Mullah Mansour’s Killing has caused another leadership crisis within the Taliban.
Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, the leader of the Afghan Taliban who was appointed as the head of the group following the death of late Taliban founder Mullah Omer, was killed on May 22 in a precision US strike in the Baluchistan province of Pakistan. Mansour, who consolidated his power amid a leadership crisis within the Taliban movement, was known for his brutality of leading the insurgency. Despite Mullah Mansour’s cruelty on the battlefields against the Afghan and coalition forces, he was not able to draw support from several other high profile leaders, such as Mullah Zakir, Mullah Shireen, and Mullah Razzak, who held important positions in the Taliban central council (Shura). Moreover, these leaders had long opposed Mullah Mansour for covering up the circumstances around Mullah Omer’s death. Given the division within the ranks of the Taliban, Mansour was suffering from a legitimacy crisis.
Subsequently, the development led to further separation inside the Taliban higher command and took many months of bloody fighting among different factions before the movement was finally united. With killing of Mullah Mansour, who managed to bring a semblance of unity into the group by crushing the dissent, it appears that the insurgency is again thrown into a deep leadership crisis that would eventually lead to more splinter groups.
Now that the insurgency is apparently weakened by the removal of Mansour, who also remained irreconcilable with Afghan government to enter peace talks, and a new leader is declared, the important question that arises: Will the newly appointed Taliban chief would be able to unite the movement?
Although, Mawlawi Haibtullah Akhunzada has been declared as the leader of the group, it is too early to suggest that he can run the Taliban as effectively as Mullah Mansour. Meanwhile, sources within the Taliban have indicated that this would be a temporarily appointment until the council reach a consensus on electing a new leader. Of the four main candidates who were likely to substitute Mansour chances for Haibatullah, were higher from the beginning. As Sirajuddin Haqqani, Mullah Zakir Qayum and Mullah Yaqub the son of Mullah Omer had their dissidents within the Taliban.
Furthermore, one could have assumed that it would be difficult for the Taliban organization to elect a new leader unopposed. This was because the selection of a new leader would not have been an easy task this time as there are few leaders who could exert influence as Mansour did during his time. It was due to Mansour’s strong leadership that the Taliban was unified and gained substantial ground in different parts of Afghanistan.
On the other hand, with removal of Mullah Mansour there are some reports that the peace process initiated by the Quadlaterial Coordination Group (GCG) will gain momentum. The hope is that the new Taliban chief will take real steps for the resumption of peace talks.
At the end of the day, the only path to bring lasting peace and security for Afghanistan is a political settlement with the Taliban groups. Unfortunately, the aim has not been achieved as Mullah Mansour was against the peace process. Although several rounds of negotiations took place in different countries such as France, China, Russia and Pakistan under his leadership.
Moreover, in the absence of a Taliban leader, it was highly likely that Sirajuddin Haqqani and Haibatullah would run the Afghan Taliban. Sirajuddin was appointed at a time as Mansour set about trying to buttress his position. The Haqqani network is a deadly terrorist group that is considered by both the United States and Afghanistan as the main strength behind the Taliban.
If Sirajuddin Haqqani were to be selected to the position of Taliban chief, it would have undoubtedly brought extra power and military sophistication in the Taliban operations inside Afghanistan. While the Haqqani network which is closer to the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment may still be a candidate for the Taliban leadership, it will face enormous opposition from other splinter groups. One of the reasons that the group will face resistance is that the Haqqani network has run its own operations and evaded the instructions of the Taliban central Shura. In addition, there are some factions within Taliban that do not even consider the Haqqani network as of their own.
Additionally, the Haqqanis have also been used as proxies by Pakistan in its regional games against Afghanistan and India. Thus, there are some efforts underway to bring the Haqqanis into the Taliban leadership. Furthermore, the Haqqanization of the Taliban will greatly affect the peace process and undermine the very efforts to bring peace and stability not only to Afghanistan but also the region. It is because the network is considered a lethal terrorist organization which has planned and executed some of the most brutal and complex attacks on Afghan and coalition targets during the last 15 years.
For all these reasons, it is crucial for Afghanistan and the United States to prevent the Haqqanization of the Taliban movement by their Pakistani patrons and must make it clear to Islamabad to withdraw its support from the Haqqanis. Instead, Washington and Kabul should encourage Pakistan to use its influence especially after the demise of Mullah Mansour to encourage the Taliban to enter peace talks with the Afghan government. It is important due to the fact that a political settlement is in the best interest of all stakeholders in the region.