Head of Tal­iban’s Qatar of­fice steps down as lead­er­ship rift deep­ens

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL -

The head of the Tal­iban’s Qatar­based po­lit­i­cal of­fice has stepped down, a state­ment said, a high­pro­file res­ig­na­tion within lead­er­ship ranks high­light­ing grow­ing dis­cord over the move­ment’s re­cent power tran­si­tion.

Mul­lah Akhtar Man­sour was an­nounced as the new Tal­iban chief on Fri­day af­ter the in­sur­gents con­firmed the death of Mul­lah Omar, who led the mil­i­tant move­ment for some 20 years.

But splits im­me­di­ately emerged be­tween Man­sour and ri­vals chal­leng­ing his ap­point­ment, ex­pos­ing the Tal­iban’s big­gest lead­er­ship cri­sis in re­cent years and one that raises the risk of a fac­tional split.

Un­der­scor­ing the deep­en­ing in­ter­nal di­vi­sions, Tayeb Agha stepped down on Mon­day as head of the Tal­iban’s po­lit­i­cal of­fice, set up in Qatar in 2013 to fa­cil­i­tate peace talks, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment.

“In or­der to live with a clear con­science and abide by the prin­ci­ples of Mul­lah Omar, I de­cided that my work as head of the po­lit­i­cal of­fice has ended,” Agha said in the state­ment pub­lished on a web­site regularly used by the Doha of­fice and con­firmed by a Tal­iban source.

“I will not be in­volved in any kind of (Tal­iban) state­ments ... and will not sup­port any side in the cur­rent in­ter­nal dis­putes within the Tal­iban.”

The Tal­iban source said Man­sour’s aides were try­ing to con­vince Agha to with­draw his res­ig­na­tion but his state­ment adds to a grow­ing cho­rus of dis­sent in the move­ment over the in­creas­ingly bit­ter po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion.

“The death of Mul­lah Omar was kept se­cret for two years,” Agha said. “I con­sider this a his­tor­i­cal mis­take.”

The Tal­iban have not given de­tails of when and where Omar died but the Afghan gov­ern­ment said it hap­pened in Karachi in April 2013.

The Tal­iban con­tin­ued to re­lease of­fi­cial state­ments in the name of Omar, who had not been seen in public since the Tal­iban were top­pled from power in 2001, as re­cently as last month.

Agha added that con­sen­sus should have been sought from in­sur­gent strongholds in­side Afghanistan over the new leader’s ap­point­ment.

Many mil­i­tants also op­pose what they see as Pak­istan’s at­tempt to force the Tal­iban into di­rect peace talks with the Afghan gov­ern­ment.

Man­sour and his two newly named deputies — in­flu­en­tial re­li­gious leader Haibat­ul­lah Akhundzada and Si­ra­jud­din Haqqani — are all seen as close to the Pak­istani mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ment, which has his­tor­i­cally nur­tured and sup­ported the Tal­iban.

Faced with the open rifts, the Tal­iban have sought to present a uni­fied front at a time when the Is­lamic State group is mak­ing grad­ual in­roads in Afghanistan.

The mil­i­tants re­leased a video on their web­site show­ing a large crowd of sup­port­ers pledg­ing al­le­giance to Man­sour in an ef­fort to bol­ster sup­port for the new leader.

The video could not be in­de­pen­dently ver­i­fied by AFP.

Man­sour on Satur­day called for unity in the Tal­iban in his first au­dio mes­sage since be­com­ing head of the group, in com­ments ap­par­ently aimed at staving off a splin­ter­ing of the group.

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