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Is the Afghan Taliban Succession a Win for Pakistan?

by AFP
Aref Karimi—AFP

Aref Karimi—AFP

Insurgents claim Mullah Akhtar Mansour and his two deputies are all close to the Pakistani military establishment.

The handover of the Taliban leadership to the “moderate” Mullah Akhtar Mansour is being seen by some as a win for Pakistan, the insurgents’ historic backers, but could deepen splits within the movement.

After a hectic 24 hours in which the Taliban confirmed the death of longtime leader Mullah Omar and named his replacement, one leading insurgent was frank in his assessment. “It’s clear Pakistan has won,” he told AFP.

Mansour and his two newly named deputies—influential religious leader Haibatullah Akhundzada and Sirajuddin Haqqani—are all seen as close to the Pakistani military establishment, the Taliban’s longstanding shadowy godfather.

Several Taliban officials told AFP on Friday they regarded Mansour as having “close” or “very close” ties to the Pakistani military.

While there has been no official comment on the Pakistani side, Mansour’s appointment was welcomed by retired Brigadier Mehmood Shah. “Mansour has been running Taliban affairs for two years now, negotiating and organizing fighting successfully, so he’s fully capable [to take over],” said Shah. “He might be even better than Mullah Omar because Omar was reclusive.”

One of Mansour’s deputies, Haqqani, directs the feared Haqqani network, a Taliban faction behind some of the most high profile attacks in Afghanistan in recent years. Few doubt the network’s connections to Pakistan, to the point that a top U.S. military official in 2011 called the network a “veritable arm” of the country’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. Islamabad denied the allegations and condemned the statement, which came at a low point in Pak-U.S. relations.

As for the other deputy, Akhundzada, in something of a coincidence he was arrested briefly around 10 days ago by Pakistani forces in Quetta. “We think that Pakistan arranged that to prepare him for Mullah Omar’s succession process and for what will come next with the peace talks,” claimed a Taliban cadre with strong anti-Pakistan views.

Tentative peace efforts between Kabul and the Taliban trying to end the nearly 14-year insurgency made a breakthrough in early July as negotiators met for the first time in Pakistan’s Murree. For years Pakistan quietly supported the Taliban’s fight in Afghanistan, even after 2001 when Islamabad joined Washington’s “war on terror” alliance, a double game publicly acknowledged earlier this year by former president Pervez Musharraf.

But the dynamics of regional politics have changed in the past 12 months.

The United States is planning to pull its remaining troops out of Afghanistan in 2016 and China has pledged to invest billions of dollars in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Both have ramped up the pressure on Islamabad to use its leverage to get the Taliban to the talks table.

In Afghanistan the coming to power of President Ashraf Ghani, who has taken a conciliatory approach to Pakistan, and fears about the growing influence of the Islamic State group, have also improved the grounds for talks. Pakistan organized the meeting in Murree, with a second round planned for this week that was postponed after reports of Mullah Omar’s death went public.

It was in this context that the Afghan government on Wednesday made the bombshell announcement of Omar’s death, followed swiftly by Mansour’s nomination as his successor.

The same Mansour who had “played an active role for the start of the talks” in Murree, Pakistani journalist and Taliban expert Rahimullah Yousufzai noted. From there, some top Taliban cadres drew the conclusion that Pakistan had orchestrated the whole thing—delaying the announcement of Omar’s death while they engineered a pliant successor into position.

“The leadership may have hidden from us the fact that our leader was dead for two years, while at same time publishing statements in his name,” one militant told AFP. “Some of the Taliban feel deceived, betrayed. This feeds suspicions about a Pakistani plot.”

On Friday, a few hours after Mansour was appointed, voices emerged questioning the selection process, saying it was rushed and even biased. Mullah Mohammad Hassan Rahmani a member of the Taliban leadership council, told Afghanistan’s Shamshad TV that Mansour’s election was done with a “limited number of people.”

“People are unhappy about it and strongly reject this election—there are a lot of phone calls from within Afghanistan from people unhappy with what is happening,” he said. “He [Mansoor] has sat with two or three people, giving them money or cars to support him—this is like throwing dust and thorns in the eyes of people.”

These cracks emerging at the highest level of the Taliban leadership will no doubt interest the Islamic State group, which has been seeking to expand its role in Afghanistan by attracting disaffected Taliban fighters.

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1 comment

Shah Jamal September 11, 2015 - 4:40 pm

Passing The Buck On To Pakistan

Shah Jamal

One of the prominent aspects of Ashraf Ghani’s presidency has been his willingness to work with Pakistan which his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, had failed to do so. However, this reasonable and the much required positive attitude of the Afghan President was short-lived rather proved to be a mirage. Mullah Omar’s death and the subsequent developments have indeed not only derailed the process of Pakistan-sponsored Afghan peace talks to a great deal but has turned Ashraf Ghani against Pakistan in utter frustration.
Mullah Akhtar Mansour was announced as the new Taliban Emir after Taliban confirmed the death of Mullah Omar but splits immediately emerged between Mansour and rivals challenging his appointment, exposing the Taliban’s biggest leadership crisis in recent years. So much so, Syed Mohammad Tayab Agha, director of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, resigned from his post criticizing the decision of appointment of Mullah Mansour and called for a meeting of a new leadership council to elect the head of Taliban.
Umar’s death has created new uncertainties, complexities and security challenges in Afghanistan which have a direct bearing on regional peace and stability. Besides providing the pro-Indian lobby led by former President Hamid Karzai with the ammunition to cast aspersions on Pakistan’s intentions in Afghanistan, tough questions are being asked whether Pakistan wants to be a peace-broker or a power-broker in Afghanistan. The Afghan authorities are accusing and confronting Pakistan with pressing questions. Most importantly, they are questioning that if Mullah Umar died in Pakistan two years ago then who issued his messages in his name, and who was managing the insurgent’s fight in Afghanistan?
While Afghan authorities continue bashing Pakistan for nurturing and manipulating Afghan Taliban, they forget certain facts which bring down their critique of Pakistan in using Afghan Taliban against Afghanistan. Firstly, the kind of sway and control of Pakistan over Afghan Taliban is not of the kind being alleged by the Afghan authorities. Various instances, pre and post 9/11, bear testimony to the fact that Taliban never listened Pakistan wholeheartedly but did whatever they deemed fit for themselves. The Taliban are not likely to listen to Pakistan in near future.
Secondly, the Indian influence in Afghanistan especially in government circles is prominently increasing. Same has even been witnessed by diplomats and independent analysts based inside and outside Afghanistan. Afghan authorities will have to take stock of the situation that whether or not the same growing Indian influence is responsible for undermining the Pakistan’s sincere efforts for Afghan peace process.
Thirdly and lastly, Pakistan’s previous support to Afghan mujahedeens during Russian occupation of Afghanistan has created enough good-will for Pakistan among the folds of Taliban that Pakistan need not to maneuver to place a leader of their own as Taliban’s head to further its influence on the group. Whether it’s Umar or Mansur or anybody else, Afghan Taliban know how to respect their benefactor and make others to respect Taliban.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said recently that the enemies of Afghanistan are the enemies of Pakistan, however, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is unwilling to take him solely at his word. Instead he has been conditioning the success of peace talks on a solid commitment from Pakistan. Ashraf Ghani in the midst of Pakistan bashing forgets that he is the leader of Afghanistan and instead should also do his homework and undertake confidence-building measures to gain the trust of its people, address local grievances, and provide better living and governance to ensure an end to the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan is housing 1.5 million registered and almost same numbers unregistered Afghan refugees and are not only burden on Pakistani people’s economy, job opportunities, health facilities, education facilities and housing issues but are a big concern while considering security aspects. Burning Pakistan’s flag and waving Indian flags are giving wrong messages to Pakistani Govt and common people at large. Ashraf Ghani must understand the conspiracies, being President of Afghan People. Both being Muslim countries have strong cultural and historical bindings. Pakistan shares a long border (1500 Km) with Afghanistan and act as life line, as Afghanistan is a land locked country. Unless this happens, one can expect an intensification in attacks by the Taliban in Afghanistan for which once again the Afghan authorities would blame Pakistan and its agency.


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