PESHAWAR: Experts on Afghan affairs and Afghan Taliban sources suggest Mullah Yaqoob, son of late Taliban commander Mullah Omar, is likely to lead the militant group following the reported death of Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour in a US drone strike — but the process will take time.
Mansour was reportedly killed in a drone strike in Balochistan near the Pak-Afghan border. US has claimed the killing but Islamabad has not officially confirmed that the man targeted in the air strike was the Taliban chief.
"It would be very difficult for the Taliban council to elect any leader unopposed, as several factions exist within the group," a former ISI officer, Brigadier (retd) Mehmood Shah, told DawnNews.
Mehmood Shah claimed that selection of the new Taliban leader will not be an easy task this time. "Mansour was very close to Mullah Omer and ran the movement secretly for two years in the absence of Omer," he added.
It was due to Mansour's experience and planning that even United States could not find that Mullah Omer had died, said Shah.
Currently, the four possible nominees before the Taliban central council for the slot of Taliban chief are that of Mansour's trustworthy aide Sirajuddin Haqqani, Mansour's adviser on political affairs Mullah Hebatullah, Mullah Omer's brother Mullah Abdul Manan and Omar's son Mullah Yaqoob.
"Sirajuddin Haqqani will face resistance since he runs his own group (Haqqani group), though he merged it with Taliban some factions within Taliban still do not consider it their part," said Rustam Shah Mohmand, the former ambassador to Afghanistan.
The former diplomat, however, denied the impression that Mullah Mansour was against the peace process initiated by the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG).
"He never refused to participate in the peace process as negotiations in Europe, Russia ,China and Murree took place under his leadership," said Mohmand.
"Mullah Omar's son, Yaqoob is reportedly acceptable to all Taliban factions, Mullah Rasool faction has already hinted that they could rejoin the mainstream Afghan Taliban group if Yaqoob is chosen the new leader," said Rahimullah Yusufzai, analyst and expert on Afghan affairs.
Sources within Taliban circles also suggest that Yaqoob will be their new leader as majority of Taliban leaders will favour his ascend to the slot.
In the absence of a chief, Mansour's advisers Siraj uddin Haqani and Mullah Haibatullah are running the Afghan Taliban movement.
Mansour's selection and grouping within Taliban
Mansour was declared Taliban leader on July 31, 2015, after the militant group confirmed the death of Mullah Omar, who led the movement for about two decades.
But splits immediately emerged in the group, with some top leaders refusing to pledge allegiance to Mansour, saying the process to select him was rushed and even biased.
A breakaway faction of the Taliban led by Mullah Mohamed Rasool was formed at that time, which was reportedly the first formal division in the once-unified group.
Since his takeover of the movement, Mansour battled other Taliban commanders. He eventually enlisted the powerful semi-independent faction known as the Haqqani network to cajole important commanders back into the fold and promised positions on the leadership council to entice Omar's family to his side.
So divisive was Mansour's rise to the leadership of the Taliban that at the meeting announcing his ascendancy, several of the movement's top commanders stormed out, according to one Taliban official familiar with the proceedings, but who didn't want to be identified because of orders not to speak independently to the media.
Tayyab Aga, a close ally of Omar and a former peace negotiator on behalf of the Taliban, refused to swear allegiance to Mansour. In a statement following the announcement that Omar had died two years earlier, Aga accused Mansour of hiding the founder's death in order to secure his power at the helm.
Meanwhile Mansour set about trying to buttress his position, appointing as his vice-president, Sirajuddin Haqqani, the head of the Haqqani network, which is considered by both Afghanistan and the United States as the strength behind the Taliban.
Bringing in the Haqqanis added both manpower and military sophistication to the Taliban operations. Mansour also gave Mullah Omar's son and brother positions on the leadership council.
It took several months and bloody battles inside Afghanistan between warring Taliban factions before a semblance of unity was brought to the movement.
Under the guiding hand of Haqqani, several key commanders agreed to support Mansour, but some also made their support conditional ─ demanding Mansour reveal the circumstances around Mullah Omar's death.