Now what, Tal­iban?

Southasia - - COMMENT -

Now that Mul­lah Omar has been of­fi­cially de­clared dead, his suc­ces­sor has been named as Mul­lah Akhtar Muham­mad Man­sour. The Afghan gov­ern­ment an­nounced that Mul­lah Omar had ex­pired more than two years back in a hos­pi­tal in Karachi. The new Tal­iban leader has said that the ji­had will con­tinue un­til an Is­lamic sys­tem has been es­tab­lished in Afghanistan. He has called upon the Afghan Tal­iban to re­main as uni­fied as they were when the late Mul­lah Omar led them. These are test­ing times for the Tal­iban be­cause they were en­gaged in peace talks un­til just re­cently with the Afghan gov­ern­ment and Pak­istan, the USA and China fa­cil­i­tated the process. It seems that the re­al­ity of Mul­lah Omar’s death has thrown a span­ner in the works. The Afghan gov­ern­ment ob­vi­ously wished to scut­tle the talks and got its Na­tional Di­rec­torate of Se­cu­rity (NDS) to re­lease the in­for­ma­tion just days be­fore the next round was about to be­gin. Mul­lah Man­sour also seems to be ap­pre­hen­sive about the peace talks. This is de­spite the fact that he had ‘ap­proved’ a his­toric face-to-face meet­ing in early July be­tween del­e­ga­tions from the Tal­iban and the Afghan gov­ern­ment. The meet­ing was be­ing seen as cru­cial at the start of ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the Tal­iban and Kabul. Af­ter Mul­lah Omar’s death was an­nounced, the next round was sum­mar­ily post­poned. Hopes are still rife though for fu­ture con­tacts be­tween the Tal­iban and the Afghan gov­ern­ment while the Tal­iban con­tinue to press for the set­ting up of an Is­lamic sys­tem in Kabul and Mul­lah Man­sour is said to be the great­est pro­po­nent of this de­mand.

His se­lec­tion as the new Tal­iban leader has broad back­ing. This in­cludes the hard-line Haqqani wing, which is now re­ported to be in the top Tal­iban com­mand struc­ture. It is be­ing re­ported that Jalalud­din Haqqani, the founder and head of the Pak­istan-based Haqqani net­work, backed Mul­lah Man­sour but media re­ports now claim that the se­nior leader has also died and has been suc­ceeded by his son. The Haqqani net­work is ac­tive in Pak­istan's North Waziris­tan re­gion that borders Afghanistan. The Op­er­a­tion Zarb-e-Azb launched by the Pak­istani mil­i­tary has had vast suc­cesses in elim­i­nat­ing the net­work but it is be­lieved North Waziris­tan is still be­ing used by mil­i­tants as a base to launch at­tacks on Afghan and in­ter­na­tional troops in Afghanistan. A few dis­si­dent voices have also emerged to claim that Mul­lah Man­sour’s se­lec­tion was the work of a small fac­tion of his sup­port­ers and that a far larger gath­er­ing of Tal­iban lead­ers was nec­es­sary to se­lect a new leader. The voices of dis­sent are said to be those of the mu­ja­hedeen, cler­ics and fight­ing com­man­ders who were a part of the Is­lamic emi­rate for the past 20 years. It is also re­ported that the fam­ily of Mul­lah Omar, par­tic­u­larly his brother and son, are not happy with the ap­point­ment of Mul­lah Man­sour though it is dif­fi­cult to gauge how this will pan out in the fu­ture and im­pact the choice of the leader.

Born in the same south­ern province, Kan­da­har, as Mul­lah Omar, some­time in the early 1960s, Man­sour was part of the Tal­iban move­ment from the start and was re­ported to be ef­fec­tively in charge since 2013. Like the late Mul­lah Omar, Man­sour is also shy of public ex­po­sure. He has spent a part of his life in Pak­istan in the days af­ter the Soviet in­va­sion and has also served as min­is­ter for civil avi­a­tion in the Tal­iban gov­ern­ment. He is de­scribed as a prag­matic who strongly fa­vors di­a­logue with the gov­ern­ment in Kabul in a bid to end the bloody war. Man­sour is par­tic­u­larly rec­og­nized for his abil­ity to nav­i­gate be­tween dif­fer­ent cur­rents in the Tal­iban move­ment, from the Quetta Shura to the po­lit­i­cal of­fice in Qatar to com­man­ders on the ground in Afghanistan. Mul­lah Yak­oub, Mul­lah Omar’s son, was also backed by some com­man­ders for a run as the new Tal­iban leader but was judged as be­ing too young and in­ex­pe­ri­enced at 26. It must go to the credit of Mul­lah Man­sour, how­ever, that he was ready to step down as leader of the Tal­iban to pre­vent dis­unity from spread­ing. Man­sour is some­times de­scribed by an­a­lysts as among the Tal­iban’s more mod­er­ate lead­ers but what that means is un­clear in the con­text of an in­sur­gency that has been waged by the Tal­iban for more than a decade and has in­creas­ingly used sui­cide bombers. While Man­sour was close to his pre­de­ces­sor, he does not have Omar’s aura of re­li­gious au­thor­ity. The Tal­iban an­nounce­ment also did not con­fer the ti­tle “Amirul Mom­i­neen” (leader of the faith­ful) on Mul­lah Man­sour and this could cre­ate another di­men­sion for the fu­ture of the Tal­iban.

Syed Jawaid Iqbal

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