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Who Will Lead the Taliban Now?

  • Ayaz Gul

FILE - An Afghan man reads a local newspaper carrying a headline about the new leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 1, 2015.

FILE - An Afghan man reads a local newspaper carrying a headline about the new leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 1, 2015.

Mullah Akhtar Mansoor was formally named leader of the Taliban in July 2015, shortly after the militant group disclosed that founder Mullah Omar had died two years prior.

The Afghan government said Mansoor was the de facto leader of the Taliban during the time that Omar’s death remained a secret, and he kept that news even from some top commanders.

That led to some dissension among Taliban officials who were skeptical of how Mullah Omar’s succession was being handled, and of Mullah Mansoor’s ties to Pakistan.

Mansoor’s close relationship with Omar, however, and his status as one of the few remaining founding members of the Taliban helped him to consolidate power and unify the group over the past year.

Mansoor's successor remains unclear.

FILE - Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, leader of the Afghan Taliban, is seen in this undated handout photo from the Taliban.

FILE - Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, leader of the Afghan Taliban, is seen in this undated handout photo from the Taliban.

When he was named leader in 2015, the Taliban also named two deputies: Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the powerful Haqqani militant network, and Maulvi Haibatullah Akhund, a religious cleric known for issuing decrees on behalf of the Taliban.

Sirajuddin Haqqani is considered a terrorist leader by the United States, which has long offered a reward of $10 million for information leading to his capture.

Little is known about Haibatullah Akhund’s role in the militant group.

Hard-line Islamist movement

A member of the Ishaqzai tribe in southern Kandahar’s Maiwand district, Mansoor joined the Taliban when the hard-line Islamist movement emerged during the bloody power struggle among various Afghan factions following the collapse of the Najibullah government in 1992.

Afghans with knowledge of Mansoor’s early years with the Taliban describe him as a low-level administrator who mostly dealt with organizational matters. He was the minister for civil aviation till the end of the Taliban regime in late 2001.

After the Taliban was driven from Afghanistan and the group launched its counteroffensive, Mansoor was declared the group’s shadow governor of Kandahar and a member of its leadership council.

FILE - In this undated image released by the FBI, Mullah Omar is seen in a wanted poster. An Afghan official said his government is examining claims that reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Omar is dead.

FILE - In this undated image released by the FBI, Mullah Omar is seen in a wanted poster. An Afghan official said his government is examining claims that reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Omar is dead.

Omar appointed Mansoor as his deputy and acting head of the shura, or leadership council, after Mansoor’s predecessor, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, was captured in Pakistan in early 2010 by the Pakistani spy agency, with the help of the CIA.

The Taliban has long maintained that it will not engage in peace talks with the Afghan government until all foreign troops have left the country.

Peace talks

But in 2015 there were secretive meetings and encouraging signs that leaders could discuss peace. Afghan and Pakistani sources asserted that these initial meetings had the backing of Mansoor.

Soon after they began, however, the reported death of Omar all but ended the talks while the Taliban reorganized under Mansoor as leader.

Since then, the peace process has stalled and the Taliban has made aggressive moves to seize territory, continue bombings in the capital, Kabul, and fight back against competing militant groups such as the Islamic State group.

U.S. military officials also assert that the Taliban’s ties with al-Qaida have grown since Mansoor formally took charge.

FILE - President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a joint meeting of the National Assembly in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 25, 2016. Ghani suggested last week the Taliban has become little more than a criminal enterprise.

FILE - President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a joint meeting of the National Assembly in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 25, 2016. Ghani suggested last week the Taliban has become little more than a criminal enterprise.

The group’s reluctance to engage in peace talks, and its continuing attacks, have caused Afghan officials to grow more pessimistic about the peace process, considered the best hope for ending the war that has now gone on for more than 14 years.

Afghan authorities also have grown more critical of Pakistan, which they say is supporting and harboring the Taliban and the Haqqani network of militants.

The reported killing of Mansoor in a remote area of Pakistan’s Baluchistan province is likely to only reinforce those views.

Criminal enterprise

Last week Afghan President Ashraf Ghani suggested the Taliban has become little more than a criminal enterprise.

“The question is: Is the Mansoor group a drug cartel masquerading as a political organization? Or a political organization using a drug cartel as its means? You have to judge this question. It can no longer be avoided,” Ghani told an audience at the Royal United Services Institute think tank in London.

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