Dr. Ashraf Ali
Mullah Akhtar Mansur would have hardly thought of being the ‘Ameer ul Momineen’ in the towering presence of his charismatic leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar Mujahid.
His utter love and respect for his leader was manifested in his flat ‘no’ when we asked for a TV interview at Kabul airport back in 1998. He was then the civil aviation minister in the Afghan Taliban cabinet. ‘Mullah sahib (Mullah Omar) would not like us to be photographed’, he said and added ‘And that’s it’.
The death of Mullah Omar – the spiritual leader of the Afghan Taliban – finally allowed the Taliban to choose its new amir for the movement. Mullah Akhtar Mansur, a close aide of Mullah Omar who served as his deputy, was appointed as amirul momineen reportedly at a Shura meeting that was attended by the top ranking leadership of the movement. Mullah Haibatullah Ishaqzai and Sirajuddin Haqqani were appointed as his deputies.
Mullah Omar’s mysterious death and his replacement have generated heated debates in media as well as social and political circles of Pakistan. The new leadership, operational capacity and future challenges to the movement have been the dominant themes of these discussions.
Mullah Omar, a cementing force who kept the movement intact through his leadership, is no more but his movement is determined to go on. Who will take the lead after the reclusive Taliban leader? This was the most difficult question that could not be touched upon even by the most influential Taliban leaders during Mullah Omar’s presence in the lead.
The same question, however’ triggered differences within the movement when Mullah Akhtar Mansur grabbed the top title. The most important contender to the top managerial slot was Mullah Omar’s son Muhammad Yaqoob. Yaqoob’s opposition has been found genuine by top-ranking Taliban officials including Qandahar’s former governor Mullah Hassan Rahmani, former Taliban Interior Minister, Mullah Abdul Razzaq, former minister for health, Mullah Abbas, former deputy foreign minister, Mullah Abdul Jalil, and member of the Shura Muhammad Rasool.
Mullah Akhtar Mansur may also face strong opposition from among his military commanders who have developed some animosity towards the incumbent amir for his raw deal towards them but kept mum for the sake of the movement’s survival.
Mullah Mansoor is under fire for monopolising the movement by planting his tribesmen at the top hierarchy. Mullah Haibatullah, the newly announced deputy amir, Gul Agha Ishaqzai, Maulvi Nanai and Abdul Samad Sani, all come from Mansoor’s tribe – the Ishaqzai.
Following the death of the veteran jihadi leader and founder of the Haqqani Network, Jalaludin Haqqani, his son Sirajudin Haqqani, popularly known as the Khalifa, has taken charge. Though Siraj was inducted as deputy amir of the movement, reliable sources say he was not present at the time of his nomination and has not yet endorsed the decision. The Haqqanis’ long association with the movement put them in the right place to put in a claim for the top slot.
The young jihadi leaders may too multiply the challenges ahead for the incumbent Taliban leader on the question of peace process. There is a clear-cut division amongst the Taliban ranks on whether to proceed with the peace process or take arms against the government after withdrawal of the Nato forces from the region. Taliban’s Qatar office has already dissociated itself from further talks that were supposed to be held in Pakistan just a couple of days after the news of Omar’s demise.
The increasing influence of Isis is another potential threat to the fragile Afghan Taliban movement. The movement, with internal differences coming to the surface, may witness defections down the road. The top-ranking Pakistani Taliban commanders who joined Isis have already set the tone for those wishing to join. The Pakistani Taliban who owed allegiance to the spiritual leader of the Afghan Taliban, Amirul Momineen Mullah Muhammad Omar Mujahid, may not necessarily recognise the new leader as their spiritual leader.
Thousands of the young jihadi zealots had crossed the border to attend to the call from the amirul momineen and fight against the Nato forces stationed in Afghanistan. Maulana Sufi Muhammad, leader of the banned Tanzeem-e-Nifaz-e-Sharia-e-Muhammadi (TNSM) led a contingent of 10,000 young jihadi zealots across the border when the US-led coalition forces toppled the Afghan Taliban government in late 2001.
With all these challenges around, the incumbent Taliban leader has to satisfy the disgruntled Taliban leaders on the resumption of the peace talks with the Afghan government through Pakistan’s good offices. Some of the delegates who were part of the Murree peace talks are already on the opposite end. Uniting them all on one page will remain a million-dollar task for the maintenance and survival of the fragile movement.