Political uncertainty inside the Taliban has cast doubt on the prospects for an end to the war in Afghanistan.
On Saturday, the Taliban’s controversial new leader vowed to continue fighting, while urging unity among his followers in a message aimed at preventing a split in the group between those who want peace and those who still believe they can win.
An audio message purportedly from newly elected Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor came as cracks in the Taliban’s previously united front widened, two days after the group confirmed an Afghan government report that reclusive longtime leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, had died.
The 30-minute speech attributed to Mansoor was e-mailed to reporters by the Taliban’s spokesman. It could not be independently verified.
In it, the man purported to be Mansoor seemed to be carefully parsing his words to calm internal dissent and solidify his political base inside the Taliban, urging his fighters to remain unified and continue the jihad, or holy war, to establish a Muslim state in Afghanistan.
He did not endorse or reject the nascent peace talks with the Afghan government despite the fact that, according to the government, Mansoor has been effectively running the Taliban for more than two years and the group’s decision to participate in landmark face-to-face talks in Pakistan last month took place under his leadership.
A second round of talks, which is scheduled to begin on Friday in Pakistan, has been indefinitely postponed.
“We have to continue our jihad, we shouldn’t be suspicious of each other. We should accept each other. Whatever happens, we must comply with Shariah law, whether that be jihad, or talks, or an invitation to either. Our decisions all must be based on Shariah law,” he said.
Mansoor took over after the Taliban on Thursday confirmed that Mullah Omar had died and said Mansoor has been elected as his successor. The Afghan government announced on Wednesday last week that the reclusive mullah had been dead since April 2013; the Taliban has remained vague on exactly when Mullah Omar died.
Mansoor’s first priority seems to be quelling internal opposition to his election. Mullah Omar’s son Yacoob has publicly rejected Mansoor’s election, which was held in the Pakistani city of Quetta. He said the vote took place among a small clique of Mansoor’s supporters and demanded a re-election that includes all Taliban commanders, including those fighting in Afghanistan.
“We should keep our unity, we must be united, our enemy will be happy in our separation,” Mansoor purportedly said in the message. “This is a big responsibility for us. This is not the work of one, two or three people. This is all our responsibility to carry on jihad until we establish the Islamic state.”
Observers said the coming days should reveal how the Taliban leadership crisis plays out — a process that could have a seismic effect on Afghanistan’s political landscape.
“There’s a lot of unknowns right now, but hopefully within the next few days we would know more about what will be the intentions of the new leadership and if the new leader would be able to keep unity within the Taliban,” political analyst Haroun Mir said.
If Mansoor fails to appease his fighters and field commanders on the ground, the ultimate beneficiary could be the Islamic State group. The rival extremist group, which already controls about a third of Syria and Iraq with affiliates in Egypt and Libya, has established a small foothold in Afghanistan and is actively recruiting disillusioned Taliban fighters, according to Afghan government and US military officials.
The position of the Afghan government was also unclear, he said, as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani — who has made peace a priority of his administration — is in Germany for medical treatment.
“We are hopeful that when President Ghani returns to Kabul, he will make a statement about this new event and about the future of the peace process,” Mir said.
Mullah Omar was the one-eyed secretive head of the Taliban, who hosted Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda in the years leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He had not been seen in public since fleeing over the border into Pakistan after the 2001 US-led invasion that ousted the Taliban from power.
Under Mansoor’s shadow leadership, the Taliban has participated in a series of indirect meetings with government representatives, culminating in last month’s landmark meeting.
However, the Taliban has simultaneously intensified attacks on Afghan security forces, expanding their footprint into the previously peaceful northern provinces after NATO and US troops ended their combat mission and handed over security to local forces at the end of last year.
On Saturday, officials said that Taliban gunmen had surrounded a police station in southern Uruzgan Province and were holding 70 police officers hostage. The head of the police in the Khas Uruzgan District said that five police officers had been killed and four wounded in fighting so far.
“If we don’t get support, then all 70 police will be either dead or captured,” he said.
‘CONFESSED’: A court in Beijing said that former CCP member Ren Zhiqiang abused his power at a state firm and embezzled almost US$7.14 million of public funds A Chinese tycoon who called Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) a clown and criticized his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic was yesterday jailed for 18 years for corruption, bribery and embezzlement of public funds. Ren Zhiqiang (任志強) — once among the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) inner circle — disappeared from the public eye in March, shortly after penning an essay that lambasted Xi’s pandemic response. His outspokenness had earned the former chairman of state-owned property developer Huayuan Group the nickname “Big Cannon.” Yesterday’s verdict said that Ren embezzled almost 50 million yuan (US$7.4 million) of public funds and accepted bribes worth 1.25 million
AUSTRALIAN SITE: China has had a contract with SSC’s Yatharagga station since at least 2011, but the last time it used it was in June 2013. No final date has been given China would lose access to a strategic space tracking station in Western Australia when its contract expires, the facility’s owners said, a decision that cuts into Beijing’s expanding space exploration and navigational capabilities in the Pacific region. The Swedish Space Corp (SSC) has had a contract allowing Beijing access to the satellite antenna at the station since at least 2011. The station is located next to an SSC satellite station primarily used by the US and its agencies, including NASA. The Swedish state-owned company said it would not enter into any new contracts at the Australian site to support Chinese customers after
OFF BORDER ISLAND: The fisheries official disappeared from a patrol vessel wearing a life jacket and leaving behind his shoes, indicating an intentional move, Seoul said North Korean soldiers shot dead a suspected South Korean defector at sea and burned his body as a COVID-19 precaution after he was interrogated in the water over several hours, Seoul military officials said yesterday. It is the first killing of a South Korean citizen by North Korean forces for a decade, and comes with Pyongyang at high alert over the COVID-19 pandemic and inter-Korean relations at a standstill. The fisheries official disappeared from a patrol vessel near the western border island of Yeonpyeong on Monday, the official said. More than 24 hours later, North Korean forces located him in their waters and
The scarcity of commercial flights landing at Sydney Airport has been a disaster for airlines and workers, but for hobby pilots the COVID-19 pandemic has provided the opportunity of a lifetime. The quieter-than-usual runways mean that private pilots have been given the chance to land at the international airport for the first time. When Sydney Flight College club captain Tim Lindley put out a call, he received an overwhelming response. He eventually organized for 14 light aircraft to fly into Sydney airport on Sunday. “For a lot of the pilots involved, including myself, it was a childhood dream to land in a big