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The Taliban Wages War Against Its Dead Rivals

Taliban fighters at the tomb of late Afghan muhajedin leader Ahmad Shah Massoud in Panjshir Province on September 15, days after the militants repaired the site following public outrage over its desecration.

The Taliban toppled the Western-backed Afghan government in August following a brutal, nearly 20-year insurgency.

But the militant group’s war against its former enemy is not over. The Taliban has been accused of killing, torturing, or forcibly disappearing hundreds of members of the former government and its armed forces.

Even the dead have not been immune from Taliban violence.

Since seizing power in August, the militants have been accused of vandalizing or destroying the graves of fallen Afghan Army and police commanders. The Taliban has also allegedly defiled monuments dedicated to figures who fought the group during its first stint in power in the 1990s.

The Taliban has denied responsibility for many of the incidents.

But allegations against the hard-line group have mounted, with Afghans accusing the militants of violating Islamic traditions that advocate respect for the dead.

Anti-Taliban Commanders

In the latest incident, Taliban fighters were accused of bombing the tomb of former police commander Daraya Khan Talash in the southeastern province of Paktika on December 26.

Talash was killed by a roadside bomb planted by the Taliban in Paktika’s Sarobi district in 2020. He had reportedly lost four of his brothers in the war against the Taliban.

Taliban fighters have also been accused of defiling the tomb of Mohammad Daud Daud, a former governor and an ex-police chief of northern Afghanistan, in the province of Takhar on December 17.

Daud was killed in a Taliban suicide attack in Takhar’s capital, Taloqan, in 2011. Following the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, Daud oversaw the surrender of thousands of Taliban fighters in the northern city of Kunduz. He was a commander in Jamiat-e Islami, a political-military Islamist group that opposed Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001.

Bilal Sarwary, an exiled Afghan journalist, said Daud’s family confirmed that his grave was vandalized. But that claim was rejected by the Taliban. RFE/RL was unable to independently verify the claims.

Meanwhile, the Taliban was accused of destroying the tomb of Colonel Azizullah Karwan in a bomb blast in the southeastern province of Paktika on October 31.

The Taliban assassinated Karwan in June 2018. He was a colonel in the special forces unit of the Afghan National Police. He had survived dozens of Taliban assassination attempts.

Colonel Azizullah Karwan had survived dozens of attempts on his life by the Taliban.
Colonel Azizullah Karwan had survived dozens of attempts on his life by the Taliban.

In September, videos emerged that appeared to show damage to the mausoleum of resistance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud in the Panjshir Valley, just north of Kabul.

The footage emerged soon after the Taliban captured the mountainous valley, the scene of a short-lived resistance to the militants, in early September.

The vandalism coincided with the 20th anniversary of Massoud’s death. Massoud, who fought against the Taliban in the 1990s and occupying Soviet forces in the 1980s, was killed by Al-Qaeda militants posing as journalists just days before the September 11 attacks in the United States.

The Taliban repaired Massoud's mausoleum after a public uproar.

‘Personal Revenge’

Sarwary said the Taliban’s destruction of graves is part of a “growing trend.”

“Seizing homes, vehicles, property, and the destruction of tombs in several places shows how the younger generation of Taliban [fighters] are constantly taking part in these actions,” he says.

“Such actions have embarrassed Taliban leaders who have constantly assured everyone that the Taliban is a changed force and a responsible government,” he added.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban deputy minister and spokesman for the regime, said claims about Taliban fighters destroying graves were simply “not true.”

But Anas Haqqani, the younger brother of Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, urged Taliban fighters to “get rid of your personal revenge and envy.”

In a December 27 speech marking the 42nd anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Haqqani warned that the Taliban regime will collapse if it tries to rule through brute force.

“An infidel government is likely to last, but an oppressive regime will not survive,” he said.

But on the same day, another Taliban official boasted about the group bombing the tomb of former leftist President Babrak Karmal, who assumed power after Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan and killed his predecessor, Hafizullah Amin, in late 1979.

“After capturing Mazar-e Sharif, the Taliban bombed Babrak's tomb,” tweeted Nazar Mohammad Mutmaeen, head of the Taliban’s Olympic Committee. He was alluding to the destruction of the late president’s tomb in 1997, when the Taliban briefly seized the northern Afghan city.