Af­ter Omar: ‘This is not the end of war’

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY HASAN AB­DUL­LAH

Many Is­lamist mil­i­tants and their sym­pa­thiz­ers, es­pe­cially in Afghanistan and Pak­istan, are re­cov­er­ing from the shock of Mul­lah Omar’s death and strug­gling to spin a new nar­ra­tive when con­fronted with dif­fi­cult ques­tions by op­po­nents.

Why was Omar’s death kept a se­cret? Was he merely a sym­bolic fig­ure, held hostage by some pow­er­ful Tal­iban fig­ures close to Pak­istan’s se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment?

Should the latest of­fi­cial state­ments by Tal­iban deny­ing the in­ter­nal rifts and power tus­sle be con­sid­ered re­li­able?

Is this the be­gin­ning of the de­cline of the Afghan Tal­iban? Is alQaida set to lose its strong­est ally?

As ques­tions re­ver­ber­ate in ji­hadi cir­cles, the Tehreek- iTal­iban Pak­istan (TTP) and alQaida re­mained largely silent, lead­ing many of their foot sol­diers to spec­u­late and draw their own con­clu­sions.

Many of the oth­er­wise ac­ces­si­ble TTP com­man­ders have not been avail­able on their mo­bile phones or through email.

When even­tu­ally con­tacted, some at­trib­uted the lapse and sub­se­quent de­lays to the latest of­fen­sive on both sides of the Du­rand Line which has ham­pered their lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. How­ever, they are adamant that Omar’s death is not go­ing to have a ma­jor

im­pact on their over­all move­ment.

No Ques­tion of Change of Di­rec­tion

“There is no ques­tion of change of di­rec­tion. We pray for Mul­lah Omar but peo­ple need to un­der­stand that we are not into per­son­al­ity cults. Peo­ple die but not our ide­ol­ogy,” TTP’s cen­tral spokesman Mo­ham­mad Khurasani told this cor­re­spon­dent.

Oth­ers have tried to ra­tio­nal­ize the se­crecy sur­round­ing the reclu­sive Afghan Tal­iban leader’s death as a “war tac­tic.”

“Some­one’s death should not be kept a se­cret for so long. But that is the gen­eral rule. Spe­cial cir­cum­stances have their own rul­ings. This is a war. We can un­der­stand that for strate­gic rea­sons the Amirul-Mom­i­neen’s death may have been kept a se­cret. You should not make such a fuss out of it,” ar­gued Mar­wan, a TTP com­man­der close to Mul­lah Fa­zlul­lah.

In online fo­rums, some Tal­iban sup­port­ers have ex­pressed fear that the move­ment es­tab­lished by Omar may split into fac­tions and some of them may em­brace democ­racy.

“It seems Pak­istan wants the Tal­iban to en­ter main­stream pol­i­tics. What are the chances of Tal­iban ac­cept­ing democ­racy?” ques­tioned a self-pro­claimed Tal­iban sup­porter on a closed Face­book group.

But the new Tal­iban leader, Mul­lah Akhtar Man­soor has been quick to dis­pel such fears with a clear mes­sage re­it­er­at­ing Shariah law as au­thor­ity.

“No democ­racy or any of those use­less ide­olo­gies. Our goal is Shariah and the path to that is through ji­had,” he said in his first au­dio speech af­ter tak­ing charge.

While some in Pak­istan have been ar­gu­ing that Omar’s death is likely to weaken al-Qaida-Tal­iban re­la­tions, the ground re­al­ity sug­gests oth­er­wise.

One of the newly ap­pointed deputies of Mul­lah Akhtar Man­soor is Si­ra­jud­din Haqqani, one of the most feared and wanted mil­i­tants who the U.S. ac­cuses of do­ing much harm to the U.S. and her al­lies in Afghanistan.

In ad­di­tion to run­ning the Haqqani Net­work, Si­ra­jud­din is also in al-Qaida’s in­ner­most cir­cles and has par­tic­i­pated in its shura meet­ings.

More­over, while the Afghan Tal­iban have been claim­ing through their of­fi­cial state­ments that their strug­gle is con­fined to Afghanistan, they con­tinue to shel­ter al-Qaida.

The latest case in­volves Tal­iban pro­vid­ing safe havens in Hel­mand to al-Qaida op­er­a­tives es­cap­ing Pak­istan’s Zarb-i-Azb mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion in North Waziris­tan.

The Com­mon En­emy

Al-Qaida wel­comes the ges­ture with a warn­ing to the “com­mon en­emy.”

“The bond be­tween us and our Tal­iban broth­ers is a solid ide­ologi- cal bond. They opted to lose their gov­ern­ment and fam­ily mem­bers just to pro­tect us. There is no ques­tion of us mov­ing apart now af­ter go­ing through this war to­gether. Our com­mon en­emy does not know what is com­ing its way,” as­serted Qari Abu Bakr, a mem­ber of alQaida’s media wing As Sa­hab.

Splin­ter groups ap­pear to en­dorse al-Qaida’s view and ex­plain that the goals are fun­da­men­tally sim­i­lar.

“We may have our dif­fer­ences over strat­egy or some other mat­ters but our goals are the same. Clearly all of us are be­ing tar­geted by NATO, Afghan forces and oth­ers. So why should we not fight back to­gether? And we will,” claimed TTP Ja­mat-ul-Ahrar’s spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan.

Will IS over­shadow TTP, Qaida?

Such re­solve aside, the TTP, Ja­mat-ul-Ahrar, al-Qaida and the Afghan Tal­iban can­not ig­nore a chal­lenge that seems to be grow­ing by the day — Bagh­dadi’s self-styled Is­lamic State (IS).

IS has been win­ning re­cruits from Tal­iban and al-Qaida ranks and has prac­ti­cally “or­dered” all ji­hadis to pledge al­le­giance to Bagh­dadi or be pre­pared to be dealt with as a rebel — the pun­ish­ment for which they de­cree death.

Over the last few months, IS and its sup­port­ers have been en­gaged in at­tempts to dis­credit Mul­lah Omar, ac­cus­ing him of be­ing myste-

al- ri­ously miss­ing, dis­con­nected from the Mus­lims, hav­ing a “nar­row na­tion­al­is­tic Afghan per­spec­tive,” not be­ing a Qureshi and hence not fit to be pledged al­le­giance to as a caliph.

Many IS sup­port­ers have pounced on the news of Mul­lah Omar’s death to dis­credit the Tal­iban and al-Qaida.

Ac­cord­ing to them, Tal­iban have com­mit­ted “treach­ery” by con­ceal­ing Omar’s death and is­su­ing state­ments in his name.

IS sup­port­ers online say the Afghan Tal­iban will be re­duced to a na­tion­al­ist force and even­tu­ally fade away.

They are also crit­i­cal of al-Qaida chief doc­tor Ay­man Al Zawahiri, ac­cus­ing him of de­cep­tion in the case that he was aware of Omar’s death and chose to re­new pledge of al­le­giance to a “dead man” in­stead of ac­cept­ing Abu Bakr Al Bagh­dadi.

On the con­trary, they blame him for be­ing out of touch if he was un­aware of the supremo’s demise.

IS fight­ers have tried to as­sert au­thor­ity in parts of Eastern Afghanistan by ex­e­cut­ing peo­ple they ac­cused of spy­ing or other crimes.

But al-Qaida and Tal­iban fig­ures say the dust will even­tu­ally set­tle.

“Ul­ti­mately we are head­ing into a sce­nario where peo­ple with knowl­edge and sin­cer­ity will out­run the emo­tional, thought­less types. This is not the end of the war. It is merely the start of a new phase,” said al-Qaida Qari Abu Bakr.

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