Afghanistan’s southern city of Kandahar is the historical birthplace and the political base of the Taliban. Now, the country’s second-largest city appears to be becoming the de facto capital under the militant group’s rule.
Several officials have recently been transferred from the capital, Kabul, to Kandahar. Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada lives in the city and rarely leaves the Pashtun heartland in southern Afghanistan.
Experts say Akhundzada’s decision to relocate the offices of two Taliban spokesmen to Kandahar is part of efforts to tighten his grip on power. The move comes amid growing reports of infighting between key Taliban ministers based in Kabul and a powerful group of clerics led by Akhundzada in Kandahar.
“It looks like political power is being transferred from Kabul to Kandahar,” Sami Yousafzai, a veteran Afghan journalist and commentator who has tracked the Taliban since its emergence in the 1990s, told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi. “[Akhundzada] is creating a parallel administration to the one in Kabul.”
In recent months, senior Taliban officials have appeared to criticize Akhundzada, accusing him of monopolizing power and empowering ultraconservative clerics who share his extremist views.
Akhundzada’s repressive policies have alienated Afghans and isolated the Taliban’s unrecognized government internationally. Under his leadership, the Taliban has severely curtailed women’s rights, stamped out the free press, and committed human rights abuses.
Akhundzada, a hard-line cleric and former chief justice, has the ultimate say on all important matters under the Taliban’s clerical system.
‘Appointing Loyalists Everywhere’
After the Taliban seized power in 2021, ministers carried out the day-to-day administration of the Taliban government. But in recent months, Akhundzada has sought to micromanage the affairs of the state, said Yousufzai.
“He is now involved in appointing district commanders, administrators, and the directors of various government departments,” Yousufzai told Radio Azadi. “He is appointing loyalists everywhere.”
Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s chief spokesman, relocated his office from Kabul to Kandahar on April 6, according to Abdul Mateen Qani, a spokesman for the Ministry of Information and Culture.
Innamullah Samangani, another key government spokesman and head of the Taliban’s Media and Information Center, was also recently transferred to Kandahar.
Kandahar, a historically important political center, briefly served as the capital of Afghanistan, which was founded in 1747. Many of the kings that ruled the country until the monarchy was overthrown in 1973 hailed from the broader Kandahar region.
The Taliban first emerged in Kandahar during the civil war in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s. Its founder, Mullah Mohammad Omar, kept Kandahar as the de facto capital even after the Taliban seized control of Kabul in 1996. The hard-line Islamist group was ousted from power by the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
Andrew Watkins, a senior Afghanistan expert at the United States Institute of Peace think tank in Washington, says Mujahid’s transfer is one of the most public signs of a trend in which Akhundzada appears to be strengthening his influence.
Watkins said Akhundzada wants control over “public messaging,” which he says has “long been a priority for the Taliban.”
The Taliban has denied that the decision to relocate senior officials to Kandahar is part of a power struggle.
Mujahid said part of his office has moved to Kandahar in order to report more closely on the meetings and other activities of the Taliban chief. “The recent move doesn’t amount to transferring the capital to Kandahar,” Mujahid told Radio Azadi.
But observers are not convinced.
“There are factions within the Taliban that want more power,” Tariq Farhadi, an Afghan political analyst based in Europe, told Radio Azadi. “It paints an overall worrying picture for the future of the Taliban.”