A key confidant of the Afghan Taliban’s founding leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, now wants the hard-line movement to undergo a complete overhaul of its strategy and tactics to secure a role in the country’s future.
Syed Mohammad Tayyab Agha wants the Taliban’s current leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, to dramatically reduce violence, sever covert ties with key foreign backer Pakistan, adopt a new political approach, and redefine the Taliban’s ties with other jihadists.
In the comprehensive letter, exclusively obtained by Radio Mashaal, reveals Agha has inadvertently provided great insight into the internal struggles of one of the world’s most secretive militant Islamist organizations.
Agha, seen as a key Taliban ideologue, questions the Taliban’s current strategy, which mainly relies on overrunning rural territories and complex urban attacks that often result in a high number of civilian casualties.
“How can the Taliban leadership, now camped in Pakistan, demand that people in Afghanistan or elsewhere pledge allegiance to them?” he wrote, confirming that the insurgent movement’s leaders still operate from safe havens in Pakistan. “Can we consider such acts in accordance with Islam?”
Agha relinquished his position as head of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar last year and has sharply questioned key Taliban ideological tenets.
In the letter, he urges Akhundzada to give up the title of Amir al-Muminin, or Leader Of The Faithful, and to drop the Taliban’s formal name, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
“It will be better to employ the term ‘movement’ instead of ‘emirate’,” he wrote, arguing that without either control over most of the country including the Afghan capital, Kabul, or recognition as a legitimate government it is impossible for the Taliban to pose as Afghanistan’s legitimate government.
“A reliance on media propaganda and forming [shadow] government institutions, control of rural territories, and most of the movement’s leadership being in a foreign country [Pakistan] doesn’t amount to a [legitimate] government in our country,” he wrote. “Instead of Amir al-Muminin, you should call yourself The Amir or leader.”
In a pointed reference to internal rivalries and factional fighting within the Taliban in recent years, Agha advises Akhundaza against resorting to coercion. “You should give up using violence and intimidation to force people to pledge their allegiance to you as the commander of the faithful until you can meet all the requirements [outlined in Islamic Shari’a law],” he argued.
Agha’s letter, written in Pashto, is harshly critical of the Taliban’s excessive use of violence. In recent weeks, the Taliban have overrun districts and threatened capitals in various rural provinces across Afghanistan. Since the 2014 departure of most international troops, Taliban violence has escalated dramatically, resulting in the killing of tens of thousands of Afghan civilians and soldiers.
“All the mujahedin fighters should be ordered to cease killing our opponents inside mosques and stop killing prisoners,” he wrote. “Stop killing people under suspicion traveling on roads. Stop bombing bridges, roads, and other similar places. Stop killing aid and construction workers who are helping our nation and building our homeland.”
Agha headed the Taliban’s political commission for years and was seen as the most senior political strategist in the movement. He called the appointment of former Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansur in Pakistan last year a historic mistake.
"Our military leaders should strive to preserve their unity and independence," he wrote in his resignation letter in August 2015. "The only way of salvation now is for Taliban leaders to make sacrifices. They should move somewhere within Afghanistan and independently ponder the selection of their leader and other issues."
In his current letter to Akhundzada, Agha blasts the Taliban’s covert contacts and cooperation with the Pakistani and Iranian secret services.
“All the [Taliban] military or non-military figures who keep direct or indirect contact with the Pakistani, Iranian, or other foreign intelligence services should be removed from their posts,” he wrote to the Taliban leader. “It has been previously proved that our movement’s intelligence commission and some other figures targeted our compatriots both inside and outside the country based on faulty information from foreign intelligence agencies.”
He advises the Taliban to break free from Pakistan’s manipulative influence.
“To be able to make independent decisions, you, the members of our leadership council, and heads of our various commissions, should leave Pakistan,” he wrote. “The presence of our movement’s key decision makers and institutions in the prevailing situation there means Pakistan can impose things against the interests of our movement and Afghanistan.”
As the former head of Mullah Omar’s office and his translator, Agha witnessed how the Taliban regime in the 1990s eventually crumbled because of its hosting of Al-Qaeda and other foreign jihadists.
“It is imperative to stop the flow of non-Afghan fighters and control their activities,” he wrote, pointing to a battle in the southern Afghan province of Zabul last year in which scores of Central Asian fighters were eventually killed by the Taliban after they joined the Islamic State (IS) and resisted Taliban control.
“We witnessed that these foreign [jihadists] were never satisfied with living as refugees and guests,” he wrote. “They have always lived as mujahedin -- fighters who considered themselves partners or even rulers.”
Agha said he opposes the current Taliban practices of taxing farmers and traders in the regions they control and coercing wealthy Afghans to make donations. “Money will be lost and gained, but our movement and nation are here to stay [so we should not coerce people into contributing money],” he argued.
Agha predicts a dark future for the Taliban if they fail to chart a new course soon.
“If we don’t pay attention [to reform and change], the Taliban and our jihad will become loathsome,” he wrote. “Our country will descend into worse anarchy than what we witnessed in the 1990s.”