The Afghanistan government has the opportunity to deal a defeating blow to a currently divided Taliban movement, weakened by internal dissent following the confirmed death of the group’s leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, a former powerful warlord told The Associated Press (AP).
“Defeating the Taliban is a very real possibility right now and this is the right moment to fight against the Taliban,” Atta Mohammad Noor, governor of the northern Balkh province and one of the most powerful former warlords, told AP.
The Taliban leadership has been dealing with a crisis that manifested when Afghan authorities and the Taliban itself confirmed that Mullah Omar had been dead since April 2013.
Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, Mullah Omar’s deputy who had been serving as the group’s de-facto leader since Mullah Omar was last seen in early months of the 14-year-old Afghanistan war, was named the new leader.
“At the Taliban meeting this week where Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour was named as the Islamist militant group’s new head, several senior figures in the movement, including the son and brother of late leader Mullah Omar, walked out in protest,” reported Reuters.
“The display of dissent within the group’s secretive core is the clearest sign yet of the challenge Mansour faces in uniting a group already split over whether to pursue peace talks with the Afghan government and facing a new, external threat, Islamic State [ISIS/ISIL],” it continued, adding, “Rifts in the Taliban leadership could widen after confirmation this week of the death of elusive founder Omar.”
Besides infighting over whether or not Mullah Mansour should be the new leader, Mullah Omar’s death has threatened to split the Taliban into rival groups: those who favor peace talks with the Afghan government and those who do not.
Following the announcement of Mullah’s Omar’s demise, a scheduled round of peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government was postponed, allegedly at the request of the Taliban.
It was widely reported that the newly appointed leader, Mullah Mansour, was supportive of the peace talks.
However, the New York Times (NYT) reported that the Taliban released an audio recording Saturday, allegedly from Mullah Mansour, in which the new leader urged unity and played down the peace talks.
“The jihad will continue until there is an Islamic system” in Afghanistan, reportedly said the Mullah Mansour in the recording. He called on the insurgent group to remain together as they had under the leadership of Mullah Omar.
“Mullah Mansour seemed to dismiss the prospect of peace talks as enemy propaganda, despite the fact that he was said to have approved a historic face-to-face meeting in early July between delegations from the Taliban and the Afghan government,” notes the Times.
Nevertheless, Mullah Mansour, in the recording, reportedly referred to the allegations of the any “peace process” or negotiations as merely “the words of the enemies.”
“Still, the Afghan government and Western diplomats are likely to find some cause for hope in what Mullah Mansour said, and did not say,” reports NYT. “His address did not explicitly rule out future contact for the government. And he defined the goal of the insurgency as ‘an Islamic system’ in Kabul, rather than explicitly speaking in terms of the Taliban reconquering Afghanistan.”
Mullah Mansour was addressing a special meeting of Taliban leaders, scholar, and clerics in the recorded speech, Zabiullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s most prominent spokesman, reportedly revealed.
The gathering took place on the same day that Mullah Mansour, who has been the Taliban’s de facto leader for several years, was appointed to replace Mullah Omar.