Who will lead Taliban?
Taliban have proclaimed Mullah Omar dead. Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, his deputy, has been appointed as the man to lead the movement. Mullah Akhtar Mansoor is largely viewed as the moving force behind the peace movement. Mullah Akhtar, according to The Guardian, had a record of favouring reconciliation and had tried to retire from the insurgency early in the war and offered to support the new government under Hamid Karzai. Being so denied he left the country knowing then that he was on the hit list of the US. An interesting statement of the report caught my eye, “Mansour, however, does not command the same reverence as Omar, whom tens of thousands saw as Commander of the Faithful, after he donned a cloak in 1996 that had belonged to the Prophet Muhammad.” (Published July 30, 2015) A report by CNN claims the divisions to be also due to the dominance of “Ishakzai Durrani represented by Mansoor.” Rumour has it that the Afghan Taliban Supreme Council was not consulted in the appointment barring discussion with a few selected. A wider vote is demanded.
Does this mean fissures within the Taliban? Will it mean that in due course of time the movement will be weakened? Who are the groups that may not revere Mullah Akhtar Mansoor? One such dissident group is led by Bakht Mohammad known as Mullah Mansoor Dadullah. Bakht Mohammad was appointed by Mullahh Omar in place of his brother as the leading commander for the South. Bakht Mohammad was one of the five Taliban released by the Afghan government in return of a kidnapped journalist of Italian origin. The brothers hail from Char Chino (Uruzgan province). However, according to Alex Strick van Linschoten in his book “The Enemy We Created”, “Bakht Mohmmad was publically sacked.” He claims the dismissal was a result of the Taliban to regain command over their command structures. (Page 466)
Mullah Yakub, son of Mullah Omar, is said to hold sway over the opinion of another group of Taliban. Being the son of a founder leader of Taliban, his opinion and support will carry weight. He was one of the leaders in running after the death of his father to don the mantle. Upon appointment of Mullah Mansoor several leaders had walked out in protest including Mullah Yakub.
Yet another point of opposition can come from Tayyab Agha, the person responsible for the Doha Liaison Office of Taliban. The Qatar office was not happy with peace talks with Pakistan playing mediator and had decided to stay away from the Murree meeting. Mullah Mansoor is seen as being inclined towards Pakistan.
Another strong player is Mansoor’s long-term rival Abdul Qayum Zakir. Interestingly, according to a report by Reuters, “In a letter published on the Taliban website, Zakir wrote that he had read reports ‘that I had differences with Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour. Let me assure that this isn’t true’”. (July 31, 2015) Mullah Qayum Zakir had openly supported Mullah Yakub’s candidature and this is a publically known fact. Until very recently, he has been very critical of Mullah Mansoor and his approach. Mullah Akhtar Mansoor playing his cards well was successful in having Zakir fired from Head of Taliban’s Military Council. Zakir’s statement, therefore, supporting Mullah Akhtar Mansoor is surprising if maintained. Mullah Omar’s younger brother Abdul Mannan too is one of Mullah Yakub’s supporters.
The Telegraph reports, “But a member of its ruling Quetta Shura told The Telegraph that dozens of key leaders were not present at the secret meeting in Pakistan, which was dominated by Mullahh Mansoor’s supporters. Mansoor was elected by his own group, and we will not accept him as the supreme leader of Taliban,” he said on condition of anonymity. “And we cannot call it a decision without a consensus.” (August 1, 2015)
Interesting questions pose themselves in this scenario. If a wider vote is demanded and the pressure builds up, will this lead to Mullah Mansoor accepting to the demand? If yes, will the decision of his appointment be upheld or as being stated in certain circles since the meeting was predominantly attended by Mullah Mansoor’s supporters and thereby led to his succession, the decision will be reversed? In either case, what will be the fate of the newly born peace process?
One thing is clear: there is a widening schism between the moderates within the ranks and the hard-liners within the ranks who oppose the peace talks. Then comes an interesting twist. According to news reports Mullah Akhtar Mansoor had addressed the Taliban calling for unity, seen to be aimed at mellowing his opponents. What then will this succession mean for talks? Irrespective of opponents, no matter how strong and how many, I firmly believe to emerge as a strong leader will depend upon Mullah Akhtar Mansoor himself.
Sami Yousufzai, a correspondent for The Daily Beast and covering Afghanistan and Pakistan, has had many encounters with the newly elected Taliban leader. He describes Mullah Mansoor thus, “Over the years I have always found Mullahh Mansoor acting in the manner of a tribal elder, neither conspicuously silent nor overly talkative, a man who weighs his words, is reasonable and eloquent.” (31 July, 2015) In the same piece, the writer presents another aspect of Mullah Akhtar Mansoor’s personality, “Mullah Akhtar Mansoor has been criticised for giving many Taliban leadership positions to members of his Ishaqzai tribe. A senior Western diplomat in Kabul told The Daily Beast that Mansoor and his business partner, Mullahh Gul Agah Akhond, are deeply involved in the opium trade and in smuggling expensive marble from Afghanistan to Pakistan.”
Interestingly, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor did not surpass those considered his superiors but rose in rank owing to their deaths. Among others, it also included Dadullah, Mohammad Bakht’s brother who was killed in 2007, known by all to be a fierce fighter.
If the peace talks continue and reach a logical conclusion, will it be acceptable to all stakeholders? Once again, this depends upon the chief Mullah Akhtar turns out to be and his grip over the movement and if he succeeds in quelling the opposition and carrying different groups together. He has a fight ahead of him. He needs allies and wit coupled with sincerity to convert opponents into allies. Mullah Omar’s death is a crossroads for the Taliban. It will be a test of Mullah Akhtar Mansoor’s strength to deal with the situation with all cunning and ingenuity at his disposal.
After Mullah Omar | Yasmeen Aftab Ali