As Mullah Baradar steps in to lead the helm of things in the new Taliban government in Afghanistan, all eyes are set on how the organisation will function. The Taliban have been running a shadow governance structure and a parallel justice system in Afghanistan over the years. They have maintained to adapt tactically after their 2001 fall and have fostered innovation at organizational level to manage surviving in a constantly changing environment. They abide by ‘Layeha’, their code of conduct, published in 2010 which also outlines their organizational structure and governance practices pertaining to them.
The office of the leader of the faithful (Amir al-Mu’minin) oversees their Leadership Council, the judiciary, executive commissions and other administrative organs which would be explained later in this article.
The office of the leader of the faithful comprises of -
Haibatullah Akhundzada – He is the supreme commander of the Taliban and is called the Amir al-Mu'minin (Commander of the faithful). He has never had military experience. Rather, he was the head of the Sharia courts of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
Abdul Ghani Baradar – He was the co-founder of Taliban with Mullah Omar. He received some setbacks while arrested in Pakistan from 2010-2018 but rose to the apex, post his release. He is believed to the person who will be leading the new government in Afghanistan.
Sirajuddin Haqqani – First deputy to Akhundzada,he is also the leader of the Haqqani Network and holds a bounty of US $5 million on his head. Haqqani network merged with Taliban around 2016 and he became the deputy leader then. This network is notorious for carrying out cross border terrorism and arms trade along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
Mohammad Yaqoob – The son of Mullah Omar, he heads the powerful post of the military chief of Taliban.
The leadership council of Taliban consists of 20 members (according to its website) and these top 20 bureaucrats decide and oversee the overall functioning of Taliban.
The Shadow governance structure of the Taliban –
The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (under Taliban) from 1996-2001 used a different governance structure than what it is today. Before their fall in 2001, they overemphasized on military state functions rather than the political ones. This resulted in their ministers being frequently away from their desks, fighting at different frontlines. The new shadow governance system which started to evolve after 2006, is a more centralized one and the bureaucratic essence of it is its key feature which the Taliban had envisioned to be used to govern Afghanistan someday.
The Layeha charts the leadership structure as top-down and a highly centralized one with sworn allegiance of the rank and file to the supreme leader (the axis around which matters pivot). At the top is the leadership council (also known as the Rahbari Shura or Quetta Shura) which consists of the most important people in the organization. Matters in the Taliban revolve around the consensus which is adopted in the Rahbari Shura.
Taliban has also made several commissions (komisiuns). These commissions are critical to performing the key tasks of running the insurgent activities and currently, governing the Afghan territories under their control. A letter on 19 May 2020 from the Chair of the UNSC Committee established pursuant to a resolution on the situation in Afghanistan addressed to the President of the Security Council listed out 16 such commissions in the Taliban.
In addition to these commissions, Taliban has set up 4 regional military councils, shuras or commissions. These commissions control and oversee of the organization’s military operations in Afghanistan. Before the Taliban takeover, they used to function from Pakistan (Quetta, Peshawar, Miramshah and Gerdi Jangal – based on the corresponding regions in Afghanistan). Now that Afghanistan is occupied by Taliban, these military shuras are expected to move into the country, also relieving the Haqqani Network of coordinating some of the complex cross border operations around these military commissions’ functioning.
For operational and tactical management, the Taliban has established shadow governors and military commanders at the provincial, district, and local levels in Afghanistan.
Chapter 7 of the Layeha deals with the ‘Internal Issues of the Mujahidin’ and lists out the governance structure at the provincial levels. The command-and-control apparatus is mentioned as -
- The Iman (Mullah Omar, then)
- His Deputy (Nayeb)
- Commanders of Zones (Tanzim Rais)
- Senior Provincial Officials – Responsible forforming a provincial and district-level commissions and a Shari’a court system in his province.
- District Leaders
- Group Leaders – Responsible for educating their men in jihad, religion and morals.
- Ordinary Mujahedin
Learning from their defeat in 2001, the Taliban evolved to employ a stronger political establishment in Afghanistan. This shadow government system wasn’t only challenging the beleaguered Afghanistan governments but also was pleasing the masses by employing a more efficient Judicial system.
The Judicial Structure of the Taliban
There exist3justice systems in Afghanistan – a formal government one, an informal tribal one with unwritten rules and trusted elders at forums known as jirgas and shuras and the Islamic system or Shari’a which is administered by the Taliban.
Taliban’s penchant to provide justice to the locals is, in fact, one of the key reasons it was accepted in the Afghani hinterland. Many local communities of Afghanistan recognize the parallel legal system of Taliban as being legitimate, fair, free of bribery, swift, and enduring.
The justice system has its own hierarchy within the Taliban shadow governance as well as a system of oversights to ensure fairness. The formal system is unable to provide a swift and fair dispute resolution. It can take years and subjection to bribery before a verdict arrives under the formal judicial system of the government of Afghanistan. Using Shari‘a law, a Taliban qazi (judge) can settle a case in a few hours without bribes, delivering an enforceable, authoritative and a lasting decision.
The Shari’a courts are established by the provincial governors in Taliban. The qazi and ulemas of the court are also appointed by them. It is made sure that the judges are not locals so that any domestic influence could be prevented. Most of these judges are educated in Pakistan. Every 2 years, they are transferred to ensure fairness in the Shari’a judicial process installed by the Taliban.
Haji Mawlawi Ubaydullah Akhundzada and Abdul Rahman Agha are currently believed to be presiding over the sharia courts of Taliban, a position which was held by Hibatullah Akhundzada before he was elected as the Supreme Leader.
This system helps the Taliban to gain public sympathy and an illusion of ideal governance. It is also claimed that even the losers in the Shari’a courts of Taliban report better satisfaction over the formal courts of law in Afghanistan.
The Taliban has successfully imported tactics from different battlefields of the world and employed them on their own terrain, at their own benefit. The important question is, how well is their organizational structure prepared to face the weather of the graveyard of empires.