Thursday, July 30, 2015

Afghan Taliban confirms death of Mullah Omar, names new leader

Afghan Taliban sources confirmed to Al Jazeera that its reclusive leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, is dead. They also said that a high meeting of the Shura Council was held yesterday night and today, where the ruling council decided to elect Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, the head of the Quetta Shura, as his successor to be the new "Commander of the Faithful in Afghanistan.” 

Pakistan's foreign ministry said it is postponing the second round of talks between Afghanistan's government and the Taliban in Afghanistan in light of the news about Mullah Omar's death.

The Afghan Taliban, who have been fighting to topple the Kabul government for almost 14 years, said on Thursday they are "not aware" of a new round of peace talks due to begin on Friday in Pakistan – a statement indicating the group may be pulling out of the negotiations.

The Pakistan Foreign Office tells Al Jazeera that the peace talks have been postponed.

The Afghan intelligence service asserted Wednesday that Omar died in a Karachi hospital more than two years ago. In Washington, the U.S. government said they considered the report of the Taliban leader's death credible, although it was not confirmed by the Taliban or Pakistan.

The Taliban’s website had published statements attributed to Omar up to five days before the Afghan intelligence service’s announcement.

The office of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who is keen to pursue a peace process, said Omar's death would strengthen conditions for the peace process, a priority since he took office last year. But analysts have said the Taliban’s leadership have been divided over whether to take part.

The first round of the official, face-to-face discussions was hosted by Islamabad earlier this month. The meeting was supervised by U.S. and Chinese representatives and ended with both sides agreeing to meet again: a significant progress in itself.

This week, Afghan and Pakistani officials said the second round would take place Friday, in the Pakistani resort town of Murree. But Thursday's statement from the Taliban, who call themselves the "Islamic Emirate," contradicted that.

"The Islamic Emirate has handed all agency powers in this regard to its Political Office, and they are not aware of any such process," the statement said, referring to the talks.

The Taliban have been fighting to overthrow the Afghan government since 2001, when the United States led an invasion to topple the Taliban government.

Omar's leadership, which endured for years despite numerous past reports of his death, provided a unifying force for fighters on the ground and for those both in the Afghan government and Taliban leadership who have pushed the peace process forward in the months since Ghani took office.

His death may expose rifts at the top of the organization, which is widely believed to be split among those who support and reject contact with Ghani's government.

A further fracturing within the Taliban ranks could lead to a power struggle. Already, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which has taken control of large parts of Iraq and Syria, is believed to have recruited some disaffected Taliban members to its ranks as it tries to establish a presence in Afghanistan.

For his part, Ghani has sought Pakistan's help in bringing the Taliban to the negotiations, since Islamabad is believed to wield influence over the group.

A diplomat based in Kabul who is familiar with the peace process told The Associated Press that the "government's position has been since Ashraf Ghani became president that the real negotiation is between Afghanistan and Pakistan."

The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters on the ongoing talks.

After the U.S.-led invasion, remnants of the Taliban led by Omar fled over the border into Pakistan, where they are believed to have the protection of Islamabad. Omar has not been seen in public since then, though statements have been issued in his name giving credence to Taliban denials of his death.
Most recently, a statement purportedly by Omar was issued on the occasion of this month's Eid-al-Fitr holiday, expressing support for the peace talks.

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