Tal­iban com­man­der Mul­lah Omar dies, but when and where?

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

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.

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