When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan for five years in the late 1990s, the key power lay in a modest room in a house in Kandahar. There was just a simple iron bedstead and a box as furniture, and no door but a curtain separating it from the rest of the house. Sitting on rugs on the floor the Taliban founder Mullah Omar issued orders, made appointments and took money from the box. The ministries in Kabul operated on fiats issued from this room.
His successor as Emir, Haibatullah Akhunzada, does not enjoy the same unquestioning authority. He was known as a scholar and ideologue not a fighter, and emerged as a compromise leader in 2017 after Omar’s successor Mullah Mansour was killed by an American drone strike. Akhunzada has since promoted extreme violence. His enthusiasm for the tactic of suicide bombing is so intense that he is proud his own son was a ‘successful’ suicide bomber.
The Taliban talk of an Islamic Emirate to govern Afghanistan again, but it remains very unclear what that means. In the few sessions of actual talks that took place in the six months or so of the Doha peace process, Afghan government negotiators tried to get some sense of the shape of a Taliban-led Afghan emirate in the 21st century, but came away none the wiser.
So while the Taliban have run a successful system for a parallel state as a guerrilla organisation – with several commissions under a leadership council, the most important being the military commission and the political commission – transferring this into a governing administration will not be easy.
The Taliban is really best seen as a movement bringing together several different factions and groups, some more involved in drug running and other criminal enterprises than others, and all drawing sustenance from the madrassas and other Islamic organisations in Pakistan as well as Pakistani military intelligence.