Taliban’s new leader Mullah Mansour calls for unity

AFP PHOTO / Noorullah Shirzada | Former Afghan Taliban fighters hand over their weapons as part of a government peace and reconciliation process at a ceremony in Jalalabad on February 8, 2015
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The Afghan Taliban’s new leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, called for unity in his first public message released Saturday amid reports of splits in the group’s ranks following the announcement of his predecessor’s death.


In a 33-minute audio message, Mansour pledged to carry on the message of the Taliban’s late leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, whose death was officially announced Thursday.

"The enemy can't defeat us if we show unity," said Mansour in the audio message made available to journalists. "I will utilise all my energies to follow our late Mullah Mohammad Omar and his mission…We need to be patient and should try to go to those friends who are unhappy. We will have to convince them and take them on board."

Mansour’s admission of splits within the ranks comes amid reports that the late Mullah Omar’s son and brother walked out of a Taliban meeting called earlier this week to announce the movement’s new leader.

The open dissent within the movement's core group underscores the challenges facing the Taliban’s new leader. He has to try to persuade wavering commanders to pursue peace talks with the Afghan government even as the Islamic State (IS) group has been recruiting fighters in the region with a number of disgruntled Taliban commanders pledging bayat – or allegiance – to IS group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Pakistan ties spark suspicions

Mansour and his two new deputies -- Maulavi Haibatullah Akhunzada, a former Taliban judiciary chief, and Sirajuddin Haqqani, son of renowned jihadist leader Jalaluddin Haqqani -- are believed to be close to the Pakistani military-intelligence services.

Some Taliban commanders have accused Pakistan of putting pressure on Mansour to advance peace talks with the Afghan government.

The revelation that the reclusive Omar’s death had been withheld from Taliban commanders for two years has also sparked dissent in Taliban ranks. Over the past few months, statements attributed to the late Taliban leader have called for progress on the peace talks.

Cohesion within Taliban ranks has been further eroded by recent reports that Jalaluddin Haqqani -- the septuagenarian founder of the fearsome Haqqani Network faction -- died over a year ago. But a Taliban spokesman on Saturday denied reports of Haqqani’s death. The group also posted a statement on Twitter Saturday of Jalaluddin Haqqani’s pledge of allegiance to Mullah Mansour, the new Taliban leader.

Meeting in Murree postponed

The latest Taliban leadership shakeup comes as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has taken a political gamble by seeking the cooperation of Afghanistan’s longtime foe, Pakistan, to advance a long-stalled peace process.

Mansour is seen as a pragmatist and a proponent of peace talks, raising hopes that the power transition could pave the way for an end to Afghanistan's long, bloody war.

But though Mansour obliquely referenced the talks in his audio message, saying that any negotiations would be in "accordance with sharia", it was not clear if he supported them.

The Afghan government, which first confirmed Omar's death on Wednesday, is yet to comment on the Taliban's power transition but observers say the emerging split works to its advantage.

"There is no doubt that the Afghan government could reap maximum benefit from the deepening divisions among Taliban ranks," Haroun Mir, a Kabul-based political analyst, told AFP.

"There are two groups within the Taliban -- one that is pro-talks and the other that is anti-talks. The government should work to bring the group which is pro-talks to the negotiation table."

Afghan officials met Taliban cadres last month in Murree, a holiday town in the hills north of the Pakistani capital Islamabad, for their first face-to-face talks aimed at ending the bloody insurgency.

They had agreed to meet again in the coming weeks, drawing international praise, and Afghan officials had pledged to press for a ceasefire in the second round.

The announcement of Omar's death, however, cast doubt on the fragile peace process, forcing the postponement of a second round of talks that had been expected in Pakistan on Friday.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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