By Mrityunjoy Kumar Jha
New Delhi, June 24: Taliban factions are feuding with each other over control over coal mines, after demand for coal in neighbouring Pakistan surged due to hike in oil and gas prices.
The Pushtun-dominated Taliban mainstream is being challenged by Hazara commander Maulavi Mehdi Mujahid. The bad blood between the two became public in April after the Taliban fired Mujahid from his post of Intelligence chief in the Bamiyan province. The Hazaras have been traditionally close to Iran, a leader of the Shia sect among Muslims.
While there is a layer of sectarian rivalry in the infighting within the Taliban, it is money generated by selling coal that seems to be at the root of the crisis.
Unsurprisingly, after his sacking, Mehdi declared war against the Taliban. Initially, the Taliban ignored his threats but as the fighting spread, the group's leadership sent a few top officials to reason with him. But that effort at negotiations yielded little results.
'We are not extremists and do not accept oppression and cruelty. As you can see, a number of Taliban delegations have recently arrived. We talked about friendship and brotherhood but they refused. We did not want anything but brotherhood, equality and social justice. We want an inclusive system,' said Mujahid in his video message which was posted on social media.
Mujahid claims that he represents the millions of Afghan Hazara and Shia communities.
'Either give us our rights. If you don't give that, we don't fear war,' he declared. Mujahid has dug his heels in his stronghold in the Balkhab district of Sar-e-Pul province of Afghanistan, along with thousands of his armed supporters. The faction leader also accused Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Interior Minister of the Taliban for attacking Shia mosques.
'The perpetrators of the bombings in Shiite mosques are the Haqqani network. I have credible documents and evidence and will make them available to the media and the public soon,' said Mujahid.
To suppress the uprising by Hazaras, the Taliban has dispatched thousands of troops to Balkhab. According to Afghan media, a possible clash might start between the Taliban and Mujahid very soon.
According to Afghan experts, Mujahid was appointed as a shadow governor of Balkhab in 2020 by the Taliban as they wanted the support of the Hazara community to show to the world that they are representing a large part of Afghanistan.
According to Bilal Sarwary, an Afghan journalist, the main reason for the Taliban's rift with Mahdi is over the proceeds of coal mines in Balkhab. There has been a hike in demands for coal in Pakistan after the energy prices went up and the decade-long unmet energy shortages in Pakistan. Since the collapse of the previous regime, Pakistani businesses flocked to the north to reap the spoils of an unregulated market and all the coal from the mines in northern Afghanistan is now being exported to Pakistan at dirt-cheap prices.
'Mahdi pockets around 60 million in Afghani currency a day from Balkhab mines. He turned Balkhab into an economic power hub creating economic activities for the locals and the surrounding areas and collecting taxes that he does not share with Kabul.'
According to Afghan experts, this helped Mujahid garner support from local communities. Taliban's ploy to offer him a job in Kabul is to gain access to the proceeds of the mines and thwart a possible challenge to their rule from within in the future.
Contrary to the Taliban's claim that an atmosphere of calm and security prevails in Afghanistan, there has rumblings against their rule in some parts of the country. For instance, the National Resistance Front (NRF), headed by Ahmad Massoud—the son of the legendary Commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, has revolted in the Panjshir Valley.
Earlier this year, Makhdoom Alam, a senior Uzbek Taliban commander in the northern Afghan province of Faryab was arrested by the Taliban for raising the issue of inclusiveness in national governance.
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