Taliban’s leadership council launches succession talks
PESHAWR (Pajhwok): Following the death of their supreme leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour in a drone strike in Pakistan, the Afghan Taliban have launched negotiations on picking his successor, well-placed sources said on Monday.
“As expected, the ongoing succession battle is going to be ferocious. Now that Mansour is gone, the insurgency is once again struggling to find another leader enjoying support from all factions,” a Pakistan-based Taliban leader said.
Requesting not to be named, the source confided to Pajhwok Afghan News initial talks on Mansour’s replacement were ongoing in Quetta. The Taliban leadership council is considering several names for the slot, but it is yet to reach consensus.
“At the moment, Sirajuddin Haqqani, carrying a $5 million US bounty on his head, is in the run for Mansour’s successor. He enjoys the backing of the Pakistani security establishment, Haqqani is more hostile to Kabul and the US presence in Afghanistan,” he believed.
Mullah Mohammad Omar’s son Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob and former Guantanamo prisoner Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir are also in the run for the insurgency leadership, according to the source, who acknowledged the militant movement was in a “crisis” it would be able to ride it out “sooner rather than later”.
Foreign Office spokesman Nafees Zakaria said: "I have seen the reports. We are seeking clarification (from the US)" regarding the drone strike. US Secretary of State John Kerry informed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Gen. Raheel Sharif after the bombing raid was conducted.
Pakistan wanted the Taliban to return to the negotiating table to end the war in Afghanistan, he said, adding: "Military action is not a solution." Zakaria lashed out at the US for violating Pakistan’s sovereignty.
About the strike in a remote area of Pakistan’s Balochistan province, Kerry said: "This action sends a clear message to the world that we will continue to stand with our Afghan partners as they work to build a more stable, united, secure and prosperous Afghanistan."
The man killed in the drone strike closely resembled the Taliban supremo, a senior Pakistani intelligence officer said, remarking: “Mullah Mansoor is gone, but we need to cross-check it. Would the Taliban now return to talks?” he asked, accusing the US of duping Pakistan yet again.
Prime Minister Sharif criticised the strike, saying a strong protest had been lodged with the US. Currently in London for a medical check-up, he denounced the raid in Dalbandin area near the Afghan border as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.
He has decided to call a high-level civil-military meeting on his return from the UK to review Pakistan-US relations. He is said to have asked officials to gather details about the strike and ascertain how Mansour was issued with a Pakistan identity card and passport.
Peace process dead?
The killing of Mansour, dubbed as an irreconcilable insurgent commander by Kabul, is expected to have a “crippling impact” on the strenuous reconciliation campaign, believe watchers of the Afghan scene. “With his killing, the Quadrilateral Contact Group seems to be dead,” one former intelligence officer believed.
The US has killed chances of any peace process in Afghanistan as a result of the drone attack, said senior Pakistani journalist Rahimullah Yousafzai. The Taliban rank and file and whoever is chosen as their new leader would not be able to justify talks with the Afghan government, he argued.
Just like Mullah Omar and Mansour, the new Taliban leader would not support a pro-US government in Kabul or holding peace talks with it, he wrote in an article in The News. Though the US backed an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process, yet its actions had not contributed to peace efforts in Afghanistan, he alleged.
The attack would end the relative safety Afghan Taliban leaders enjoyed in Balochistan, the analyst said, noting the extension of the theatre of drone warfare to Balochistan from the tribal region, where most of the attacks had taken place.
Ex-Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan Rustam Shah Mohmand also opined the prospects of peace talks had become dim. The strike violently highlighted the shifting dynamics of conflict and intrigue in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Dr. Faizullah Jan, a teacher at the Journalism Department in Peshawar University, saw the Taliban supremo’s elimination as a huge boost for the Ashraf Ghani administration, which has long been trying to prod Pakistan into bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table.
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