KABUL: The Taliban admitted on Monday covering up the death of founder and long-time leader Mullah Omar for two years, saying they had wanted to keep it secret until foreign forces ended their fight against the militants.

News of Mullah Omar’s death leaked in July amid confusion over where and when he died, but on Monday the Taliban for the first time revealed April 23, 2013 as the date of his death.

The admission of a cover-up was buried in a lengthy biography of new Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour. The biography was posted on the Taliban website in five languages.

“Several key members of the supreme leading council of the Islamic Emirate (Taliban) and authentic religious scholars together decided on concealing the tragic news of passing away of (Omar)... and keep this secret limited to the very few colleagues who were already informed of this incorrigible loss,” said the biography, which ran to nearly 5,000 words.

A 5000-word biography of new chief released

“One of the main reasons behind this decision was... that 2013 was considered the final year of power testing between the mujahideen and foreign invaders who... had announced that at the end of 2014, all military operations by foreign troops would be concluded.”

Nato ended its combat mission in Afghanistan last December and pulled out the bulk of its troops, although a 13,000-strong residual force remains for training and counter-terrorism operations.

Omar, dead or alive, was seen as a unifying figurehead who observers say kept the fractious movement from splintering as the self-styled Islamic State (IS) group began making inroads into Afghanistan.

The Taliban had continued as recently as July to release official statements in the name of Omar, hailed as a ‘commander of the faithful’ who commanded the loyalties of militants across the region.

But the Taliban apparently came under pressure to confirm his death after the Afghan spy agency said he died two years ago in a Karachi hospital.

The biography of Mullah Mansour lauded his “jihadi acumen”, describing him as a pious warrior who is “naturally bequeathed with unique leading and guiding capabilities”.

It is peppered with details about his frugal lifestyle, saying “he likes and wears loose, neat and clean clothes... (and) dislikes and avoids extravagance”. It added that he “speaks less and tries to listen more to other people”.

Mansour’s contentious rise to power has triggered a power struggle within the Taliban, which has suffered a string of defections to IS.

The biography said Mansour’s appointment was “totally legitimate”. But some top leaders including Omar’s son and brother have refused to pledge allegiance to Mansour, saying the process to select him was rushed and biased.

Meanwhile, a meeting of hundreds of Taliban supporters reportedly took place in Quetta, where the Taliban’s leadership has allegedly been based since 2001. It has drawn some 1,000 Taliban adherents who have descended on the city for a “unity shura”, a meeting intended to resolve the leadership crisis and reunite the group.—Agencies

Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2015

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