ISLAMABAD / PESHAWAR: If the death of Mullah Mansoor in a US drone strike is confirmed, the Afghan Taliban will once again face the tough task of electing a new leader.
Although the group has so far been officially quiet on Mansoor’s reported death, insiders told The Express Tribune the Taliban have already begun consultations to elect a new chief.
They said the group would officially confirm Mansoor’s death after electing his replacement. According to them, the group does not want to repeat the mistakes that were made when Mansoor was elected last year, which resulted in a schism among the Taliban.
There are several leaders who could be in the run for the position.
Sirajuddin Haqqani, one of Mansoor’s two deputies, could be a choice for the Taliban leadership as he is already supervising almost all of the movement’s affairs. Haqqani strengthened his position after he convinced some dissident leaders to swear allegiance to Mansoor. Many analysts also see Mansoor’s death boosting Haqqani’s profile.
“Based purely on matters of hierarchy, he [Sirajuddin] would be the favourite to succeed Mansoor,” said Michael Kugelman, a senior associate at the Woodrow Wilson Institute think-tank. But he added that it was completely unclear how the Taliban would react and whether Sirajuddin would be chosen.
“It’s too early to comment if Sirajuddin Haqqani would be willing to replace Mansoor,” a senior Taliban member said. According to some Taliban leaders, a possible hurdle for Sirajuddin could be that he is considered ‘very close to Pakistan’.
Maulvi Haibatullah, Mansoor’s second deputy, could be another choice. The Taliban leaders who know him say that he is widely respected because of his religious background. He ran a seminary in southern Afghanistan under the Taliban regime and many of his students are now on top positions.
Mullah Omar’s son Mullah Yaqoob is also a possible candidate because of his family background. Mansoor and other Taliban leaders faced much embarrassment when Yaqoob and his brother initially refused to accept his leadership. Yaqoob is young and enjoys significant support within the Taliban. Even Taliban splinter groups threw their support behind him during the schism. However, some Taliban leaders say he will not get the position as the group would not want to create a dynastic leadership.
Mullah Abdul Qayoom Zakir and Mullah Abdul Manan Omeri are also possible candidates to succeed Mansoor. Mullah Manan is a younger brother of founding supreme leader Mullah Omar Akhund whereas Mullah Zakir had served the Taliban as defence minister and top military commander. Both Manan and Zakir initially rejected Mansoor’s election.
Taliban officials believe Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar would face no problems in order to be elected as the new chief but as he is still in Pakistani custody, he will not be considered. Baradar’s release was on the agenda of talks between Pakistani authorities and a Taliban delegation from the Qatar office, the group revealed last month. A Taliban leader has told The Express Tribune that Pakistan has refused to set him free because he was “captured in a joint operation with the US officials.”
Peace process hopes dashed
Mansoor’s reported death is likely to sink hopes for a negotiated settlement of a bloody insurgency in Afghanistan, according to observers. They believe the Taliban chief’s targeted killing could particularly dash President Ashraf Ghani’s attempts to have direct talks with the insurgent group.
Less than a year ago, the confirmation of death of Mansoor’s predecessor Mullah Omar sabotaged the Murree Peace Process facilitated by Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 23rd, 2016.