KABUL: The new leader of the Afghan Taliban has met influential clerics seeking to heal a rift after the death of founder Mullah Omar, a gathering which has angered the Afghan government — which accuses Pakistan of allowing militants to meet on its territory.
Several key Taliban commanders pledged allegiance to Mullah Akhtar Mansour after his swift appointment to lead the armed movement in July, but other senior figures, including Omar's son, reject the way he was selected.
“These clerics tried to remove differences between Mansour and other Taliban members,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters, referring to Thursday's meeting. “They listened to each other's viewpoint, but didn't reach a conclusion.”
Combined with a chill between the neighbours after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani indirectly blamed Pakistan for a spate of deadly bombings in Kabul, the leadership tussle has dashed short-term hopes of a new round of Taliban peace talks.
The council of clerics will rule in the next few days on whether Mansour should remain the Taliban's chief, said sources in the movement, who declined to be identified as the topic is sensitive.
Deeper rifts are likely if Mansour and his supporters decline to accept a negative outcome. He is also backed by Al-Qaeda and the powerful Haqqani network.
It took the clerics several days to track down Mansour, prompting them to warn his deputy that the delay threatened the movement's unity. Spokesman Mujahid blamed security concerns for Mansour's lack of response.
New Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor called for unity in the movement in his first audio message released after him taking the new responsibilities.
“We should all work to preserve unity, division in our ranks will only please our enemies, and cause further problems for us,” he had said in the recording released by the group.
The Taliban is fighting a war against the Afghan government, which says Pakistan should do more to stop top leaders and supporters it believes are openly meeting around cities such as Quetta since Omar's death was announced last month.
“What would be the feeling of the people of Pakistan if the Pakistani Taliban held meetings in big cities of Afghanistan, such as Jalalabad?” asked foreign ministry spokesman Shakaib Mostaghni.
An Afghan delegation met Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif last week and gave him the names of specific sites where the Taliban leadership held meetings.
Pakistan says it believes the leadership councils have been meeting in Afghanistan.
Moreover, the Afghanistan's Ambassador to Pakistan Janan Mosazai was summoned by Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry on Wednesday to convey Pakistan’s concerns over the recent spate of allegations levelled by the Afghan government, media and senior officials to 'malign' Pakistan.
In recent times, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, chief executive Abdullah Abdullah and the country's premier spy agency have issued statements accusing Pakistan and its military of providing implicit support to Taliban insurgents.
Islamabad hosted a round of official Taliban peace talks last month, but a second round was cancelled when news broke that the Taliban's unifying force, one-eyed leader Mullah Omar, had died two years earlier.
Violence has surged in Afghanistan since, as the Taliban seeks to show it remains a potent force.