The Afghan Taliban has moved swiftly to fill the gap created by the killing of Mullah Akhtar Mansoor in a drone strike by the US in Balochistan. On May 25, they confirmed Mansoor’s death thus rendering irrelevant the remarks by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar to the effect that as the body of one of the two men killed was charred beyond recognition, a DNA test is necessary to definitively establish his identity. The Taliban are most unlikely to have gone to the trouble of electing a successor to Mansoor if they were not certain that he was dead. At the same time as confirming the death of Mansoor, his successor was announced, and it was not a name that had received much by way of advance publicity. Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada is the new Taliban leader with Sirajuddin Haqqani and Maulvi Yakoob as his deputies.
The appointment of Mansoor 10 months ago was deeply divisive and the Taliban have moved quickly and with uncharacteristic openness to appoint his replacement. The choice of Haibatullah, said to be a scholarly man who runs a madrassa, is possibly an attempt to place a lower-profile and less controversial figure at the helm. In doing so, the Taliban may be hoping to lower the target-value to the Americans of the new leader as well as bringing a degree of unity to a much-fragmented entity. The appointment leaves in place the two men who were deputies to Mansoor, neither of whom have made any substantive move in the direction of the peace process. The appointment of Haibatullah was quickly welcomed by Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, but the position of the new leader vis-a-vis engagement with the peace talks is yet unknown, and he has made few public pronouncements on which to base any analysis one way or the other — and considering the generally enigmatic nature of Taliban leaders thus far, he may be saying little now or in the future. It can but be hoped that Haibatullah is of a more pacific nature than his erstwhile predecessor, and that the Taliban may indeed finally decide to come to the table and talk peace.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 26th, 2016.
Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ