network. Meanwhile, the US killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, the "al-Qaeda leader", and practically announced that the Haqqani network hosted the leader of al-Qaeda as the leader of an anti-American terrorist network. So, efforts to reach a political agreement between Sirajuddin Haqqani and the United States were practically unsuccessful. It seems that the main reason for America's lack of trust in the Haqqani network is the extensive and complex connection of Haqqanis with the regional powers in the last twenty years. On the contrary, since the political agreement talks between the US and the Taliban, the US government has found a familiar and common language with the Quetta Council and Mullah Baradar himself. While imposing sanctions and blacklisting the Haqqani network, American political and intelligence officials have continued their secret meetings with the political and intelligence leaders of the Quetta Council, including Mullah Baradar and Mullah Yaqoob, in Qatar and even in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the performance of the American and Pakistani governments is based on their common interests, and therefore the rules of the game may change based on the future developments of Afghanistan and the region - as it happened in the past.
The possibility of a succession crisis in the Taliban leadership
Despite intra-ethnic disputes, such as Duranis and Ghiljis disputes, as well as intellectual differences in different Taliban ranges, one should not exaggerate the Taliban's political and military disputes and fall into unrealistic assumptions. In its macro political and military structure, the Taliban is the most united and coherent group that has appeared so far in the contemporary political history of Afghanistan.
The evidence shows that the Taliban has maintained its intra-organizational unity, except for some disagreements with few marginal groups and non-Pashtun commanders in the Taliban system (and to some extent purifying them). Therefore, it is very unlikely that the Taliban regime will experience internal conflicts in the coming years.
The distribution of power after the military victory and political establishment in 1990s, made the Afghan Mujahideen caught up in internal conflicts, which eventually led to bloody civil wars. With this historical experience, in the resurgence of the Taliban, government positions have been distributed in a way that has satisfied all the main factions of the Taliban.
In addition, the Taliban leaders are fully aware that if there is no fair distribution of power among different factions of the Taliban and if an intra-group conflict occur for gaining the seat of power and government positions, all the religious and ideological legitimacy of the Taliban's jihadism among the people and the rank and file soldiers of the Taliban will be seriously questioned.
From this point of view, the possibility of a succession crisis for the current leadership of the Taliban seems very unlikely, and the Taliban has a distinguished track record in this regard. Mullah Omar remained the undisputed leader until the end of his life, and after that, Mullah Akhtar Mansour was elected as his successor. Only a small group under the command of Mullah Rasool opposed the selection of Mullah Akhtar Mansour, which was suppressed by the entire Taliban group. In the selection of Mullah Haibatullah as the successor of Mullah Mansour, also, any opposition was prevented by selection of Sirajuddin Haqqani as the first deputy.
According to past experiences, it is highly likely that the Taliban leaders consider the political unity and solidarity of the Taliban as the "superior interest" and as a vital principle in the way of selecting the successor of Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, and think of a solution in advance to prevent any kind of disagreement in the selection of the leader's successor.
Therefore, it is likely that the Taliban leadership, along with the large Loya Jirga of Afghanistan scholars which is usually held from time to time, will determine in advance the scope and activity limit of the Ahl Al-Hall wa Al-Aqd Council and its mechanism for selecting a successor to the Taliban leadership, through a special decree.
In addition, if the Taliban sooner or later agrees to draft and ratify the constitution, then all mechanisms, conditions and methods of selecting the successor of the Taliban leadership will be collectively approved with the agreement of all the different factions of the Taliban; In this way, the occurrence of any kind of succession crisis in this group will be ruled out.
 A council with those qualified to elect or depose a leader on behalf of the Muslim community.