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Afghan Taliban Embroiled in Dispute Over Succession

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.

A crucial meeting of Afghan Taliban leaders and scholars has been in session for days now at an undisclosed location.

The goal: to resolve internal rifts over succession that have been engulfing the insurgent group since it revealed late last month that its supreme leader, Mullah Omar, had been dead for more than two years.

The gathering is reportedly taking place somewhere in southwestern Pakistan near the Afghan border.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed to VOA on Friday that its religious scholars and elders have been in session to see the resolution through, but refused to discuss the location.

“Our scholars continue to hold discussions aimed at removing concerns and reservations of some of our estranged brothers,” Mujahid said.

Rifts denied

He insisted that reports of “rifts or any real differences” in Taliban ranks are misplaced and there is no threat to the integrity of the group.

Mullah Omar’s successor, Mullah Akthar Mansoor, is trying to secure his position against rivals who include family members of the deceased leader and other senior Taliban commanders.

Among them are Omar’s eldest son, Mohammad Yakub, his uncle Abdul Manan and a top member of the insurgency, Abdul Qayum Zakir.

“All mujahidin and our longstanding allies have no objection to the new leadership; however, some friends and brothers have their complaints and differences of opinion that will be addressed very soon,” the Taliban spokesman asserted.

He said these issues are not a matter of serious concern for the group.

“It is natural to face this much difficulty whenever transition occurs,” said Mujahid, adding that the religious leaders have also met with Mansoor as part of the resolution effort.

After taking charge, Mansoor rejected peace talks with Kabul and vowed to continue the insurgency against foreign forces and the Afghan government.

Just days after the announcement, a series of suicide and other bombings wrecked Kabul, the capital city, in which more than 400 people were killed or injured. The Taliban claimed responsibility for most of these attacks.

Bilateral tensions

The violence outraged Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who blamed Pakistan for not preventing the insurgents from gathering on its soil and plan cross-border attacks, charges Islamabad denied.

The bilateral tensions have threatened a recent thaw in relations that Ghani initiated to seek Pakistan’s help in ending the Afghan war.

Taliban spokesman Mujahid says its political office in Doha, Qatar is solely authorized to conduct peace talks but “there is no plan of holding such a dialogue with the Afghan government.”

He justified the Taliban attacks across Afghanistan, saying they are part of its ongoing ‘Azm’ (Resolve) offensive aimed at Afghans helping and supporting foreign occupation forces” in Afghanistan.

Mujahid was referring to the NATO-led training and advising mission that mostly comprises U.S. soldiers.

Damning allegations

Taliban fighters and key commanders are allegedly using their bases in Pakistan for directing the Afghan insurgency, allegedly with the help of the neighboring country’s military spy agency.

Pakistan brokered and hosted the first direct peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government on July 7, the first contact between the warring sides in 14 years.

A second round was scheduled for July 31, but the news of Mullah Omar’s death prompted the insurgent group to pull out of the process until the leadership turmoil was settled.

The rise in Taliban violence, coupled with tensions between Kabul and Islamabad, have raised questions about whether the window for the peace talks is closed.