The office of the Afghan president, the Arg, sits in more than 80 acres of parkland, quadruple the size of the White House estate, and more than twice the size of Buckingham Palace grounds. Since it was built in the late eighteenth century, most of its occupants have died violently in one of the elegant buildings, built inside a large square compound of thick stone walls as a copy of an ancient fortress.
But there has rarely been a scene like the one earlier this month, following the visit to Kabul of the head of Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed. He had come to Kabul to impose Pakistan’s will on the shape of the new Taliban government. He ensured that all of the key positions went to Pakistani loyalists, principally from the hardline Haqqani network, while those who led the Doha negotiations were downgraded.
The principal loser was Mullah Baradar, who had expected to run the government, but was instead given a deputy’s role. He wanted more roles for Afghanistan’s many ethnic minorities in the government, and has also argued that the green, red and black Afghan national flag should still be flown alongside the white Taliban flag. Tempers flared in a meeting in the Arg and spilled over into a fight between his supporters and those of Khalil Haqqani. Furniture and large thermos flasks full of hot green tea were thrown. Some accounts said there was gunfire, although this has not been verified.
Following the fight, Baradar disappeared for some days, resurfacing in Kandahar, where he remains. He has held a large meeting of tribal elders who support him, but at the same time was forced to read a statement on the state-run TV network, which has been taken over by the Taliban.