After Mullah Omar

Some of the most useful pieces of commentary and reporting published on Mullah Omar’s alleged death:

Michael Semple for Politico:

The development will have far-reaching consequences for Afghan politics. In the first place, the shattering of the Mullah Omar myth will embolden a dissident faction within the Taliban leadership. The dissidents have been at loggerheads with the movement’s acting leader over how to respond to Pakistani demands that the Taliban talk to the Kabul government. Safe from allegations of rebellion against the Ameer, the dissidents are now free to push ahead with negotiations and maybe even to put up their own candidate for the leadership … ISIL followers in Afghanistan and Pakistan already accused the Taliban of waging an unlawful struggle because they lacked an Ameer. ISIL will now feel vindicated and try to recruit from the Taliban fighting forces. It remains to be seen just how much of a boost it receives as, even with Omar off the scene, there are significant barriers to its progress in Afghanistan. And in any case, ISIL’s gain is Al-Qaeda’s loss. In the tussle with ISIL over the past year, Ayman al-Zawahiri has continued to insist that he and Al-Qaeda are loyal to Mullah Omar. Zawahiri, too, will have to update his narrative. Moreover, none of the potential replacements for Omar has the kind of stature likely to persuade Al-Qaeda veterans to swear loyalty … Acknowledgement of Omar’s death is likely to hasten the shift to a multi-actor insurgency in Afghanistan. That would be a bitter reality for Afghans who hope for peace. But ultimately the Afghan government, with continuing international support, should be far more confident of ultimately prevailing over a fragmented insurgency than in a fight against a unified Taliban movement.

Barnett Rubin for the New Yorker:

For the first time the Taliban, founded to end factionalism, were speaking with multiple voices, some manipulated by Pakistan more obviously than ever. Since only the hidden Mullah Omar could settle which was the true voice of the Taliban, the question of his authority became pressing … The death of Mullah Omar may allow Pakistan to put leaders it controls more fully in charge of the Taliban. It may also cause the Taliban to splinter. Some may stop fighting and enter the system, while others may join even more extremist groups, such as the Islamic State, and fight the governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. If the two governments cannot gain the willing participation of most of the Taliban in the peace process, Kabul may demand that Islamabad use force to shut down whatever part of the Taliban’s military machine it does not control directly. But the Pakistani Army, which is already overstretched by its posture toward India, and by battles against the Pakistani Taliban, Baloch nationalists, and armed gangs in Karachi, will be reluctant to take on a battle-hardened Afghan group, some of whose members it hopes to use as future agents of influence. These issues may at least temporarily draw the attention of high-level U.S. decision-makers back to Afghanistan, where they will find that they now need to coöperate closely with China.

The Guardian:

“I have asked around a lot and there was no military strategy coming from Mullah Omar, not in 2001, not in 2005, not in 2010,” said Bette Dam, a journalist and author who has been researching a biography of Omar for several years …  “In the current situation there is so much at stake, the possibility of peace, and many of the Taliban want a leader who can make daily decisions for them,” said Dam … “The timing of the release of this information needs to be taken very seriously,” said Dam. “There are several groups within the Taliban and outside who want to make sure they have a share in any peace or any power sharing, lots of groups are afraid to be left out.” … “If it is true [that he is dead], it would be a major issue for the peace talks, and it would be a major issue for the Taliban, because he can’t really be replaced,” said Felix Kuehn, an author who has researched the group for more than 10 years. “He is more than a man, he is an institution,” said Kuehn. “Even the younger generation of Talibs who have never seen him, and who are not very aligned with the policies put out by the Taliban leadership – those who are more radical and less inclined to peace talks – always speak highly of Mullah Omar, and want to hear what he thinks.”

Another Guardian story:

A Pakistani intelligence official told the Guardian on Wednesday he had been aware of the reports of Omar’s death since January 2014, based on information from “close aides” of the militant chief and family members … There are also several outstanding questions about Omar’s death, with no detail on exactly how or where he died, or where he was buried – something that may not be revealed for years, his biographer, Bette Dam, said, quoting a senior Taliban official: “You can’t find the grave, the grave is secret,” he told her, after confirming the death.

The NYT:

A different American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said American officials had heard “chatter” in recent days among senior Taliban members about their leaders’ possible demise. Still, the official cautioned that the communication, which was picked up through electronic surveillance and other sources of intelligence, was not definitive … A different official at Afghanistan’s spy agency, who like other Afghan officials spoke about the matter only on the condition of anonymity, said that the agency had learned of Mullah Omar’s death a year and a half ago and that since then, “a lot of our international allies have confirmed the death.” The [Afghan] official said that Mullah Omar had been relatively itinerant and was believed to have spent some time in Rawalpindi, home to the headquarters of the Pakistani military, among a host of other places. “Because of the American drones, they were changing his place very often,” the official said. … [A European] diplomat referred to intelligence indicating that Taliban commanders were discussing among themselves, with a variety of opinions, whether Mullah Omar was alive or dead. “Almost everyone believes the chatter wouldn’t be where it is if there wasn’t something significant here,” the diplomat said, adding, “It has never been at this volume or intensity before.” That is a change from a few years ago, when Western intelligence officials said they believed Mullah Omar was active and living under official protection in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city.

Sami Yousafzai ultra-revisionist account for Newsweek:

Just before the end of Ramadan this year I received an unexpected call from one of Mullah Mohammed Omar’s longtime family friends. He had ust learned a secret held by only a tiny circle of Omar’s most trusted associates: the supreme leader of the Afghan Taliban was dead … this caller was different—extraordinarily well placed to know about the Mullah’s whereabouts. His claims were also very detailed. He asked not to be quoted by name on such a sensitive topic, but he and his family are highly respected for their longtime humanitarian work in Pakistan’s Afghan exile community. Omar died in Afghanistan, my contact said. People have often assumed that the Taliban leader fled across the border into Pakistan, like most of his surviving followers, but in fact he refused to leave the country of his birth … when the end finally came, Omar was holed up for the winter among the desolate mountains of Now Zad district in Helmand province, in an area of tiny villages known collectively as Taizeini.  Few maps show the place, but it’s roughly 100 miles northwest of Kandahar. A good friend was with him, according to my source. Mullah Abdul Jabar, a native of Zabul province, had served during the years of Taliban rule as governor of central Baghlan province … Omar told Jabar what to do in the event of his death or capture—get word to Mullah Sheikh Abdul Hakim. The religious scholar, a longtime friend and advisor of Omar’s, makes his home in Quetta, the southwestern Pakistani city where the Taliban leadership resides. Hakim and Jabar quickly relayed the news to three other senior Taliban figures. One was Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, the head of the Quetta Shura. Another was Mullah Qayyum Zakir, director of the Taliban’s military council at the time. And the third was another religious scholar and longtime Omar friend, Mullah Abdul Salam, who lives and preaches in the city of Kuchlak, a few miles outside Quetta. (None of the five could be reached for comment.) A week after Jabar brought his news to Quetta, the council chiefs Mansoor and Zakir held a private meeting with the two religious scholars. The family friend says Mullahs Salam and Hakim formally gave Omar’s turban to Mansoor, appointing him to be Omar’s successor as Amir-ul-Momineen—the “Commander of the Faithful.” … Zakir wanted to announce Omar’s death immediately, but the others convinced him not to talk. In order to keep it secret, the Quetta Shura went so far as to issue a decree prohibiting any questions about Omar’s fate. Violators would be referred to a Taliban court.

Casey Garret Johnson for Foreign Policy on Omar’s alleged successor:

While other Taliban leaders have been imprisoned or put under house arrest by Pakistani authorities, Mansour remains a favored son in large part because he has remained in step with ISI policy and has often served as a link between the Haqqani network of Waziristan and the Afghan Taliban of Balochistan. He is also one of the individuals to have benefited from the U.S. surge in 2010-2011. As one analyst from Kandahar notes in an interview: “More than anyone else, Mansour has benefited from the leadership vacuum that opened up after the U.S. started to take a lot of the Taliban commanders out — particularly in the south. Mansour remained safe in Pakistan and he was able to expand his network and powerbase, even though he had never really been a military commander per se.” As late as 2012, Mansour was seen as a hardliner among Taliban leaders, opposing any talks with Hamid Karzai’s government. From about 2013 onward, his position appears to have changed, putting him directly at odds with Abdul Qayyum Zakir, a Taliban military leader from northern Helmand who has for years commanded arguably the largest organized insurgent front inside Afghanistan. Throughout 2014, Mansour and Zakir bickered over the direction of the movement, with Zakir adopting a hard line and eventually being sacked, only to be re-instated after a reconciliation involving a few slaughtered goats and hearty man hugs. By early 2015, however, the two “frenemies” were reportedly at odds again. The most recent news reports of Omar’s death also speculate that Mansour and Omar’s son are involved in a fight for control. Given his historically close ties with Pakistan, Mansour’s moderation could be read as a clear indicator that Pakistan’s calculus has indeed changed.

The Express Tribune (Pakistan):

A day after the news of Afghan Taliban supremo Mullah Omar’s death broke, the powerful Taliban leadership council elected on Thursday Mullah Akhtar Mansoor as the new Afghan Taliban supreme leader, a senior Taliban leader told The Express Tribune. “The council also elected Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is known as Khalifa, the chief of Haqqani as deputy of the Taliban’s leader,” the Taliban leader told on the condition of anonymity. The Taliban have not yet officially announced the new leader. However, the Taliban leader said the formal announcement is likely to be made shortly.

See also Colin Cookman’s excellent round-up.

 

Advertisements

One response to “After Mullah Omar

  1. Pingback: Meet the new Taliban boss (?), Akhtar Mansur | and that's the way it was

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s