Afghanistan said on Wednesday that Mullah Omar, the reclusive leader of the Afghan Taliban movement, died more than two years ago in Karachi.
“The government ... based on credible information, confirms that Mullah Mohammad Omar, leader of the Taliban died in April 2013 in Pakistan,” the Afghan presidential palace said in a statement.
“The government of Afghanistan believes that grounds for the Afghan peace talks are more paved now than before, and thus calls on all armed opposition groups to seize the opportunity and join the peace process.”
A spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Sayed Zafar Hashemi, had earlier told reporters,“We are aware of the reports of the passing of Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader. We are still in the process of verifying those reports, and as soon as we get any more accurate information or identification ... we will let the media and the people of Afghanistan know about it.”
Afghanistan's main intelligence agency had also said Wednesday the Taliban leader had died in a Karachi hospital in April 2013, after a BBC report earlier in the day claimed the reclusive Taliban leader had died two or three years ago.
Abdul Hassib Sediqi, the spokesman for Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security, said Mullah Omar died in a hospital in the Pakistani city of Karachi in April 2013.
“We confirm officially that he is dead,” he told The Associated Press.
The White House said on Wednesday it was aware of reports of the death of Taliban leader Mullah Omar and believes the reports are “credible.” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said the US intelligence community continued to look into the reports.
When contacted, Pakistan's Foreign Office spokesman Qazi Khalilullah said, “We are ascertaining details in view of media reports about his [Mullah Omar's] death.”
Earlier today, a report on the BBC website quoted unnamed Afghan government sources as saying the one-eyed leader of the militant organisation had died two to three years ago.
The Afghan Taliban and sources close to the insurgent group’s mediators, who are holding talks with the Afghan government in Pakistan, however, insisted the Taliban chief is alive, according to a report on the Voice of America website.
Mullah Omar “is very much alive” and the rumours of his death are aimed at drawing out the reclusive leader, a Taliban spokesman was quoted by the VOA as saying.
Another senior Afghan government official quoting a senior Taliban leader told Dawn the reclusive leader of the Afghan Taliban had died of multiple organ failure a year and a half ago and was subsequently buried in Kandahar.
He further said an eight-member Taliban shura will hold a meeting to choose Omar's successor for six months to one year. He said that there are no clear contenders at the moment but many senior Taliban leaders are being considered for the post.
Another Afghan Taliban member claimed that Mullah Omar had died eight months ago of natural causes. The Taliban member added that, "The issue of choosing the next Amirul Momineen is being resolved."
"A 20 member shura is in control of the situation to avoid any conflict between the contending leaders," he added.
A senior official from the Pakistani military said he could not confirm Omar's death.
“It is worth asking why this news has come out now, when we are two days away from the second round of peace talks,” said the official, who was not authorised to speak to the press.
“Especially in light of reports that he died two years ago ... why is this news being released now? It raises questions about the intentions of people who don't want talks to go forward.”
The development comes amid the recently started peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government in Murree which were said to be endorsed by Mullah Omar. The peace talks hosted by Pakistan were also attended by officials from China and the US.
Also, Daesh or the self-styled Islamic State (IS) had in the past few months increased its footprint in Afghanistan establishing itself in previously Taliban-controlled areas. Daesh and Taliban are also locked in fight for control of some other regions.
There had been several earlier claims regarding Mullah Omar's death, which had been rejected by the Afghan Taliban. The whereabouts of Omar remained a mystery but he was believed to be leading the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan from hiding.
Born in 1960 in the village of Chah-i-Himmat, in Kandahar province, Mullah Omar received his early education from a seminary, according to Taliban sources.
He also fought against Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan in 1980s during which he suffered a shrapnel injury to his right eye.
Mullah Omar was Afghanistan's de facto head of state during their 1996-2001 rule over Afghanistan.The heavily bearded, one-eyed Omar has not been seen in public since the Taliban government in Afghanistan was toppled by US-backed Afghan forces in late 2001.
The Taliban were toppled for refusing to hand over al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11, 2001, hijacked airliner attacks on the United States. Mullah Omar had forged close ties to al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden
The US State Department had offered a $10 million bounty on his head and described him as a tall male with a shrapnel wound to the right eye.
Mullah Omar, along with several other Taliban leaders, was said to have fled to Quetta where they formed the “Quetta shura”. A shura is a leadership council. other reports had also claimed that Mullah Omar had fled to Pakistan's Karachi city.
Later the United States had said it will not target Mullah Omar and other Taliban leaders unless they posed a direct threat to the US, following the withdrawal of US forces in Afghanistan in January this year.
(With additional reporting by Ali Akbar from Peshawar and Irfan Haider from Islamabad.)