Taliban commander Mullah Omar dies, but when and where?
In death, Mullah Omar has proved to be as controversial as he was in life.
After overnight speculation on when, where and how the Taliban supreme commander had died, the Afghan Taliban appear to at least have put to rest speculation that one of the world’s most famous recluses may be still be alive.
Confirmations from Omar’s family and via official Afghan Taliban channels, though, have not settled the basic facts surrounding the death.
If it is true that Omar died in southern Afghanistan recently, as the Afghan Taliban are claiming, and not in a Karachi hospital two years ago, as alleged by Afghan government officials, that still leaves a major credibility issue on both sides.
Why did the Afghan Taliban try and hide Omar’s death and only confirm it once the Afghan government had leaked the news to the media?
Only two weeks ago, the Afghan Taliban had claimed Mullah Omar had issued his standard pre-Eid missive. Were they lying then? Or have they been dissembling for years now?
More importantly, from a dialogue perspective, has a group within the Afghan Taliban been lying about the internal cohesion of the Taliban and trying to use Mullah Omar’s name to win a settlement with the Afghan Taliban that it cannot guarantee?
For the Afghan government side, too, there are major questions. News of the death was leaked by elements within the Afghan state on the eve of a second round of direct talks between the Afghan government and representatives of the Afghan Taliban shura in Pakistan.
That has led to the postponement of the next rounds of talks and plunged the very notion of talks into disarray — benefiting whom and to what end?
Surely, the latest development cannot suit the pro-peace faction of the Afghan state.
A leadership struggle or a splin- tering of the Taliban just as the Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani is seeking to draw the Taliban into a dialogue process is hardly welcome news.
With Mullah Omar dead, the Taliban movement’s first and only supreme commander is out of the picture just as some kind of understanding needs to be reached between those elements making significant gains on the battlefield and those looking to the negotiating table for a permanent settlement.
Whoever takes over the Afghan Taliban now will have that much of a harder time trying to win over the faction committed to defeating the Afghan state militarily.
The role of the outside powers too hardly seems benign in the present scenario.
Were the Americans, with their vast surveillance powers, completely unaware that Mullah Omar has been dead for years or has died recently?
What also of the Pakistani security establishment’s knowledge regarding the workings of the Afghan Taliban?
Either the outside powers are utterly clueless or recklessly naive to have believed news of Mullah Omar’s death could remain hidden. This is an editorial published by Dawn on July 31.