The deputy leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, was elected to succeed the organization’s deceased founder, Pakistan’s GEO TV said, citing unidentified “well-informed” people.
The Taliban’s supreme council “unanimously” chose Mansour to become the militant organization’s new chief, GEO TV reported Thursday. Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar died in Pakistan in April 2013, the Afghan government said Wednesday.
Mansour is among Taliban leaders who have supported pursuing peace talks with the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Jawid Kohistani, a political analyst in Kabul, said by phone Thursday. He also is close to Pakistan’s main Inter-Services Intelligence agency, Kohistani said.
“Mansour has many challengers, and there could be a big power play that ensues,” Michael Kugelman, senior associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, said in an e-mail. “Peace talks will be left in the lurch, unfortunately.”
Mansour has been directing day-to-day Taliban operations in Afghanistan against U.S.-led coalition troops since 2001, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad, a senior Taliban commander in southern Helmand province, said by phone Thursday. He also has played a central role in appointing Taliban commanders and shadow governors in the war-torn country, Mullah Mohammad said.
The second round of Afghan peace talks, which had been due to take place Friday, have been postponed at the request of the Taliban leadership, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said Thursday. It cited the uncertainty resulting from the announcement of Mullah Omar’s death. No new date was given.
The Afghan Taliban themselves said Thursday that Mullah Omar died following an unspecified illness. The e-mailed statement from spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed didn’t say when or where he passed away, nor did it name a successor.
Mullah Mansour was born in 1960 in Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar province, according to the Afghan Biographies website. It was in Kandahar in the 1990s that the Taliban were founded by Mullah Omar.
Mansour developed his relationship with Pakistani intelligence during the 1980s, when he fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Hasibullah Fawzi, a senior member of Afghanistan government’s High Peace Council, said by phone.
Mansour served as the minister of civil aviation when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001.
As the leader of the Taliban, Mansour probably won’t benefit from the same esteem that Mullah Omar had, said Kohistani. Mullah Omar was regarded as the spiritual leader of the Taliban, while Mansour “is a military commander and a good warrior, but can’t be the leader of the faithful,” Kohistani said.
One new deputy leader of the Taliban will be Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the so-called Haqqani network of militants, Pakistan’s Express Tribune said Thursday, citing an unidentified Taliban leader. The Haqqani network has been blamed for some of the most high-profile terrorist attacks in Kabul in recent years.