Amidst an uncertain political future for the Taliban government in Afghanistan, the group has been busy recently overcoming internal rifts between its commanders and its leadership in Kabul.
A new instance of the rifts is Qari Waqas, a former commander for the so-called Red Unit of the Taliban in Badakhshan, who has parted ways with the group over the last few months and has changed the Taliban flag with the national resistance front (NRF) in at least three villages under his control in Tagab district in northeast Afghanistan.
A tribal elder from Tagab district said that Waqas joined the Taliban at a young age following differences within his own family and remained a loyal member of them.
“He was 15 years old when he went to Peshawar, Pakistan, for religious studies, remained there for four years, and joined the Taliban one year after his return from Pakistan,” said Haji Zaman, a tribal elder in Tagab district.
His military activities were mainly focused on Kishm and Tagab districts in Badakhshan even until the recent political changes in the country.
“Qari Waqas changed into one of the most famous commanders of the group in the district and had a special place within the group in Kishm and Tagab after the recent political changes,” Zaman said.
His relatives said that Waqas remained a loyal member of the Taliban for seven years and had a “key role” in capturing Kishm and Tagab districts from the former government’s forces.
Mohammad Nabi, a relative of the commander, said an apparent inattention of the Taliban to Waqas is the main reason behind his breakup with the group.
He added that apparently, Waqas was expecting a key position in the Taliban government, but he remained the commander of the group’s special unit in the Tagab district.
“Qari Waqas did not raise his voice eight months after the political changes until the Taliban decided to disarm him by sending a group of its members to his area… He broke up with the group along with 16 people under his command, and, initially, erected the NRF flag in Khambak village (in Tagab),” he added.
Two residents of the district said that this week a battle happened in Khambak village between Taliban soldiers and the armed men under Qari Waqas’s command that continued for a few hours.
“Taliban suffered casualties in this battle,” said Salahuddin, a resident of Tagab, adding that the Taliban could not take control of areas under the control of their former commander and had to return to the center of Tagab.
This resident of the district said that now Qari Waqas has three villages under his control and at least 300 people under his command – one month after his partition with the Taliban.
Waqas is the third major commander of the Taliban that parts ways with the group after Mawlawi Mahdi and Zarif Muzaffari in Sar-e-Pul province in the north of Afghanistan.