ISLAMABAD: Amidst reports of divisions in Taliban ranks over the choice of their chief, the group’s supreme council notified Mullah Akhtar Mansour as successor to the late Mullah Omar and named his two deputies on Friday.
“The supreme council agreed that he is the appropriate and eligible person, according to the requirements of Shariah, to lead the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” a statement issued by spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on behalf of the Taliban shura.
The statement described Mullah Mansour as ‘Emir-ul-Momineen’ or the ‘leader of the faithful’ — a tag used by Mullah Omar during his life.
Know more: Afghan Taliban Shura elects new emir
The appointment had been reported a day earlier but the council announced his designation as the emir on Friday. Thursday’s statement by the Taliban spokesman, confirming the reports about the death of Mullah Omar, had said nothing about the news of Mullah Mansour’s appointment.
But on Friday, the spokesman said Mullah Mansour was ‘a close and trusted friend’ of Mullah Omar and deputised during his life. He said the choice had been made by the Taliban supreme council and leading clerics of Afghanistan.
Mullah Mansour, who is in his mid-fifties, served as head of the aviation department during the Taliban government and after their ouster from power remained the shadow governor of Kandahar. Within the organisation, he remained on the supreme council and deputy to Mullah Omar. He also headed the political and military division of Taliban, because of which he has been maintaining direct contact with the field commanders.
The elders, religious scholars and notables also swore allegiance to him after his election, the spokesman said.
Although the statement suggested that the election had taken place smoothly, sources in the militant group gave a different account and claimed that several key commanders had opposed his nomination and boycotted the meeting.
The dissenting leaders were identified as Mullah Muhammad Hassan Rahmani, Mullah Abdul Razzaq, Mullah Muhammad Rasool, Mullah Abdul Qayum Zakir, Haji Baz Muhammad, Mullah Rauf, Hafiz Majeed, Mullah Omar’s brother Mullah Abdul Manan, son Maulvi Muhammad Yaqoob and representatives of Mullah Dadullah.
The group wanted to get Mullah Omar’s son elected as the new leader.
Their reported boycott also explains why Mullah Yaqoob, who was in some earlier reports tipped to be named as one of Mullah Mansour’s deputies, could not become an office-bearer and in his place Maulvi Haibatullah was designated as one of the two deputy emirs.
Sirajuddin Haqqani, son of the militant Haqqani network’s founder Jalaluddin Haqqani, was named as the other deputy emir.
Mullah Rahmani said in media interviews that Mullah Mansour had been elected by a small group after the boycott by some senior leaders and commanders.
The sources said the boycotting group had started contacting other leaders opposed to Mullah Mansour for either removing him from the office or forming a faction.
Senior militant leaders have been opposing him because of his meteoric rise within their ranks from a low ranking fighter to being a deputy of Mullah Omar. Besides, militant sources said, he was seen as overly ambitious and also accused of nepotism. Election of Maulvi Haibatullah, also from his Ishaqzai tribe, was cited as one example.
Taliban’s other senior leaders have mostly been from the Hotak, Noorzai, Alizai and Kakar tribes.
The two major challenges before the new Taliban leader would be to assert himself in the face of growing opposition to his elevation and resume the peace process.
Mullah Mansour is believed to be a supporter of reconciliation with the Afghan government and the Taliban delegation that attended the first round of talks in Murree had come with his blessings.
Prima facie, it appears that his accession would end the remaining opposition within the Taliban to the talks, but the succession dispute could make it difficult for him to negotiate because he is not going to enjoy unqualified loyalty of his men like his predecessor.
His hands-on experience of having run the organisation singlehandedly, particularly after the death of Mullah Omar, could, however, come in handy for him in dealing with the dissent.
US ENVOY: US Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Daniel Feldman, while speaking in Kabul, asked the new Taliban leadership to resume dialogue with the Afghan government.
The second round of peace talks that was to be held on Friday in Pakistan had to be postponed after the disclosure of Mullah Omar’s death.
“This is a clear moment of opportunity and we strongly encourage the Taliban to use this time of opportunity to make a genuine peace with the Afghan government and to rebuild their lives in peace in Afghanistan,” the United States envoy said.
Published in Dawn, August 1st, 2015