ISLAMABAD (AP) -- The Taliban condemned on Sunday a "baseless and biased" report from the U.N. Security Council highlighting rifts within the group's ranks.
The last seven months have seen a greater shift of power from the capital Kabul to the southern city of Kandahar, a Taliban heartland and the base of the group's supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada.
A report -- issued earlier in June -- by the U.N. Security Council's Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team said that the Taliban governance structures remain "highly exclusionary, Pashtun-centred and repressive" toward all forms of opposition.
It also said Kandahar's return as the seat of power -- like it was during the Taliban's rule of Afghanistan in the 1990s -- circumvents senior Taliban ministers in Kabul, the center of the current government, because of the way decisions are made.
Key figures, such as the Taliban's main spokesman, have set up offices in the south of Kandahar. Monumental decrees such as those excluding women and girls from education and work were issued from the city instead of Kabul.
The report also said the group was battling internal conflict over key policies, the centralization of power and the control of financial and natural resources in Afghanistan. Ongoing power struggles are further destabilizing the situation, to the point where an outbreak of armed conflict between rival factions is a manifest risk, the report added.
The Taliban's main spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid rejected the report's "accusations" of strife, saying they were baseless and demonstrated "obvious hostility" to Afghans.
Rumors of disagreement between the group's leaders are a continuation of the propaganda of the past 20 years, he said. "The publication of such biased and baseless reports by the Security Council does not help Afghanistan and international peace and security, rather, it increases worry among the people (Afghans)."
The report described the Taliban leader, Akhundzada, as "reclusive and elusive" and said he had elaborate measures to ensure his safety while holding meetings.
It also cited an unnamed U.N. Security Council member state as saying Akhundzada had survived two bouts of COVID-19, leaving his respiratory system weakened, in addition to existing kidney problems, leading to suggestions that senior Taliban figures are waiting for his health to lead to a natural succession.
"Hibatullah has been proudly resistant to external pressure to moderate his policies," the June 1 report said. "There is no indication that other Kabul-based Taliban leaders can influence policy substantially. There is little prospect of change in the near to medium term."
The Taliban say their orders align with their interpretation of Shariah, or Islamic law.
Since last November, the Taliban have barred women from most public spaces, university education, and most jobs, including at local and international nongovernmental groups. Girls have already been banned from school beyond sixth grade.
In recent days, the Taliban have also sought to exclude all foreign organizations from the education sector, a move the U.N. secretary-general's chief spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, said Thursday would be another "horrendous step backward" for Afghan people.
Aid agencies have been providing food, education and health care support to Afghans in the wake of the Taliban takeover in August 2021 and the economic collapse that followed it.