The Taliban have denied that one of their top leaders was killed in a shootout with rivals, following rumors of internal divisions in the movement nearly a month after their blitzkrieg victory over the West-backed government in Kabul.
Sulail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman, said Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a former head of the Taliban political bureau who was appointed deputy prime minister last week, issued a voicemail rejecting claims that he had been killed or injured in a showdown.
“He says they are lies and totally unfounded,” Shaheen said in a message on Twitter.
Baradar, who was appointed last week as Mullah Mohammed Hassan Akhundzada’s number two in the Taliban transitional government, has been absent from public view, prompting some Afghans to question whether the top leader was alive.
Official Taliban efforts to dispel the rumors appeared to have deepened the mystery of the missing Baradar.
The hardline Islamist group posted photos of a handwritten note from one of Baradar’s deputies saying he was in Kandahar, then shared an audio message on Monday purporting to be from Baradar.
“There was news in the media about my death,” Baradar said in the clip.
“For the last few nights I have been traveling. Wherever I am right now, we are all fine, all my brothers and friends.
“The media is always putting out false propaganda. Therefore, bravely reject all those lies, and I confirm to you 100 percent that there is no problem and we have no problem.”
Rumors of clashes with the Haqqani network
The denials follow days of rumors that Baradar’s supporters had clashed with those of Sirajuddin Haqqani, head of the Haqqani network that is based near the Pakistani border and was accused of some of the worst suicide attacks in the country. war.
The rumors follow speculation about possible rivalries between military commanders like Haqqani and leaders of the Doha political office like Baradar, who led diplomatic efforts to reach an agreement with the United States.
The Taliban have repeatedly denied speculation about internal divisions.
Baradar, once seen as the likely head of a Taliban government, had not been seen in public for some time and was not part of the ministerial delegation that met with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al- Thani, in Kabul on Sunday.
Akhundzada, the supreme leader of the movement, also has not been seen in public since the Taliban took Kabul on August 15, although he issued a public statement when the new government was formed last week.
Speculation about the Taliban leaders has been fueled by the circumstances surrounding the death of the movement’s founder, Mullah Omar, which was only made public in 2015 two years after it happened, prompting bitter recriminations among the leaders.