New Afghan Tal­iban leader prom­ises to con­tinue in­sur­gency

The China Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY RAHIM FAIEZ

The new leader of the Afghan Tal­iban vowed to con­tinue his group’s bloody, nearly 14-year in­sur­gency in an au­dio mes­sage re­leased Satur­day, urg­ing his fight­ers to re­main uni­fied af­ter the death of their long­time leader.

The au­dio mes­sage pur­port­edly from Mul­lah Akhtar Mo­ham­mad Man­soor also in­cluded com­ments about the Tal­iban’s nascent peace talks with the Afghan gov­ern­ment, though it wasn’t im­me­di­ately clear whether he sup­ported them or not.

Man­soor took over the Tal­iban af­ter the group on Thurs­day con­firmed that for­mer leader Mul­lah Mo­ham­mad Omar had died and said they elected Man­soor as his suc­ces­sor. The Afghan gov­ern­ment an­nounced Wed­nes­day that the reclu­sive mul­lah had been dead since April 2013; the Tal­iban has re­mained vague on ex­actly when Mul­lah Omar died.

“We should keep our unity, we must be united, our en­emy will be happy in our sep­a­ra­tion,” Man­soor pur­port­edly said in the mes­sage. “This is a big re­spon­si­bil­ity for us. This is not the work of one, two or three peo­ple. This is all our re­spon­si­bil­ity to carry on ji­had un­til we es­tab­lish the Is­lamic state.”

Tal­iban spokesman Zabi­ul­lah Mu­jahid sent the au­dio to jour­nal­ists and oth­ers Satur­day. The As­so­ci­ated Press could not in­de­pen­dently ver­ify the iden­tity of the man speak­ing in the roughly 30- minute au­dio clip, though Mu­jahid is in charge of all com­mu­ni­ca­tions for the group.

Mul­lah Omar was the oneeyed, se­cre­tive head of the Tal­iban, who hosted Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaida in the years lead­ing up to the Sept. 11, 2001, at­tacks. He had not been seen in public since flee­ing over the bor­der into Pak­istan af­ter the 2001 U.S.-led in­va­sion that ousted the Tal­iban from power.

The new leader of the Tal­iban is seen as close to Pak­istan, which is be­lieved to have shel­tered and sup­ported the in­sur­gents through the war. He is be­lieved to sup­port the peace process ini­ti­ated by Afghan Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani and which Pak­istan has taken the lead on spon­sor­ing.

The fu­ture of the peace talks — post­poned in­def­i­nitely by Pak­istan af­ter the Tal­iban pulled out of a sec­ond round sched­uled for Fri­day — is now in the bal­ance as the Tal­iban lead­er­ship ap­pears to be frac­tur­ing amid dis­agree­ment over who should in­herit Mul­lah Omar’s man­tle.

Aimed at Calm­ing Dis­sent

The new Tal­iban leader’s call for unity comes a day af­ter one of Mul­lah Omar’s sons, Ya­coob, said he op­posed Man­soor’s elec­tion, which was held in the Pak­istani city of Quetta. He said the vote took place among a small clique of Man­soor’s sup­port­ers and de­manded a re-elec­tion that in­cludes all Tal­iban com­man­ders, in­clud­ing those fight­ing in Afghanistan.

Man­soor has ef­fec­tively been com­mand­ing the Tal­iban as Mul­lah Omar’s deputy for the last three years, and has called on loyal com­man­ders to in­ten­sify the war against the Afghan gov­ern­ment in re­cent months. Lo­cal se­cu­rity forces in­creas­ingly find them­selves un­der at­tack as NATO and U.S. troops ended their com­bat mis­sion in the coun­try at the end of last year.

The au­dio mes­sage was clearly aimed at calm­ing dis­si­dent, as the split seemed to cleave those who sup­port talks to end the war from hard­lin­ers who op­pose ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Afghan gov­ern­ment. The man pur­ported to be Man­soor calls for pa­tience, asks the Tal­iban rank and file to ig­nore media re­ports about the peace process and rely on the lead­er­ship to make de­ci­sions. His words seemed care­fully cho­sen to avoid ei­ther sup­port­ing or re­ject­ing peace talks.

“We have to con­tinue our ji­had, we shouldn’t be sus­pi­cious of each other. We should ac­cept each other. What­ever hap­pens must com­ply with Sharia law, whether that be ji­had, or talks, or an in­vi­ta­tion to ei­ther. Our deci- sions all must be based on Sharia law,” he said.

He said the aim of the move­ment re­mained the es­tab­lish­ment of an Is­lamic state in Afghanistan. “The ji­had will con­tinue un­til we es­tab­lish the Is­lamic gov­ern­ment in our coun­try,” he said.

While the in­sur­gents have spread their foot­print across the north­ern prov­inces, the tra­di­tional bat­tle­grounds of the south and east bor­der­ing Pak­istan re­main vul­ner­a­ble to large-scale Tal­iban at­tacks that seem de­signed to de­stroy the morale of the Afghan forces as in­sur­gents con­tinue to over­run dis­tricts, if only tem­po­rar­ily.

Of­fi­cials said on Satur­day that Tal­iban gun­men had sur­rounded a po­lice sta­tion in south­ern Uruz­gan province and were hold­ing 70 po­lice of­fi­cers hostage. The head of the po­lice in Khas Uruz­gan dis­trict said that five po­lice of­fi­cers had been killed and four wounded in fight­ing so far.

“If we don’t get sup­port then all 70 po­lice will be ei­ther dead or cap­tured,” he said.

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