The Afghan government confirmed that Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour has been killed in a US air strike in a remote border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Mansour assumed the leadership of the militant organization in July 2015 soon after the whistleblowers revealed that the Taliban’s spiritual leader, Mullah Omar, had actually died two years ago.
Mansoor was born in 1965 in the southern province of Kandahar and served as civil aviation minister during the Taliban’s regime in Afghanistan.
The death of Mullah Mansoor is certainly a major blow to the Taliban.
Without an iota of doubt, Mansoor was gradually tightening his control on the Taliban movement by attracting other leading Taliban members, including a son and a brother the deceased spiritual leader and by carrying massive attacks on Afghan security forces.
The vacuum created by the death of Mansoor will once again trigger a leadership struggle. The selection of a new Taliban leader will be disputed, with rival groups in the Taliban ranks lobbying for their own leader and Pakistan struggling to appoint their own man. The leadership struggle is not only among the Taliban splinter groups but also with the Pakistani military establishment, who struggle to unify Taliban under one roof.
The fierce competition for the leadership of Taliban will be among Sarajuddin Haqqani, a close ally of Mullah Mansoor and a key commander of the Haqqani network, and Mullah Abdullah Rasool, the rival of Mullah Mansoor, who openly opposed Mullah Mansoor’s selection.
Sarajuddin Haqqani, who became one of two deputy Taliban commanders last year, has the highest chance of becoming the new leader of Taliban because he has been in charge of the day-to-day military operations of Taliban since last year and maintains close contacts with many senior Taliban commanders. Haqqani was also very instrumental in reconciling differences amongst Taliban commanders and bringing the spiritual leader’s family to the Taliban fold. Haqqani has been trying to reconcile splinter groups of Taliban who refused to accept Mansour’s leadership since last year and actively worked in integrating his militant group, known as the Haqqani Network. In addition, Pakistan will most likely support Haqqani as he remains the most reliable partner of the Pakistani military establishment. Evidence suggests that Pakistan continues to support the Haqqani network. Helping the network has not only ensured its survival but has also enhanced its ability to launch attacks inside Afghanistan
On the other hand, Mullah Rasool’s chances of succeeding Mullah Mansoor is minimal to none since his Taliban faction has suffered some shocking battlefield defeats in southern Afghanistan at the hands of Mullah Mansoor. Many of his key supporters died alongside many of his men in a battle with the Taliban’s main group. Mullah Rasool is no longer a strong man among the Taliban.
Mullah Omar’s son, Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, and brother, Mullah Abdul Manan, who recently secured senior positions within the Taliban ranks could also be in the reckoning.
The peace talks
The faith of the peace talks will depend on who will replaces Mullah Mansoor and how the Taliban will manage to come under one command. For now, the talks, which opened with a meeting on July 7, 2015 appeared to be off while the Taliban discussed their future. The Afghan government should get ready for fierce battle in coming months if Haqqani takes over Mullah Mansoor’s position. Haqqani, who has a $5 million US bounty on his head, has appeared as the most dangerous warlord among the Taliban insurgent groups. The hopes of peace talks may collapse and bloodshed may increase if Haqqani becomes the successor of Mullah Mansoor.
Ahmad Hasib Farhan is a graduate of Kabul University and holds a Master’s degree in Public Policy and Economics from Japan. Farhan is an Afghan analyst and commentator on political and socio-economic affairs in Afghanistan. Farhan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.