KABUL -- The apparent assassination of the leader of a Taliban splinter group in Herat province has exacerbated internal divisions within the militant group.
Mullah Manan Niazi was first severely wounded in an attack by Taliban militants on May 11 in Kariz-e-Mikhi, in the border between Guzara and Adraskan districts. He died of his injuries on May 15, according to local officials in Herat.
Herat Governor Sayed Wahid Qatali blamed the Taliban for the assassination.
"Internal frictions within the Taliban have intensified across the country and each group has its own fake Amir-ul-Mumenin," Qatali told journalists on May 17, referring to an Islamic title meaning "Leader of the Faithful".
"Internal frictions and divisions within the Taliban have taken the group to the brink of collapse," he added.
Niaza was a leader of the High Council of the Islamic Emirate, a Taliban faction led by Mullah Muhammad Rasool that split off from the main Taliban group -- the Quetta Shura.
The council declared itself an independent entity in 2015 in protest of the ascension of Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansoor, the predecessor of Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, who now leads the Quetta Shura.
Mansoor was killed in 2016.
In an exclusive interview with Salaam Times in September 2017, Niazi, who served as the governor of Herat and Balkh within the Taliban regime, said the group led by Haibatullah had sent three suicide bombers to kill him, but his men captured all three before they could reach their target.
Niazi considered himself a staunch enemy of Haibatullah's group and of the Iranian regime, claiming to have killed several members of the Fatemiyoun Division, an Iran-backed militia made up of Afghan mercenaries, in Herat.
At Niazi's funeral on May 16 at the Gazar Gah shrine, north of Herat city, followers of the council elected Hafiz Khalid, Niazi's son, as his successor.
Khalid warned the Quetta Shura and the government of Iran that he would avenge his father's blood and continue his father's fight.
The Iranian regime and the Taliban had a joint role in the attack on Niazi, said Mohammad Azim Qaderi, a military analyst in Herat city.
"Mullah Manan Niazi was a major obstacle to Iranian interference and the arrival of Fatemiyoun fighters in the western region," he said, adding that Niazi was killed for his criticism of the Fatemiyoun Division.
"The Iranian regime used all its resources and eliminated him in collaboration with the Taliban," said Qaderi.
Iran provides financial and weapons support to the Taliban and uses Taliban militants to achieve its military and intelligence objectives, Qaderi added.
"Anyone who raises his [or her] voice in opposition to the government of Iran in Afghanistan will be suppressed and silenced by groups affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)," he said.
Abdul Sattar Hussaini, a member of the Wolesi Jirga representing Farah province, also said that Tehran and the Taliban worked together to kill Niazi.
By using proxy groups, including the Taliban, the Iranian government has increased its intelligence activities in the western region. It kills anyone who prevents these activities, he said.
"The government of Iran saw Mullah Niazi as a threat and obstacle towards deploying the Fatemiyoun Division in Afghanistan and, therefore, killed him," he added.
"The government of Iran has dozens of active terrorist groups in the western region that are engaged in targeted killings and advancing Iranian objectives," Hussaini said.
For some observers, Niazi's death portends further fractures within the Taliban as peace talks continue.
Several groups will break away from the main Taliban group if peace talks do not yield a positive result, said Sayed Ashraf Sadaat, a civil society activist in Herat city.
"Many Taliban fighters are tired of the war and cannot fight anymore," he said. "If the Taliban leadership continues the war, many members will leave the group."
The Taliban do not obey a unified leadership and several small Taliban factions have taken up arms for economic gains and drug smuggling, Sadaat added.
In recent years, especially after the belated announcement in 2015 of the death of Mullah Mohammad Omar, the founder of the Taliban, the cohesion of the group has disintegrated, said Abdul Qader Kamel, a political analyst in Herat city.
There are serious divisions, even at the leadership level of the Taliban, as every member on that level wants to be in power, he added.
"The Taliban cannot make a unified decision because of the group's affiliation with different countries," Kamel said.
"Countries supporting the Taliban make different demands of the group, so instead of making a unified decision, they have to follow these demands."
The divisions within the Taliban show the selfishness of some of the group's leaders who are trying to seize power, said Ali Reza Mohammadi, a civil society activist in Herat city.
"The disorganisation within the Taliban has weakened the group. Taliban leaders and commanders do not have a unified view regarding peace and have a conflict of interest," he said.
"Most of the Taliban commanders in districts and provinces pursue their personal interests and have become reliant on different countries. They do not obey the leadership of the Taliban and are gradually breaking away from the group."
As the war continues, the Taliban will further fissure into smaller groups, Mohammadi said.