The Taliban Dismissed their Prime Minister: Illness or Internal Dispute?

By: Amin Kawa

Mawlawi Abdul Kabir, the Acting Deputy Prime Minister for Political Affairs in the Taliban cabinet, has been selected by Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, the supreme leader of the Taliban, to replace Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund as the interim head of the government. Earlier reports from Hasht-e Subh Daily suggested that Abdul Ghani Baradar might be appointed as the Taliban’s prime minister due to Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund’s heart condition. Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund is currently located in Kandahar province. However, reliable sources indicate internal disagreements within the Taliban, as some members hoped that Abdul Ghani Baradar would be chosen as the prime minister. Despite these expectations, the Taliban’s supreme leader appointed Mawlawi Abdul Kabir as the head of the interim cabinet. Furthermore, there are indications that the Taliban has developed a plan to reopen girls’ schools according to their own agenda and has presented it to the Qatari Prime Minister as part of their demands to the United States.

On Tuesday night, May 16, Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, the supreme leader of the Taliban, named Mawlawi Abdul Kabir as the prime minister of the Taliban regime. This appointment was made to ensure uninterrupted governance, as Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund is currently ill. Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesperson, confirmed this on Wednesday, May 17, through a tweet. According to media reports citing Taliban sources, Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund’s illness was the reason behind this decision.

According to credible sources within the Taliban regime, it was reported to the Hasht-e Subh Daily that Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund had a heart condition. On April 4, 2022, these sources revealed that he had undergone a medical examination at the French Medical Hospital or (FMIC) in Kabul. The diagnosis indicated that Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund was suffering from “congestive heart failure,” a serious condition that impairs the heart’s pumping capacity.

Who is Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund and why was he dismissed?

Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund, a member of the Taliban leadership, held positions such as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister during their previous regime in Afghanistan. On September 7, 2021, he assumed the role of acting Prime Minister. Prior to that, he was in charge of the Taliban’s leadership council and is currently located in Kandahar province, where he operates from one of the administrative offices. Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund is affiliated with the first generation and a radical faction of the Taliban. He is listed on the United Nations sanctions list and has close ties to Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Taliban’s founder, as well as Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, the current supreme leader. Despite his prominence, he gained attention during the early months of the Taliban’s return to power for remaining silent on various issues.

The Taliban’s leadership changes coincide with internal disputes among its members on how to handle and enforce the strict directives of their supreme leader. Recently, the Acting Minister of Interior, Sirajuddin Haqqani, openly criticized Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada’s “autocratic” approach. This criticism follows previous instances where the ministers of interior and defense expressed their explicit discontent with the supreme leader.

According to a reliable source interviewed by the Hasht-e Subh Daily, there are notable divisions within the Taliban. The source mentioned speaking with a Taliban official who expressed concerns about the preservation of their regime due to the escalating differences among members. The source also highlighted the dilemma the Taliban faces in balancing their “misogynistic and anti-human rights” directives with their political interests in international engagement.

According to sources, the Taliban have reportedly shared their plan to reopen girls’ schools and their list of demands for the United States with the Prime Minister of Qatar. During his visit to Afghanistan, the Prime Minister of Qatar traveled to the province of Kandahar and held meetings with high-ranking Taliban officials. The sources indicate that the Taliban have devised their own criteria for reopening schools, which has been approved by their supreme leader. Notably, the United States Department of State has not denied the possibility that the Prime Minister of Qatar carried a message from the US to the Taliban. Analysts had speculated that the Prime Minister of Qatar served as the messenger for the US during his visit to Kandahar province.

Will the disagreements among the Taliban leadership intensify?

Sources report that the Taliban have been actively seeking a replacement for Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund for several months. According to these sources, the criticisms voiced by certain Taliban officials have a basis in internal power dynamics. Last year, sources informed the Hasht-e Subh Daily that a faction within the Taliban, located in Doha, was advocating for the appointment of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar as the moderate face of the group and potential Prime Minister. Additionally, sources confirm that Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund’s deteriorating health has rendered him incapable of fulfilling the administrative and executive responsibilities of the Taliban.

Who is Mawlawi Abdul Kabir and how did he become the Prime Minister of the Taliban?

Mawlawi Abdul Kabir, currently serving as the Acting Prime Minister of the Taliban, previously held the position of Deputy Prime Minister for Political Affairs. He hails from the Zadran tribe in Paktia province. In the previous Taliban regime, Mawlawi Abdul Kabir was the Governor of Nangarhar province and served as the Deputy of Economic Affairs under the Prime Minister. He remains an influential member of the Peshawar Council within the Taliban. At one point, he resided in Baghlan province. Mawlawi Abdul Kabir was also a member of the Taliban’s negotiating team in Qatar, consisting of 20 individuals. Notably, he played a significant role in the alliance between the Taliban and the Haqqani Network and has a history of imprisonment in Pakistan. Affiliated with the Haqqani Network faction, Mawlawi Abdul Kabir was allegedly involved in planning a suicide attack in central Baghlan targeting Sayed Mustafa Kazemi, a member of Afghanistan’s fifteenth parliamentary term. It appears that Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada appointed him in response to criticisms of power consolidation by the Kandahari Taliban branch.