A new Afghan Taliban leadership crisis
On May 21, 2016, the Pentagon’s Press Secretary Peter Cook said the US Department of Defense conducted an airstrike that targeted Taliban leader Mullah Mansour in a remote area of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. Now the death of the Taliban leader has been confirmed by several sources including the Afghan intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS) and a senior Taliban commander.
“I can say with good authority that Mullah Mansour is no more,” a senior Taliban source told AFP. According to reports, senior members of the Taliban Quetta Shura or council have gathered in Quetta, the provincial capital of the Pakistan Baluchistan province to discuss a replacement for Mansour.
Mansour close to Omar
Mullah Akhtar Mansour was one of the closest aides of the former Taliban leader Mullah Omar. In addition to other senior positions, he also served as the Civil Aviation Minister during the Taliban regime from 1996 to 2001. Mullah Mansour had come from Ishaqzai Pashton tribe in southern Afghan province of Kandahar. He took over the Taliban leadership in July last year after the revelation of the death of the former Taliban leader, Mullah Omar.
Some senior Taliban commanders including Mullah Abdul Manan, the brother, and Mullah Yaqob, the son, of Mullah Omar accused Mansour of hiding the death and the circumstances surrounding the death of the former Taliban leader.
The emergence of Mansour as the Taliban leader was not free from internal strife. After several months of negotiations and mediation by various senior Taliban commanders and some leaders of Pakistani militant groups, the Taliban agreed on electing Mansour as their leader. He appointed Serajuddin Haqani, the leader of the Haqani network, and Mullah Haibatullah Akhund as his deputies.
The United States has designated Serajuddin Haqani as a terrorist leader and offered $10 million reward for information leading to his arrest.
US Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday said that Mansour had posed a continuing imminent threat to US personnel in Afghanistan, Afghan civilians, Afghan security forces and members of the US and NATO coalition. He said the air strike on Mansour “sends a clear message to the world that we will continue to stand with our Afghan partners.”
Meanwhile, Afghanistan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah was quoted by the press as saying that Masour’s death would have a positive impact on attempts to bring peace to Afghanistan.
“Mansour was the main figure preventing the Taliban joining the peace process,” he was quoted as saying.
The sudden death of the Taliban leader, who was reportedly very close to the Pakistani establishment, has created an immense leadership gap at the higher hierarchy of the Taliban Council. As the past history has proved filling the Taliban leadership gap will spark internal armed conflicts and bloodshed. But this will not have immediate significant impacts on the operational and ground performance of the loosely united Taliban groups at a grassroots level.
The death of the Taliban leader, as a result of a drone attack, authorized by the United States President Barak Obama, indicates that either the United States has become more frustrated with the Taliban and the behaviour of the adamant Pakistani army that supports the Taliban. Or it could also be because Pakistan might have developed serious problems with Mansour and successfully managed to kill two birds with one stone. Pakistan might have helped the United States by providing intelligence to kill the Taliban leader in hopes of normalizing its strained relations with the US, receive millions of dollars in aid, which recently has been made conditional by the US Senate on concrete actions by Pakistan against the Taliban militants, as well as getting rid of a Taliban leader who is no longer obedient to the Pakistani army.
However, contradictory statements from the Pakistani Foreign Office indicate that Pakistan was unaware of the drone attack that killed the Taliban leader in the Dalbandin area in the province of Baluchistan, Pakistan. The Pakistani Foreign Office, in a statement late Sunday, denounced the US drone strike on Mullah Mansour, saying such attacks violate Pakistan’s sovereignty.
Pakistani press quoted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as saying that the US authorities had not informed them of the attack beforehand. He said he had been told by US Secretary of State John Kerry that they had carried out a drone strike, killing Mullah Akhtar Mansour.
The coming weeks will prove crucial not only for the Taliban who are faced with a leadership crisis, but also for the Afghan government and its international allied forces who will probably come under increased Taliban attacks in revenge for killing their leader.
Ahmad Masoud has worked for more than a decade for national and international organizations, including the United Nations, in Asia, Africa and the United Kingdom. He holds an MBA degree and an Honours Diploma in Feature Writing and Freelance journalism and he usually writes on social, political and economic developments in Afghanistan.
The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Asia Times.