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Amid uncertainty over Mulla Omar’s fate....Power struggle flares up in Afghan Taliban movement

Omar’s son Yaqoob takes centre-stage as anti-talk factions unite

By our correspondents
July 27, 2015
PESHAWAR: An internal power struggle has flared up in the Afghan Taliban movement and its de facto head Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor is facing a rebellion by certain important military commanders amid the uncertainty about the fate of Taliban supreme leader Mulla Mohammad Omar.

Sources close to the Taliban disclosed to The News that the opposition to Mansoor, the deputy leader of the movement and former minister of civil aviation, is centred round Mulla Mohammad Yaqoob, the eldest son of Mulla Omar.

The 26-year-old Yaqoob graduated last year from a well-known Karachi seminary and is said to be ready to take over the Taliban leadership in case the death of his father is confirmed and the movement’s Shuras and rank and file so decide.

The sources maintained that those challenging Mansoor’s dominance of the movement are promoting Yaqoob as a legitimate and worthy successor to his father, Mulla Omar.The differences between the two competing sides came to a head when Mansoor on the persuasion of Pakistani authorities dispatched a Taliban delegation to Murree to hold peace talks with the Afghan government on July 7 and then managed to release an Eidul Fitr message from Mulla Omar endorsing the peace talks.

The anti-talk factions among the Taliban felt outraged by both decisions and soon consultations began in Afghanistan and Pakistan to end the monopoly of power by Mansoor and his Ishakzai Durrani clan in the movement.Those opposed to Mansoor include Taliban commanders and fighters mainly from the Noorzai and the Alizai clans of the Durrani tribe and the Kakar tribe.

Some of the leading Taliban figures who have rebelled against Mansoor’s leadership include the former Guantanamo Bay prisoner and military strategist Abdul Qayyum Zakir belonging to the Alizai clan, Mulla Baz Mohammad from the Noorzai sub-tribe and also among the most powerful Taliban commanders in the movement’s stronghold in southwestern Afghanistan, and Mansoor Dadullah, who is a Kakar tribesman and the younger brother of the slain Taliban commander Mulla Dadullah Akhund.

Incidentally, the Taliban breakaway group Fidayee Mahaz, which recently claimed Mulla Omar is dead, was established by Mulla Najeebullah, an aide to the late Mulla Dadullah Akhund.The one-legged Mulla Dadullah was allegedly shot dead by one of his bodyguards in Helmand province on May 12, 2007 and later his body was captured by Nato and Afghan forces and publicly displayed in Kandahar.

Mulla Dadullah’s family and supporters had blamed Mansoor and his ruling group of conspiring to assassinate him and this caused the initial differences in Taliban ranks.According to the sources, Zakir and Mulla Abdul Rauf, an important pro-Taliban cleric, were present in a recent conclave in which Yaqoob was introduced as the would-be leader of the Taliban movement and Mansoor was heavily criticised

The presence of Abdul Mannan, a younger brother of Mulla Omar, in the meeting was reportedly meant to show the family’s support for Yaqoob and express solidarity with the Taliban camp opposed to Mansoor and his allies.

Such meetings are taking place in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan and more are planned to build a strong coalition against Mansoor and promote the cause of Yaqoob as the future Taliban leader.

The sources said Mansoor has suddenly become inaccessible in the Quetta suburb where he used to stay and is now untraceable.There are also reports that Mulla Abdul Jalil and Mulla Mohammad Abbas, who had represented the Taliban in the Murree peace talks with the Afghan government, have gone to Saudi Arabia to perform Umra and haven’t returned home yet.

If the growing differences in Taliban ranks aren’t overcome, the planned second round of peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government could be delayed and even jeopardised.

The anti-talk factions are strong in terms of their military power and the lack of their support for the peace initiative could affect the chances of success of the talks.

The speculation about Mulla Omar’s whereabouts and fate has been going on for the last few years, but the issue began to be openly discussed when the Taliban splinter group, the Fidayee Mahaz, led by Mulla Najeebullah, recently claimed through its spokesman Qari Hamza that Mulla Omar died 24 months ago.

Though it claimed having evidence to back up its claim, the small militant group has yet to provide any such proof. Qari Hamza even claimed that Mulla Omar was killed by Mansoor and his ally Gul Agha, presently heading the Taliban finance commission and considered close to the supreme leader.

Though Taliban’s official spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied the claim and termed it part of the usual propaganda against the movement and a ploy to find out Mulla Omar’s hideout, the Fidayee Mahaz statement triggered an intense debate among the Taliban as many wondered why Mulla Omar cannot record a message in his voice to deny reports that he had died.

There was also speculation as to why a recording of Mulla Omar’s Eid message cannot be released in place of a cold statement sent by email and fax on his behalf to the media.The lack of answers to these questions has added to the uncertainty about the fate of Mulla Omar, who should be in his late 50s if still alive.