Splits in Afghan Taliban as new leader chosen
Cracks emerge as acting head Mullah Mansoor reportedly chosen to succeed dead chief Mullah Omar

Cracks appear to have emerged within the Taliban following news of their leader Mullah Mohammad Omar's death.

The Afghan government confirmed Mullah Omar's death yesterday, sparking a leadership contest between his son Yaqoob and Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, the acting chief who security sources say was elected leader on Thursday.

According to Taliban sources, the decision was made at an extraordinary meeting of the group's consultative council, known as a Shura, held somewhere in southern Afghanistan and attended by "all available" Shura members.

A senior Pakistani intelligence official also confirmed the report but said it was not a unanimous choice to elect Mullah Mansoor, who has already been acting as the unofficial Taliban leader.

"A majority of Shura members were in favor of Mullah Mansoor but various others wanted [Mullah Omar's son] Mullah Yaqoob to be the new leader," the official told Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity.

Practically, he claimed, the Mullah Yaqoob faction of Taliban does not accept Mullah Mansoor as new leader.

Rahimullah Yusufzai, a security expert based in Peshawar, near the Afghan border, said he received phone calls from senior Taliban leaders confirming there was division over choosing Mullah Mansoor as leader.

"This is true. There are serious differences within Taliban ranks over the issue of Mullah Omar’s successor. That’s why they are not officially announcing the name of their new leader," Yusufzai told Anadolu Agency, adding that the Shura were trying to build a consensus for Mullah Mansoor's leadership.

"They want to see the reaction of common Taliban fighters on the election of Mullah Mansoor by floating his name through sources, rather than making it public."

Other reports suggested, however, that neither Mullah Mansoor nor Yaqoob had been chosen. Government sources in Kabul told Anadolu Agency that Mullah Omar had decided his successor should be his close aide Mullah Baradar Akhund, who is thought to be less hardline than others and more inclined towards peace talks.

The Shura meeting also reportedly nominated as deputy chiefs Sirajuddin Haqqani, the purported chief of the formidable Haqqani network -- a strong Taliban faction -- and Haibatullah Akhunzada, a shadow Taliban chief justice.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid did not comment on the reported election.

Officially, the Taliban made no public announcement. Instead, their official website highlighted on Thursday the military advancements they were making and claimed they were not aware of any peace talks.

A Pakistani Foreign Office statement on Thursday announced that negotiations scheduled for Friday were cancelled on the Taliban's request because of the leadership crisis.

The news of Mullah Omar's death had raised concerns about how the Taliban's stance on peace talks, which only began in July, would be affected.

"It is natural that they would first name a leader before resuming talks, Pakistan wants to bring people of their choice to the negotiation table but I believe the talks would not take place,” said Taliban affairs expert Wahid Mujda, repeating the belief that Pakistan has influence over elements of the Taliban.

"The Afghan government have always been asking Pakistan to bring those people to the negotiation table who are nominated by the Taliban leadership but since there is no leader now, those likely to attend talks would be men close to the [Pakistani intelligence agency] ISI," he said.

Peace talks on hold

Meanwhile peace talks scheduled this week between the Afghan government and the Taliban have been postponed.

The second round of direct talks was scheduled to be held in Islamabad on Friday but Pakistan's Foreign Office said the delay was prompted by news of Taliban chief Mullah Mohammad Omar's death.

"In view of the reports regarding the death of Mulla Omar and the resulting uncertainty, and at the request of the Afghan Taliban leadership, the second round of the Afghan peace talks... is being postponed," read statement from the foreign office.

"Pakistan and other friendly countries of Afghanistan hope that the Taliban leadership will stay engaged in the process of peace talks in order to promote a lasting peace in Afghanistan."

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Last Modified: 2015-07-31 09:44:23
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