Rift widens as Taliban name Omar’s successor

Peshawar: The Afghan Taliban on Thursday confirmed the death of Mullah Omar and named his long-time deputy Mullah Akhtar as his successor, sparking off fissures within the movement.

No time line was given for Mullah Omar’s death — in contrast to the Afghan government’s claims that the Taliban leader had died in 2013. The group also dismissed claims that Omar, a reclusive figure, had died in a Karachi hospital.

A former Taliban minister told The Express Tribune that Mullah Omar’s son Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir and several other top leaders and council members are unhappy with the decision to name Mansoor as supreme leader.

“Mansoor has not been elected by the leadership council, but by his own group,” said a Taliban leader who was also involved in the discussions about the election of the new leader. “We cannot call a decision with a consensus.”

Omar is dead

In a Pashto-language statement issued on Thursday, the Taliban said that Omar’s family had confirmed his death in a peaceful manner inside Afghanistan from an unspecified illness, though no time frame was given. The Taliban quoted the late chief’s brother and one of his sons as asking for forgiveness for the “mistakes” he made at the helm of the militant group (1996 – 2001).

The statement, however, did not mention the appointment of the new “Ameer”. “Mullah Omar never visited Pakistan or any other country. He led his movement from Afghanistan,” the Taliban said.

“Mullah Omar died owning to an illness some time ago and died within two weeks of contracting the disease,” the statement read. However, the location of his death was not disclosed.

Split into two groups

Several members of the Taliban Supreme Council boycotted Thursday’s meeting called to finalise the name of a new leader. Mansoor’s election is likely to widen an internal split between fighters who favour negotiations with the Afghan government and those who want to continue their 14-year insurgency since being ousted n 2001.

“Mansoor is not the leader of the whole Taliban, but only of his faction,” a former Taliban aviation minister told The Express Tribune. Some members boycotted while some others stayed away from the meeting that took the final decision after consultations.

Some senior Taliban leaders, who were in Islamabad for the second round of peace talks, also opposed the election of Mansoor.

The Taliban movement now seems to be divided into three groups. One led by Abdul Qayyum Zakir, who once headed the Taliban military council. Omar’s son and brother are backing Zakir, who, according to a Taliban leader, was sacked as the military commission’s head last year after he challenged Mansoor to prove Omar was alive.

The second group comprises Muhammad Rasool, who was very close to Omar and served as the Nimroz province governor during the Taliban regime.

The third group is led by former finance minister, Mutasim Agha Jan, the Taliban sources said. Jan was shot and injured critically in Karachi in 2010. He now lives in the UAE and favours the peace talks.

Controversial Figure

Even while serving as the Taliban acting chief, Mansoor has been facing opposition because of his decisions, especially appointments on senior positions, the Taliban leaders said.

He was accused of giving positions to men from his Ishaqzai tribe based in southern Afghanistan. He was also criticised for keeping the news of Omar’s death secret for over two years. Some leaders, however, credit him for running the Taliban movement efficiently in the absence of Omar.

“Differences surfaced as Mansoor was unwilling to leave the leadership despite opposition within the Taliban,” another leader, who declined to attend the election meeting, said.

The head of the Taliban’s Qatar political office, Syed Tayyeb Agha, has also reportedly opposed Mansoor’s election. Another Qatar office member, Qari Deen Muhammad, also did not endorse the nomination.

Another Taliban leader said the decision of the new chief should be taken in a grand meeting of all Shura members, commanders, religious scholars and Taliban sympathisers.

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