HERAT -- A recent statement by a Taliban faction regarding a proposed conference in Moscow -- accusing the group's leadership of betraying the ideals of the movement through its subservience to foreign powers -- is the latest evidence that the group is becoming increasingly splintered over various issues.
Russia postponed the conference, which it originally scheduled for September 4, after Afghanistan and the United States refused to participate. The Taliban had accepted an invitation to the meeting.
Russia was still planning to hold the conference but the Afghan government has not committed to attending.
"We have not yet reached any conclusion on the Moscow conference with the Russian side," Sebghatullah Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Afghan Foreign Ministry, told Salaam Times.
"When the conference will be held and how it will be held is debatable, and discussions are ongoing with Russia on this," he said.
'An act of betrayal'
A faction loyal to deceased Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansoor posted a statement October 17 on the walls of mosques in Herat, slamming his successor, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, and coming out against the Russia-led conference.
Local sources provided a copy to Salaam Times.
"We, the followers of the path of Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansoor, have come to the conclusion that we are against all the meetings and negotiations of the leadership council of the Islamic Emirate, which are secretly held in Moscow..." reads the statement, referring to what the Taliban formally call themselves.
"We once again call on emir Sheikh Haibatullah Akhundzada to review and reflect on his recent decisions and actions to fix the disagreements between the senior members of the Islamic Emirate to prevent the event of a possible split [in the movement]," the statement added.
The faction said it had asked Haibatullah "to conduct all your political, religious, and policymaking activities in accordance with the policies of the martyr Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansoor, and then implement them in the country".
"[We] especially [urged you] to refrain from taking arbitrary secret action, and not to undermine your own independence to achieve your goals and objectives... Unfortunately, however, no changes have been made in the positions of the supreme leader of the Islamic Emirate and some of its leadership council members," the statement said.
"The leadership of the Islamic Emirate has, in effect, acted on and continued its current functions and policies based on the whims and objectives of the neighbouring countries and hostile regional states, granting them the authority to make important and historic decisions," it said.
"This action and policy is indeed an act of betrayal of and treason against the ideals of both Mullah Mohammad Omar Mujahid, the great emir of the Islamic Emirate, and Mullah Akhtar Muhammad," it added.
A growing rift
The splinter group's recent demands are in line with its long-time disillusionment with the leadership of Haibatullah. He succeeded Mullah Mansoor after the latter was killed in a US drone strike in May 2016 in Pakistan. Haibatullah has increasingly drawn support from Russia and Iran.
The death of the Taliban's founding leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, which the Taliban confirmed July 29, 2015 -- more than two years after it happened -- has led to rifts among the group's senior members.
One indicator of such differences is the violence between the group's splintered factions in Herat. On October 9, 17 militants were killed and eight others were wounded in a clash between two rival Taliban groups in Guzara District.
More than 200 Taliban militants have been killed and more than 300 others wounded in internecine fighting during the past two years in that province, Jilani Farhad, the spokesman for Herat's provincial governor, told Salaam Times.
Farhad confirmed the publication of the recent statement, adding that such letters highlight existing tensions and feuds among the militant group.
"This statement has been distributed and circulated in areas under the Taliban's control in various districts of Herat and shows the extent of the Taliban's dissatisfaction with the group's leadership," Farhad said.
"The extent of the dependence of the group's leadership on powerful regional countries, of which the Taliban militants are becoming increasingly aware, has discouraged militants from continuing the war," he explained.
"Most Taliban members have now realised that their jihad is nothing but an excuse to implement the schemes of neighbouring countries in Afghanistan," he added.
A chance for peace
Farhad and other Afghan officials hope that disputes among the Taliban groups will persuade the militants to join the peace process.
"We hope that these differences will help advance the peace process," Farhad said.
Disagreements among members of the Taliban will weaken the militant group, said Sakina Hussaini, a member of the Herat Provincial Council.
"The public declaration by Taliban members of their opposition to the group's leadership proves the existence of deep divisions in the leadership," she told Salaam Times.
"The Taliban are divided into several factions, which indicates the frustration of Taliban members at continuing the war," she said.
"We hope the situation will turn in favour of the Afghan government and of the peace process," he said. "The government must take advantage of these disagreements."
"[The Afghan government] must prepare the ground for those Taliban members who have a desire for peace, so that they can start a peaceful life," she added.
[Sulaiman from Kabul contributed to this report.]