An Afghan shop clerk shows a calendar with pictures of Afghan leaders in addition to Mullah Mohammad Omar, center, in Kandahar, south of Kabul, Afghanistan. The Taliban’s second-in-command, Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, was elected the leader by a shura council on Thursday, however, one of Omar’s former aides, Mohammad Hassan Rahmani, told Radio Free Afghanistan that Mansour faces “significant opposition from within” (VOA, RFE/RL).
The appointment of Mansour, seen as a pragmatist and a proponent of peace talks, comes a day after the Taliban confirmed the death of their near-mythical leader Mullah Omar, who led the fractious group for some 20 years.
And like Mullah Omar, details about his exact age, family and whereabouts are largely unknown outside the secretive upper echelons of the group.
In the fall of 2014 and winter of 2015, Afghan officials said, they intercepted two letters written by disaffected Taliban commanders who both referred to the possible death of Mullah Omar.
Others said Kabul could also take control of a peace process that has been largely in the hands of the Pakistani authorities, widely believed to support the Afghan Taliban and to have pressured its leaders to deal with Ghani’s government, which has made peace a priority.
Sources with knowledge of the nascent Afghan peace process also dismissed reports of Mulla Omar’s death, suggesting they are aimed at derailing the second round of talks planned to take place in Pakistan.
The leadership gathering was held outside Quetta, where many Taliban leaders have been based since their hardline regime in Afghanistan was toppled in a 2001 U.S.-led military intervention.
The U.S. government has offered a $5-million reward for information leading to Haqqani’s capture, blaming his group for a series of attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Chinese officials increasingly seemilitancy in the region as a threat to Beijing’s plans for economic growth and political stability in western China, which borders both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
They had agreed to meet again in the coming weeks, drawing global praise, and Afghan officials had pledged to press for a ceasefire in the second round.
Sartaz Aziz said that after the death of the former Afghan leader, he was buried in Afghanistan.
Several have left the movement altogether, pledging allegiance to Islamic State in the Middle East and targeting the Taliban itself in a worrying new development.
In the 1980s, Jalaluddin was close to the Central Intelligence Agency and Pakistani intelligence.
He added that Mansoor’s involvement in drug smuggling also gave him a better financial position compared to other Taliban commanders.
A statement from Pakistan’s foreign minister said the Taliban had requested the postponement amid “uncertainty” following confirmation of the death of Omar. Last week, Feday-e-Mahaz, a breakaway Taliban faction, posted a statement on its Facebook page saying that “the whereabouts of Mullah Omar is known to everyone, and his grave is in Zabul, may his soul rest in peace”.
“Mansour is seen as a man of Pakistan – that is why severe differences are going on among the Taliban leadership”, a mid-level Taliban official told AFP.
Taliban attacks against Afghan officials and forces have intensified with their annual warm-weather offensive.