The Afghan Taliban are showing signs of increasing strain after a number of killings, arrests and internal disputes that have reached them even in their haven in Pakistan, Afghan security officials and Afghans with contacts in the Taliban say.
The killings, coming just as the insurgents are mobilising for the new fighting season in Afghanistan, have unnerved many in the Taliban and have spread a climate of paranoia and distrust within the insurgent movement, the Afghans said.
Three powerful Taliban commanders were killed in February in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta, well known to be the command center of the Taliban leadership, according to a mujahedeen commander from the region with links to the Taliban.
A fourth commander, a former Taliban minister, was wounded in the border town of Chaman in March, in a widely reported shooting.
There have also been several arrests in Pakistan of senior Taliban commanders, including those from Zabul and Kabul provinces, and the shadow governor of Herat, Afghan officials said.
While the arrests have been conducted by Pakistan security forces, no one seems to know for sure who is behind the killings. Members of the Taliban attribute them to American spies, running Pakistani and Afghan agents, in an extension of the American campaigns that have used night raids to track down and kill scores of midlevel Taliban commanders in Afghanistan and drone strikes to kill militants with links to al Qaeda in Pakistan's tribal areas.
Afghan officials in Kabul denied any involvement in attacks on the Taliban inside Pakistan, as did American and NATO military officials.
Whatever the case, Taliban commanders and fighters, who used to be a common sight in parts of Quetta, have now gone underground and are not moving around openly as before.
While there is still some debate over the insurgents' overall strength, Pakistanis with deep knowledge of the Afghan Taliban say that they have suffered heavy losses in the last year and that they are struggling in some areas to continue the fight.