Recently, several Indian media sites reported that two key players of Taliban - deputy prime minister Mullah Baradar and the group's spiritual leader Haibatullah Akhundzada - have fallen prey to the power struggle, citing a UK-based magazine The Spectator. However, the insight was missing on the websites of the world's most popular media outlets.
On 21 September, Indian media – including Hindustan Times, The Times of India, Zee5, Since Independence – reported that Afghan Deputy Prime Minister Mullah Baradar has been held hostage by the Haqqani Network, while senior Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada was killed in a bloody battle between the Haqqani network and the Taliban.
Attributing to The Spectator report, Hindustan times wrote, "During the recent clash at government formation talks between Baradar faction and the Haqqani network, the former emerged as the principal loser".
"The clashes in early September saw furniture as well as large thermos flasks full of hot green thrown around. At one point during the meeting, Haqqani network leader Khalil-ul-Rahman Haqqani rose from his chair and began punching Baradar. He disappeared for a while after the clashes and resurfaced in Kandahar. He held a meeting of tribal leaders who are supporting him, but was also forced to release a video message on the state-run TV network controlled by the Taliban."
According to a ToI report, observers told UK-based magazine The Spectator that Baradar's message appeared to be more of a hostage video.
"He [Baradar] 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."
Meanwhile, Taliban officials have issued repeated denials in recent days that Baradar had been hurt. On 15 September, Anas Haqqani, younger brother of the Taliban's newly appointed Acting Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, also issued a statement on Twitter denying reports of internal rifts in the movement.
Moreover, Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman, said Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, former head of the Taliban political office who was named deputy prime minister last week, issued a voice message rejecting claims he had been killed or injured in a clash.
"He says it is lies and totally baseless," Shaheen said in a message on Twitter.
Citing other reports, ToI said that there was gunfire during the fight in which a number of people were killed and injured.
Both HT and ToI claimed that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Chief General Faiz Hameed, who was in Kabul during the discussions, backed the Haqqanis over Baradar, ensuring that all of the key positions went to Pakistani loyalists, principally from the hardline Haqqani network.
Meanwhile, Since Independence added that the Haqqani network arrested Baradar in an undisclosed location and the video was forcibly made from him after the altercation in September.
On the Taliban supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada, Indian media said "He has not been seen or heard from for some time, and there are many rumours that he is dead".
Although the supreme leader was never directly seen in front of the world, Indian media interpreted no message from him amid the ongoing power struggle as he has been murdered.
"Let us tell you, even the intelligence agencies and the world's sources do not know about Hibatullah Akhundzada. Very few people have this information. Even many senior Taliban leaders have not seen him yet. He continues to send messages to Taliban leaders by releasing videos from time to time. But there was no message from him for a few days," reports Since Independence.
Though the interim government has been formed, two of the most prominent faces of the Taliban have not been seen in public for nearly a month.
Interestingly, all these reports that surfaced on the Indian sites were written based on The Spectator report and not confirmed by popular world media outlets.
According to Reuters, supreme leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, has also not been seen in public since the Taliban seized Kabul on 15 August, although he issued a public statement when the new government was formed last week.
It said that the speculation over Taliban leaders has been fed by the circumstances surrounding the death of the movement's founder, Mullah Omar, which was only made public in 2015 two years after it happened, setting off bitter recriminations among the leadership.
Baradar, one of the founding members of the Taliban and once seen as the likely head of a Taliban government, had not been seen in public for some time. Reportedly, he had pushed for an "inclusive" cabinet that included non-Taliban leaders and ethnic minorities, which would be more acceptable to the rest of the world. However, it is not known what exactly angered the Haqqani network — a US-designated terrorist organization.
Mullah Baradar and the Haqqani network a powerful faction of the Taliban had been engaged in a fight for control of the militia.