Mullah Mansour’s successor won’t go for talks.
The new Afghan Taliban leader, chosen by a shura representing all field commanders, is Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzadah. His name means ‘Terror of Allah,’ but he is known for piety rather than war. He was born near Kandahar but moved to Kuchlak near Quetta after 2001 and became Mullah Omar’s adviser, which means he molded his decision-making to the edicts of Islam and was likely responsible for Omar’s unbending nature.
“Unbending” is the word that best describes the nature of the Pakhtun alpha male. Disagreeing rather than agreeing is the tribal way of expressing character. “Agreeing” to a tribal Pakhtun is tantamount to losing individuality. “Nang” (honor) is attached to it. When a Pakhtun army comes into being, it is usually decentralized to allow individual freedom of plunder to all leaders down the command ladder.
Will he be able to get the quadrilateral peace talks started? Not a chance. And there are reasons for saying this. Before the Taliban came to power in 1996 in Kabul they were ragtag, with field commanders laying down their own law in the regions they controlled. After taking Kabul, it took time for the government to line up all the regions behind its writ. There was civil war soon enough. Herat in the west remained a problem; in the north, even a massacre in Mazar-e-Sharif couldn’t tame the opposing Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostam who is in the government in Kabul today, soon to be joined by Pakhtun warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who could be hiding in Pakistan. Splintering is not a defect; it is strategy. Peace is not the policy.
Taliban field commanders are all smalltime warlords become big because of their ability to inflict pain on innocent Afghans. Extractions and cruel annihilation of local hierarchies gets them hooked on power, which they will not surrender to Akhundzadah. This will surely apply to Sirajuddin Haqqani who has a powerbase in half a dozen Afghan provinces and also in Pakistan. And the 300,000-strong Afghan Army, like the Muslim armies of Iraq and Nigeria, will be keen to cross over to the Taliban—along with freshly supplied American equipment—and start killing Pakhtuns fleeing once again to Pakistan in their millions.