Afghan presidency confirms 2013 death of Mullah Omar
Taliban leader Mullah Omar died in Pakistan in 2013, the Afghan presidency announced Wednesday, confirming earlier reports from the Afghan security services of his demise.
“The government ... based on credible information, confirms that Mullah Mohammad Omar, leader of the Taliban, died in April 2013 in Pakistan,” the presidential palace said in a statement released Wednesday.
Earlier in the day, Abdul Hassib Seddiqi, the spokesman for Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS), had also said that the latest reports of Omar’s death were accurate.
“We confirm officially that he is dead,” Seddiqi told the AP news agency.
"He was very sick in a Karachi hospital and died suspiciously there," he said, adding that the Afghan government had been aware of Mullah Omar's death for two years.
It was not immediately clear why the Afghan government was only now confirming his death.
The confirmation came shortly after two government sources requesting anonymity told FRANCE 24's correspondent in Kabul, Moheballah Charif, that Omar had died.
The reports prompted Zafar Hashemi, the deputy spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, to announce the government was launching a probe to establish their veracity.
Prior death rumours
The one-eyed, reclusive head of the Taliban, who has not been seen in public since 2001, was rumoured to have died several times in the past.
Wednesday's announcement marks the first time the Afghan government has confirmed Omar's death. The NDS has previously said that its intelligence indicated Omar was deceased but has not provided proof nor confirmed it publicly.
The Afghan Taliban have yet to comment, but a spokesman contacted by the BBC said the group would issue a statement shortly.
News of Omar’s death is likely to mark a significant blow to the group’s almost 14-year-long insurgency, which is riven by internal divisions and threatened by the rise of the Islamic State group, which has been luring away some of the Taliban's members.
It could trigger a power struggle within the movement, observers say, with insurgent sources claiming that Mullah Mansour, the current Taliban deputy, and Omar's son Mohammad Yakoub are both top contenders to replace him.
Omar's death could also complicate peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government that are due to be held in Pakistan on Friday.
Until now, the Taliban have appeared to act collectively but are believed to be split over whether to continue their insurgency or negotiate with President Ghani’s government. The loss of their figurehead could see that divide widen.
"Whether he is dead or alive is important because he is the collective figure for the Taliban," said a Western diplomat with connections in the Taliban leadership. "If he is dead, it would be much more difficult to get negotiations with the Taliban because there would be no collective figure to rally around and take collective responsibility for entering peace talks."
However, the presidential palace in Kabul said in its statement that it was optimistic over the talks’ chances of success.
“The government of Afghanistan believes that grounds for the Afghan peace talks are more paved now than before, and thus calls on all armed opposition groups to seize the opportunity and join the peace process,” it said.
Ghani is keen to broker a settlement with the insurgents, who have been gaining territory in areas of the country and intensifying attacks on military and political targets.
In recent weeks, the insurgents have taken control of remote districts in Badakhshan province and continue to launch attacks on districts in Kunduz province, a strategically located region bordering Tajikistan.
Thousands of civilians and security personnel are killed each year in the violence, which has worsened since NATO withdrew most of its forces from the country at the end of 2014.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS, AFP)
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