Background: Who are the Taliban?

Those fighting in the country do not comprise a single entity, containing three groups with varying leadership and aims.

Taliban fighters in Korengal valley
 There are several main groups operating in the country [GALLO/GETTY]

With Afghan president Hamid Karzai pushing a reconciliation programme that would bring elements of the armed groups fighting in Afghanistan into the government, there is a lot of talk about “the Taliban” – its motivations and goals.

There are actually several main groups operating in the country, only one of which calls itself “the Taliban”.

All three share a hostility to the US and NATO’s presence in Afghanistan, but they have differing leadership and goals, and exercise varying degrees of co-operation.

Quetta Shura Taliban

Named after the Pakistani city where it is believed to be headquartered, the Quetta Shura consists of much of the senior leadership from the Taliban movement, which ruled Afghanistan until 2001.

undefinedMullah Omar and other Taliban leaders are believed to be in Pakistan [Al Jazeera]

Mullah Mohammed Omar – the Taliban’s “commander of the faithful” – heads the organisation, which routinely stages attacks against Nato forces in Afghanistan.

The Quetta Shura also runs a “shadow government” in Afghanistan.

High-level members of the group serve as “governors” in 33 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, according to US intelligence officials; Taliban fighters collect taxes, operate a parallel judicial system, and man checkpoints along the roads.

The Taliban has shown slight interest in dialogue with Kabul, and several high-ranking members were reportedly holding discreet talks with the Karzai government last year.

But the February arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Omar’s deputy, has sparked a leadership crisis within the organisation and stalled that dialogue. Kai Eide, the former head of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, has said that Baradar’s arrest hurt the prospect of talks with the Taliban.


Hezb-i-Islami (“Islamic Party”) is often called a “Taliban” group, but it actually predates the latter by more than a decade. The party was founded in 1975 by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who would later serve a brief stint as prime minister of Afghanistan; it played a key role in helping to expel the Soviets from Afghanistan.

The movement eventually split in two. One branch, a non-violent political party, now controls more than a dozen seats in the Afghan parliament and claims to be independent from Hekmatyar. The other remained loyal to Hekmatyar; it is often referred to as the Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin (HiG), and claims to command several thousand fighters in eastern Afghanistan.

Of the three groups, HiG is the one most willing to publicly talk about negotiations with Kabul. Representatives of Hekmatyar’s movement met with Afghan officials in March and presented a 15-point “peace plan”, which calls for the withdrawal of foreign forces, a ceasefire and a prisoner release.

General Michael Flynn, the head of US intelligence in Afghanistan, has called Hekmatyar “absolutely salvageable”.

But HiG leaders have been talking for years about reconciliation with Kabul, with little to show for it.

Hekmatyar publicly spurned last week’s peace jirga, and members of his organisation tell Al Jazeera they won’t negotiate until foreign forces leave.

And any talk of rehabiliating Hekmatyar is deeply unwelcome to many Afghan citizens who suffered through decades of human rights abuses committed by Hekmatyar’s group, most notably its incessant rocketing of Kabul in 1994.

Haqqani network

Finally there is the so-called Haqqani network, the eponymous organisation named after its leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani.

undefinedJalaluddin Haqqani and his son run the network from Pakistan [GALLO/GETTY]

Jalaluddin and his son, Sirajuddin Haqqani, are believed to live in Pakistan’s North Waziristan province. They operate mostly in eastern Afghanistan, particularly in the provinces of Paktia, Paktika, Khost and Ghazni.

The group is responsible for some of Afghanistan’s highest-profile attacks, including a January 2008 attack on the Serena Hotel in Kabul – a favorite expat haunt – and an April 2008 assassination attempt against Afghan president Hamid Karzai.

US and Nato commanders have called Haqqani their greatest strategic threat in Afghanistan.

Haqqani also maintains extensive connections to Pakistan’s security services, which views the Haqqani network as a strategic asset against neighbouring India.

Afghanistan’s insurgents are motivated by a complicated mix of grievances, but fighters in the Haqqani network reportedly have a more ideological bent than other groups.

Anand Gopal, a Kabul-based journalist, has reported that “a significant proportion of Haqqani fighters double as madrassa students”.

Pakistani Taliban

Across the border, meanwhile, the Pakistani Taliban’s umbrella organisation – the Tehrik-i-Taliban – encompasses armed groups led by several commanders, including Hakimullah Mehsud, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, Maulvi Nazir and others. They are supported by a number of sympathetic groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

The extent of the Pakistani Taliban’s ties to its Afghan counterpart is hotly debated. Journalists and analysts have identified growing co-operation between the two groups over the last few years.

Regardless of the operational linkages, though, it is clear the groups are motivated by different grievances: The Afghan armed groups opposes the foreign presence in their country, while the Pakistani Taliban primarily fights the government in Islamabad.

Source: Al Jazeera