Mullah Omar’s departure has created more confusion.
Confirmation of the news of the death of Afghan Taliban founder Mullah Omar has completely changed the political and security scenario in Afghanistan. The immediate victim is the peace process between the Afghan government and the Taliban insurgents. The death of Mullah Omar is going to have both short and long-term consequences not only for Afghanistan but also for Pakistan.
The timing of the revelation of the death of Mullah Omar by the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) raised many questions. The NDS revealed the information on the very eve of the second round of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban scheduled to be held on July 31. It appears the aim of the revelation of the news was to deliberately torpedo the nascent peace process which shows that the elected Afghan government led by Dr. Ashraf Ghani and his establishment were not on the same page regarding the peace talks with the Taliban.
There are different reasons for the Afghan security and intelligence
establishment to defy a pacifistic policy of Dr. Ghani. Firstly, most members of the intelligence establishment comprise loyalists of the pre-Taliban communist regimes (1979-1992). During the Taliban rule in Afghanistan (1996-2001) they were forced to flee or were harshly treated by the regime. Since the ouster of the Taliban regime, they have made a successful return to their former positions. So successful peace talks of the Afghan state with the Taliban could be a death knell for both formerly pro-communist and generally anti-Taliban Afghan officials as these would pave the way for the insurgent partaking in the state power. Thus this approach of the Afghan establishment regarding the Taliban rests on fears, which has kept the Afghan peace process hostage.
It must be mentioned that in July the first round of rare peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government took place in the Pakistani mountain resort of Murree. It was the first instance in 14 years that the Taliban took part in any direct peace talks with the Afghan government. This flexibility was shown by the newly appointed leader of the Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mansur. The Taliban participation in peace talks was not only pathbreaking but convinced observers on Afghanistan that the intransigent Mullah Omar was no more there and the rumours of his death were correct. It may be mentioned that Mullah Omar died in July 2013. It is hard to believe that Afghan intelligence was unaware of his death. However, it wanted to publicly confirm the death at an appropriate time for itself. It is i important to note that there were many opponents within the Taliban ranks to Akhtar Mansur’s peace overtures towards the Afghan government but he s still took the risk. However, after the Afghan establishment demonstrated insincerity to the talks process, Mansur a also rejected further talks.
The confirmation of Mullah Omar’s death would not only torpedo the Afghan peace process but it would also result in an all-out offensive from the Taliban militants. The speed in the attacks soon after the breakdown of the peace process corroborates this fact. There are reasons for the Taliban to go for the kill. Participation in peace talks with the Afghan government and betrayal by the Afghan establishment greatly affected the clout, position and respect of the Taliban. The large-scale attacks by the Taliban would be aimed at restoring the position of strength of the Taliban. Secondly, the new leader Akhtar Mansur needed to demonstrate to his opponents that his attempt to give peace a chance was not his weakness and he was equally capable of fighting and could order spectacular attacks. Thirdly, large-scale attacks by the Taliban after Mullah Omar’s death had also become their compulsion to deflect the propaganda of the Islamic State or ‘Daesh’.
The Middle East based group founded and led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has been trying to establish a foothold in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In order to achieve this, it had to bring the Afghan Taliban and particularly Mullah Omar, who was the undisputed Amir of all regional Muslim militants, into disrepute. It is interesting to note that the IS commanders, particularly its central spokesman Al-Adnani had been mocking Mullah Omar and had dubbed him a ‘fool’ who was only pursuing an Afghan nationalist agenda instead of a pure Islamist programme which does not believe in any national interest or borders.
In order to prove the IS propaganda against the Taliban and Mullah Omar wrong, the new leader, Akhtar Mansur, particularly after the failure of peace talks, went for full-scale attacks against the Afghan government. That the Taliban staged attacks and created trouble for the Afghan government is already visible. The quality and number of post-Mullah Omar offensives by the Taliban are a yardstick of their current strength and relevance for the future. The Taliban are essentially a militant outfit and have not transformed into a political party because either they have not wanted to or have not had the time to think on those lines. To take advantage of this, the Al Qaeda head Aiman Al Zawahiri has also come out of hibernation and has pledged support to the new Taliban leader Akhtar Mansur. The Al Qaeda not only wants to pay back the Taliban as the latter supported the former in very testing times, but would also like to settle scores with its Middle Eastern rival, the IS.
Confirmation of Mullah Omar’s death has created a rare opportunity for the Islamic State to make a comeback in Afghanistan. After establishing an initial network, which was evolving, the IS had to face reverses as almost the entire command of its Khorasan Shura (organization for Pakistan, Afghanistan, Central Asia and Iran) led by a Pakistani, Hafiz Saeed (not the Hafiz Saeed of Jamat e Dawa), was eliminated in US drone attacks in Nangarhar province of Afghanistan. However, it seems the death of Mullah Omar and the resulting power struggle within the Taliban will help the IS attract many commanders and fighters as cracks have already appeared in the Taliban ranks on the issue of peace talks with the Afghan government.
This will also heighten the tension between the Afghan Taliban and the IS and may lead to more bloody clashes. After Mullah Omar’s death, Pakistani Taliban leaders will have little option to remain tied to the Afghan Taliban movement and may join the IS in Afghanistan. This will strengthen the IS in Pakistan and may lead to another wave of deadly terrorist attacks inside the country.