In mid-April 2001, approximately five months prior to the most significant event of the year, the death of Mullah Mohammad Rabbani, Prime Minister of the Taliban, occurred in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Despite the fact that individuals such as Abdul Ghani Baradar, Mullah Obaidullah, and Mullah Hassan were renowned and competent within the Taliban Emirate, Mawlawi Abdul Kabir, who was neither from Kandahar nor one of the founders of the Taliban group, was appointed as the successor of the head of the Taliban Council of Ministers. His tenure lasted until the middle of November of the same year and the conclusion of the first emirate of the Taliban, with Mullah Hassan serving as his deputy.
In August 2021, the Taliban unexpectedly assumed control of the Afghan government without adequate preparation, as Mullah Baradar acknowledged in one of his initial speeches that the group was not prepared to take over the government. Mullah Hibatullah also stated in one of his speeches that after signing the Doha Agreement, he had not anticipated that the government of the republic would collapse and the Taliban would govern the country. Due to this confusion and the occurrence of an unforeseen event, the appointment of the prime minister and his deputies took more than three weeks and there were numerous disputes between the contenders for those positions. The head of the Taliban’s Kabul office was appointed as a result of the mediation of the Taliban’s “foreign friends” and the presence of the head of Pakistan’s intelligence for a few days.
On September 4th, General Faiz Hamid, the Director General of the Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), arrived in Kabul. Three days later, Mullah Hassan was appointed as Prime Minister, with Mullah Baradar and Abdul Salam Hanafi as his deputies. At that time, there was no indication of Mawlawi Abdul Kabir’s involvement. During the power struggle, Sirajuddin Haqqani, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Mullah Yaqob Mujahid, and Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada and their associates were taking control of the ministries.
Approximately one month after the appointments, on October 4, 2021, Mawlawi Abdul Kabir visited the presidential palace, becoming the third deputy of Mulla Hassan Akhund. This delay does not indicate a lack of influence or marginalization of Mawlawi Kabir, as numerous reports and documents demonstrate that he is a trusted actor of some foreign countries and a prominent figure within the Taliban. He is one of the few people who can be somewhat acceptable and act as a “connection point” between Pakistan, the United States, and the main spectrums of power within the Taliban.
Mawlawi Abdul Kabir’s appointment as the third deputy of Mullah Hassan appears to have been made in order to manage the tensions in the Arg (former Presidential Palace of Afghanistan) and avert the confrontation of the main power contenders. Mullah Baradar, Mullah Hassan’s first deputy, was one of the main parties in the power struggle, and many in Kabul and Rawalpindi did not want him to exploit Mullah Hassan’s disability and illness to become the primary figure in the Arg. Mullah Hassan’s second deputy, Mawlawi Abdul Salam Hanafi, was unable to take Mullah Baradar’s place due to his ethnic affiliation. Mawlawi Abdul Kabir, who had been the head of Mullah Hassan for some time, had strong connections with Rawalpindi and Kandahar, longstanding ties with the Americans and Qataris, and was of the same tribe as Khalifa Haqqani, making him a suitable choice for the Taliban stronghold. Although he was introduced as the third deputy, he was actually the first deputy of Mullah Hassan. The portion of the Arg that was allocated to him during his deputyship further supports this possibility. In his book “Return of the Taliban”, Hassan Abbas wrote, quoting someone from within the Taliban, that the powerful Taliban administration in Kabul had divided the Arg into four parts among themselves, and whenever an employee moved from one part to another, they were treated like outsiders and subjected to a body search. A portion of the Arg was in the possession of Mullah Hassan, with the other parts being owned by Sirajuddin Haqqani, Mawlawi Abdul Kabir, Mullah Yaqob, and Mullah Baradar.
The Haqqani Network and Mawlawi Abdul Kabir
Mawlawi Abdul Kabir, a fellow tribesman of Sirajuddin Haqqani and native of Neka district in the northeast of Paktika, which borders Zadran district, the birthplace of Jalaluddin Haqqani, has found his tribal affiliation to be both a blessing and a curse. Born in Baghlan province, he initially used his tribal ties to the Haqqanis to enter politics, but when he sought to form his own independent circle in the southern provinces, the area of influence of the Haqqanis, he encountered the obstacle of the Haqqani network’s power. The distance between Mawlawi Abdul Kabir’s family and his father’s region has prevented him from travelling to those provinces as the Haqqanis do. During the first Taliban regime, Abdul Kabir mostly acted as a high-ranking agent and lacked the military force or influence to challenge the Haqqanis. He began his work by gaining the trust of Mullah Omar and Jalaluddin Haqqani and was considered one of the most connected circles of the Taliban and the Haqqani network.
Under the leadership of Abdul Kabir, the government of Nangarhar and the head and deputy head of the Council of Ministers had made him a prominent and politically ambitious person until the end of the first round of the Taliban emirate. During the first decade of the insurgency against the Islamic Republic, Kabir had attempted to create a council parallel to the Quetta council in Paktia, Paktika, and Khost. However, the Taliban leadership and their supporters in Pakistan did not allow Kabir to operate in the area of Haqqani influence, thus leading to the establishment of the Peshawar Council for Kabir. With the support of Pakistani advisers, four councils were formed for the distribution of resources, the sphere of influence, and war management. The Quetta Council, led by Mullah Baradar, had missions in Kandahar, Uruzgan, Zabul, Farah, Nimroz, and parts of Helmand. The Miram Shah Council, led by Sirajuddin Haqqani, operated in Paktia, Paktika, Khost, and parts of Nangarhar, Logar, Wardak, Ghazni, and Kabul. The Peshawar Council was active in Nangarhar, Kunar, Laghman, Nuristan, Logar, Kabul, Wardak, and North-East (Badakhshan, Baghlan, and Kunduz).
The influence of the Peshawar and Miram Shah councils were intertwined in some areas, allowing them to substitute for one another if necessary. Consequently, it is probable that the Peshawar Council was viewed as a pressure tool to regulate the Miram Shah Council as well as a potential alternative to the Haqqani network in Rawalpindi, just as both of these councils were a means of pressure on the Quetta Council and its potential alternative. By generating competition and managing division among the Taliban and preserving the plurality of decision-making and war centers, Pakistan retained the initiative for itself.
Mawlawi Abdul Kabir and Pakistan
Prior to the media’s publication of news regarding Abdul Kabir’s efforts to create an independent council in July 2005, news of his arrest in Pakistan had already been reported. The Xinhua News Agency quoted local sources as saying that Mawlawi Abdul Kabir and four of his senior colleagues had been arrested in the Nowshera district of the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). In an interview with the media, Shaikh Rashid, the Minister of Information and Culture of Pakistan, stated that he was unaware of Kabir’s arrest, however, Xinhua, citing local sources, provided the names and details of all those arrested, the location of the arrest, and the owner of the building where the Taliban officials were arrested. Pakistan did not hand over Kabir to the Americans and the Afghan government, rather, it appears that the detention was a prelude or a cover for his employment on the eastern front. A year after the incident, Kabir ventured into the field to establish a council parallel to the Quetta Council. Initially, he attempted to start from Paktia, but then he was directed to the eastern route and became the owner of the Peshawar council.
The Peshawar Council was the most effective product of Rawalpindi at the time, having been formed almost from nothing with the complete initiative of the military and intelligence cadres of the Taliban. The Quetta Council carried the tradition of the Taliban Emirate with it, and included influential commanders with well-established tactics, relationships, and working methods. Despite the fact that Miram Shah’s council was created by Pakistani generals, it still carried the heritage of the Jihad era and the experienced and established leaders of the Haqqani family. However, the Peshawar Council, which was headed by a civilian without extensive influence and network within the country, was restructured to meet the needs of the day.
Experts believe that the Peshawar Council was highly effective in altering the war tactics and reorganizing the organizational structure and command hierarchy of the Taliban to suit the new situation, eventually becoming a model for all the fronts of the Taliban. In an article written for the Texas National Security Review in 2018, Theo Farrell examined the changes in the Taliban’s war tactics and the modulation of their methods of military activity, asserting that the Peshawar Council had the most significant influence in this regard. According to Farrell, prior to 2008, the Taliban were engaging in a frontal manner, and due to the war traditions left over from the war against the Soviet forces, there was no effective local organizational system and hierarchy on the war front. The main war tactics employed were laying mines, ambushing military convoys, and operations on military bases. Urban guerilla attacks and assassinations were also very rare.
In 2006 and 2007, the insurgents’ infiltration in the eastern and southern areas close to Kabul was easy and expanding due to the proximity of Pakistan. In response, NATO forces intensified the war and put heavy pressure on the Taliban, who realized they could not face a direct confrontation against the powerful Western war machine and thus had to change their war tactics. According to the aforementioned article, the Pakistani cadres reorganized the Taliban in this region in order to save them, bringing some important changes to their working methods. As a result, the Taliban had to pursue the following goals:
- Extending contact, influence, and advertising to attract forces (advertising);
- Building more coherent organizations to control combat forces on the fronts (organization);
- Increasing the technical and executive capacity of bombardment (technical initiatives);
- Measures to avoid confrontation with foreigners (camouflage).
By 2008, this message had been communicated to all Taliban councils and fronts that frontal assault was not effective. Consequently, a centralized and hierarchical leadership system was established in the northeast through the Peshawar Council, which was very similar to the Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s party. Subsequently, a military commission was created in each province, responsible for planning larger military operations, managing logistics, resolving commanders’ conflicts, and appointing district commanders in accordance with the general instructions they received from Peshawar and Quetta.
The aforementioned article, for example, quoted a Taliban soldier stating that if they encountered ISAF forces, they were permitted to choose between attacking or retreating; however, when it was determined to conduct military operations on a post or area, they would seek approval from Haji Mullah, the leader of the front, or the commander of the district or area. If the attacks were more significant, the military council was consulted and, if necessary, direction was also sought from Peshawar or Quetta.
During the years when Kabul attempted to extend the Arg’s influence throughout Afghanistan and abolish all local offices so that teachers could be hired and the smallest military operations could be launched with guidance from the “center”, Rawalpindi acted as a much more powerful parallel administration and simultaneously created a more disciplined atmosphere in parts of Afghanistan that only received general instructions from Peshawar and Rawalpindi, and in most operational measures, the Provincial Military Council was able to make the final decision.
Four elements have been instrumental in increasing the influence of the Peshawar council and introducing centralized yet effective organizational tactics, such as Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) planning, transferring the experiences of Hezb-e-Islami through the cooperation of the commanders of that party or their joining the Taliban, and foreign financial support, which is said to have come mostly from Arab countries at that time. In 2010, the experiences of the Peshawar council were officially endorsed by the Quetta council, and as a result, all Taliban commanders were instructed to cease group operations and switch to guerrilla attacks. This change of tactics was accompanied by the enhancement of technological and weapon facilities. The Taliban then acquired heavy anti-aircraft weapons, heavy rockets, anti-tank weapons, snipers, and advanced explosives.
Iran and Russia have been accused of aiding the Taliban in their preparations. As a result of the increase in casualties and the widening of the war fronts, the Pakistani army and ISI have been actively overseeing the training and rearmament of the Taliban, with numerous training centers being established within Afghanistan and in Pakistan. Subsequently, the mass production of mines and explosives has become a crucial part of the war, prompting the councils of Quetta, Peshawar, and Miram Shah to each set up mines and explosives commissions.
For the entirety of that period, Kabir lived a tranquil and prosperous life near Nowshahra, located between Rawalpindi and Peshawar, less than 150 kilometers from the headquarters of the Pakistani Army. He resided in a lovely house and drove around fearlessly in his SUV with a diplomatic license plate. Reports of Kabir’s lifestyle during those years of bloodshed and gunpowder allude to his symbolic role in leading the Peshawar Council’s fronts in eastern and northeastern Afghanistan, and that he himself was not involved in the management and planning of the war, which was orchestrated by the Peshawar army under the leadership of Rawalpindi. Nevertheless, his notoriety was widespread, prompting many people, including American intelligence, to attempt to contact him.
Mawlawi Abdul Kabir and the CIA
One year after the coup d’état of the 7th of Sawr, when aid from countries opposed to the Soviet Union reached Pakistan and newly emerged jihadi commanders and leaders, a split occurred in Hezb-e-Islami. Mawlawi Yunus Khalis, along with a number of commanders and influencers of the party, including Jalaluddin Haqqani, announced a new party, which became known as Hezb-e-Islami Khalis or Hezb-e-Islami. Jalaluddin Haqqani had an independent authority in that party and, without officially declaring his independence, acted autonomously in the role of a pure deputy, particularly in Paktia, Paktika, and Khost. This method was maintained after joining the Taliban, and the Haqqani network still functions as an autonomous group within the Taliban.
At the time, Yunus Khalis and his commanders had the unwavering support of the United States and its allies. On November 12, 1987, Mawlawi Khalis met with Ronald Reagan, the President of the United States, at the White House as the head of a delegation. In his welcome speech, Reagan referred to Mawlawi Yunus Khalis as a freedom fighter, expressing that his country would continue to support the resistance forces so that they could continue to fight for freedom effectively. He stated that the just struggle of the Mujahedeen against foreign tyranny would garner the political and financial support of the world. The final sentence of Reagan’s speech was: “On behalf of the American people, I greet President Khalis, his delegation, and the people of Afghanistan. You are a heroic nation. May God protect you.” A year after Reagan’s meeting with the Mujahedeen delegation, Al-Qaeda was founded in Peshawar.
Ten years later, the United States declared the areas under the control of Yunus Khalis and Jalaluddin Haqqani to be a refuge and hideout for international terrorists, and on August 20, 1998, they conducted their first attack in Afghanistan. This attack resulted in 21 deaths and 30 injuries, as 75 cruise missiles were launched at Khost and Nangarhar. In the eyes of U.S. diplomacy, the “freedom fighters” of a decade prior had become supporters of international terrorism. A few years later, in December 2001, U.S. forces initiated the Battle of Tora Bora in an attempt to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, though he ultimately survived.
In 2010, Canadian journalist Kenny Gannon, who was the head of the Associated Press’s Afghanistan and Pakistan bureau, wrote a report stating that Anwar ul Haq Mujahid, the son of Younus Khalis, had aided Osama bin Laden in his escape from Tora Bora in 2001. Since 2004, Anwar ul Haq Mujahid’s involvement in the riots has been evident. In 2007, after his father’s death, he established a group called “Tora Bora Mahaz” and published a magazine with the same name, as well as launching a website called Al-Amara. The naming of the terrorist organization by Tora Bora and the magazine by the son of Younus Khali corroborated Gannon’s account of Anwar ul Haq Mujahid’s role in Osama bin Laden’s escape. What is the connection between the history of Hezb-e-Islami Khalis, his son’s relationship with Osama Bin Laden, Mawlawi Abdul Kabir, and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)?
When Mawlawi Abdul Kabir was appointed as the head of the Eastern Zone or Peshawar Council in October 2007, Anwar ul Haq declared his full support and participated in some of the most violent suicide attacks in that zone. Along with Mullah Sadr Azam, these two became the primary members of the Peshawar Council and the eastern zone of the Taliban. As the war intensified between 2009 and 2010, they expressed their desire to negotiate with the Americans and join the Karzai government. The United States anticipated that if Abdul Kabir had abstained from the war, the Zadran clan would have been divided and weakened in support of the Haqqanis.
The contact between the two sides resulted in a series of meetings. On October 10th, 2010, the New York Times reported that several Taliban leaders had travelled to Kabul on an American helicopter and met with Afghan officials. Three days later, NATO officials also confirmed the news. On October 31st, Gannon provided a comprehensive report on the trip. He stated that three individuals, namely Mawlawi Abdul Kabir, head of the Peshawar Council, Anwar ul Haq Mujahid, leader of the Tora Bora Front and an ally of Kabir, and Sadr Azam, Abdul Kabir’s deputy, had taken part in the meeting.
They stayed in a guest house in Kabul for two days and, after having met twice with CIA agents in Pakistan, they met and talked with President Karzai. According to Gannon’s report, these meetings were held in a place between Mardan district and Peshawar city. It is likely that this was not the first meeting between Mawalwi Abdul Kabir and the CIA, as there were likely preliminary meetings before that. In 2009, he attempted to turn the Peshawar Council into an opponent of the Quetta Council and declared his independence from Quetta, which can be seen as a sign of his closeness to the CIA and his receiving of support and resources in exchange for avoiding the main body of the Taliban and giving up the war. The parties seemed to have made considerable concessions in order to gain each other’s trust. Although there are not many details of the parties’ agreements in the documents available to us, if we consider the events of those years, we can draw some conclusions.
Abdul Kabir’s attempt to distance himself from the Quetta Council and directly contact Kabul for negotiations can be seen as a reference to the concessions he and his friends in the Peshawar Council had received from the United States and the Afghan government. It can be assumed that he had received financial and logistical support from the Americans and had secured commitments for the period after his potential joining of the Afghan government and cessation of hostilities. In addition to ceasing hostilities and weakening the Haqqani network and the Taliban, what other benefits could Abdul Kabir and his ally Anwar ul Haq Mujahid offer the Americans? Examining the sequence of these events may provide insight:
- In 2001, Anwar al-Haq aided Osama bin Laden in his escape from Tora Bora. Seven years later, in 2007, he established an organization named Tora Bora in recognition of their collaboration and released a magazine with the same name. Subsequently, in the years leading up to his renowned meeting with CIA agents near Peshawar, he boasted of his close ties with Al-Qaeda. This suggests that he was aware of Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts in late 2010.
- In the final months of 2010, Mawlawi Abdul Kabir and Anwar ul Haq Mujahid had established such strong connections and agreements with the CIA that they met in person and traveled to Kabul on an American helicopter, staying two nights at the CIA guest house and negotiating with Hamid Karzai.
- Six and a half months after the meetings, on May 1, 2011, American helicopters, which had been used to transport CIA guests to Pakistan, flew through the valleys of the tribal areas, landing near the residence of Osama bin Laden, close to the military base of Abbottabad. Bin Laden was killed in the first hour of the following day.
Following the death of Osama bin Laden, the Peshawar Council began to weaken as its financial resources diminished, and Rawalpindi became increasingly supportive of its long-time ally, the Haqqani network. In 2016, the Peshawar Council collapsed due to financial insolvency and was relegated to a sub-category of the Quetta Council. However, the Miram Shah Council was strengthened to control the southern regions and the Kabul area. According to a research report published by the Norwegian research center Land Info in 2017 concerning the organizational structure of the Taliban, the Haqqani network adopted an aggressive stance to gain control of the Taliban leadership, taking over 100% of the Miram Shah Council, 60% of the Peshawar Council, and 50% of the Quetta Leadership Council.
In 2016, following the death of Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, the names of the new leader of the Taliban and his deputies were released, with Kabir no longer included. Mullah Hibatullah, Sirajuddin Haqqani and Mullah Yaqob were all present. Due to his young age and lack of military influence, Mullah Yaqob was unable to challenge Mullah Hibatullah for leadership, however Sirajuddin Haqqani attempted to take over the leadership position in the first year of Mullah Hibatullah‘s emirate. He was forced to flee Quetta in early May 2017 and seek refuge in Iran. At this time, Mullah Hibatullah did not anticipate that he would eventually establish his emirate in Kandahar. According to the report, Haqqani had planned to announce the death of Mullah Hibatullah in that month and take over the leadership himself; however, those in the Quetta Council and Rawalpindi officials prevented him, and after much effort, they forced him to accept the symbolic role of Mullah Hibatullah in the leadership. Mullah Hibatullah returned to Quetta at the end of July of the same year after negotiations and securing his immunity.
Mawlawi Abdul Kabir and Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada
Despite the aforementioned report from the Norwegian Studies Center, the rivalry between Sirajuddin Haqqani and Mullah Hibatullah is now much more evident than any document could prove. Over the past two years, the main power struggle between Mullah Hibatullah and Sirajuddin Haqqani has been ongoing, and other confrontations between the North and South Taliban, Mullah Baradar and Sirajuddin, appear to be of little significance in comparison. Initially, Haqqani attempted to establish an emirate by taking control of key areas of the capital, however, Mullah Hibatullah and his allies have been pushing back against their opponent in the last two years.
Mullah Hibatullah has strengthened the Kandahar administration, making it the main command center of the emirate and weakening Kabul into an executive office with no strategic decision–making power. He has relied on the religious status of the emir in the Taliban system and the authority of his orders to limit the Haqqani‘s mobility and initiative. He has also reorganized the competencies of the ministries and independent departments to benefit himself and his team, and has attempted to control the human resources of all important departments in order to oversee recruitments.
Sirajuddin Haqqani has repeatedly expressed criticism of the policies of Mullah Hibatullah and his opponent, protesting the concentration of power in Kandahar. However, these criticisms and complaints have not had any effect on Mullah Hibatullah‘s position thus far. Mawlawi Abdul Kabir, who was initially considered to be the link between the Taliban group and the Haqqani network during the first period of the Taliban emirate and the first years of the insurgency, and his belonging to the Zadran tribe was used for cautious and controlled contact with the Haqqanis, became a rival of the Haqqanis after 2007. The Haqqanis are aware that Rawalpindi, Kabul, and Washington have each utilized Kabir and the Peshawar Council as a potential alternative, a tool of pressure, and a means of diminishing the influence of the Haqqani in the south and particularly among the Zadran tribe. The confrontation between the Peshawar council and the Haqqanis resulted in the capture of the council, the isolation of Kabir, and his removal from the list of potential power contenders. Consequently, Kabir was appointed as the Deputy Prime Minister of the Taliban with the backing of Mullah Hibatullah. In this battle, Kabir appears to be an ally of Mullah Hibatullah, and is likely a more acceptable option for the Haqqani than Mullah Baradar, as well as being tolerable to the Pakistanis. The Americans, who have had prior connections with him and met him recently during the Doha negotiations, are familiar with him and know how to handle him.
Based on these records, it can be inferred that Kabir‘s appointment to this position is connected to the recent Doha negotiations that occurred in private, the visit of Qatari officials to Afghanistan, and the recent initiative to impose restrictions on UNAMA personnel. Will Kabir be able to resume the role he began years ago in Peshawar to interact with his peers, this time from the position of Prime Minister? Will he have the necessary trust and backing of Mullah Hibatullah to open the door to engagement with Westerners and facilitate their contacts and support further?
The Impact of These Processes and Relationships on Mawlawi Abdul Kabir’s Position
This article provides information and a description of Kabir‘s important relationships with world and regional powers, as well as his connections to various sources of power within the Taliban. However, this does not imply that Kabir is a unique individual, and his appointment as the Taliban‘s Prime Minister is likely to have serious repercussions. Kabir is a moderate figure in the Taliban‘s leadership, and the details of his biography presented in this article demonstrate the environment and factors that have shaped his identity and political stance, rather than highlighting his individual qualities and political capabilities. If we look at the promotion of each senior Taliban leader, we will find similar relationships and factors. Not only the Taliban, but also senior non–Taliban leaders and commanders in this chaotic, tribal environment, who have been drawn into the machinations of foreign actors, have followed paths similar to Kabir‘s. In this story, Kabir is a relatively active and ambitious individual, but he is essentially playing a role in a political theatre whose script is written by others, whose characters are chosen by others, and whose location and audience are determined by others, with Kabir having little to no input in the preparations and make–up of his performance.
If the relationships of Mullah Hibatullah are revealed and someone can elucidate the key stages of the formation of his political stance by referring to the documents, we will be able to discern his clandestine and strained meetings, nocturnal helicopter trips, flight, and assignations, years of seclusion and quietude, waiting, and then suddenly his emergence in the midst of political events and dramatic occurrences, which will enable us to discover many intriguing facts about his life. Sirajuddin Haqqani, Mullah Baradar, Abdul Haq Wasiq, Qayyum Zakir, Amir Khan Muttaqi, and other Taliban officials also have special connections with Mullah Hibatullah and can assume the role of Kabir. Nevertheless, each actor has a distinct face, voice, personality traits, intelligence, and background.
The primary issue in Afghanistan‘s politics is the lack of internal resources and facilities to create political scenarios. Without the support of the people in terms of income, votes, and power, it is impossible to make a significant change in the country‘s political landscape. Mawlawi Abdul Kabir, Sirajuddin Haqqani, and Mullah Baradar are unable to alter the course of events in Afghanistan as they are not involved in the creation of scenarios, do not participate in writing dialogues, and do not provide financial and logistical resources for the game.