Neighborhood Watch: Challenges, controversy surround new Taliban chief

Several top Taliban leaders have come out against Mullah Akhtar Mansoor’s appointment.

Tahir Khan July 31, 2015
Several top Taliban leaders have come out against Mullah Akhtar Mansoor’s appointment. PHOTO: FILE

ISLAMABAD: The Afghan Taliban on Friday officially confirmed that Rahbari Shura or the Leadership Council has elected Mullah Akhtar Mansoor as their new leader. The news came amid claims that some senior leaders have raised objections at his election and boycotted the meeting.

On Thursday, the council elected Mansoor, a former aviation minister in the Taliban regime, after five days of “hectic discussions and wrangling”, a member of the Taliban’s council privy to the proceedings told The Express Tribune.

Mansoor, believed to be in his 50s, had been serving as the acting head of the Taliban until he was chosen to succeed Mullah Omar. He had assumed the office of deputy leader after Pakistani officials arrested Mullah Baradar from a Karachi seminary in 2011.

Not a free man

Earlier, in a series of discussions with senior Taliban leaders, Mullah Baradar topped the list of the possible new Taliban chief. Pakistan said in 2013 that Baradar was among several other Taliban leaders released to help in the peace process. However, many Taliban believe he is still in “not a free man.”

“Members of the leading council of the Islamic Emirate and scholars, all of them discerning and influential people, in the wake of a prolonged discussion, decided in a meeting to appoint the intimate and trusted associate of Mullah Mohammad Omar Mujahid and the former deputy head of the Islamic Emirate, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor, as the new leader of the Islamic Emirate,” the Taliban statement said on Friday.

Participants of the meeting pledged allegiance with the new leader who like his predecessor was also declared as the Ameerul Momineen (leader of the faithful).

Who is Mansoor

Mansoor, who belongs to the Ishaqzai tribe in southern Kandahar’s Maiwand district, was among the few founding members of the movement, according to a Taliban leader who has worked with him.

As Mullah Omar’s trusted man, Mansoor had been part of almost all political and military affairs during the life of Mullah Omar, according to a former Taliban official, Aadil, who personally knows Mansoor. He disputed allegations that Mansoor gifted some senior positions among his Ishaqzai tribe.

“Mansoor was the aviation minister for nearly six years but he would not go to Kabul and preferred to stay in Kandahar with Mullah Omar and run the ministry from Kandahar,” the Taliban official told The Express Tribune. He said Mansoor is a “man of jirgas” and will overcome the internal differences over his appointment.

Taliban leaders, who traditionally avoid speaking to the media about their leaders, are now condemning Mansoor for “electing himself in a meeting boycotted by some council members and religious scholars.”

“Mullah Akhtar Mansoor was nominated by very few members of the Shura. Akhtar’s nomination is being condemned and we are receiving phones from Afghanistan and commanders are also upset at the decision,” council member Mullah Hasan Rahmani is reported to have said.

“Differences could surface on this issue. Taliban do not want differences within the ranks but they will speak when a decision harms the movement. Rahmani told Shamshad television hours after the council elected the new leader. “Taliban want to see Mullah Omar’s son Mullah Yaqoob or his brother Mullah Abdul Manan as the successor.”

The council also elected Sirajuddin Haqqani, chief of the Haqqani Network, as one of the deputy chiefs to Mansoor, according to a Taliban spokesman. Siraj is on the list of the most wanted men by the United States which has announced up to a $10 million bounty on his head.

Major challenges for the new leader

One of the major challenges Mansoor would be facing is how to deal with the growing opposition to his election by senior leaders like Abdul Qayyum Zakir, the former head of the powerful military council of Taliban.

Another gigantic task would be to keep the fragile peace process on track as the second round of the Pakistan-brokered talks stands postponed. The second round was scheduled to take place in Pakistan on July 31 but the foreign ministry in Islamabad said talks have been delayed on the Taliban’s request. Taliban sources say their six-member delegation had arrived in Islamabad for the negotiations; however, Mullah Omar’s death overshadowed the process.

A vast majority of Taliban believes Mansoor favours talks and was behind the first-ever direct contact with the Afghan government in 14 years in Murree on July 7.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2015.

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