Senior members of the Taliban have announced the resolution of a potential split within the group's leadership following Mullah Omar's death, with previously divided factions pledging their allegiance Tuesday to the group's new leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor.
In a Pashto-language statement, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the agreement to unite behind Mansoor's leadership came during a meeting of prominent clerics and elders. Omar’s eldest son, Mohammad Yaqoob, and his brother Mullah Abdul Manan announced their full support for Mansoor, who also was present at the gathering on Tuesday.
Jarrett Blanc, the acting U.S. government's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told reporters in Islambad that he is optimistic that peace talks between the Taliban and the government in Kabul can resume soon.
“I have every hope that the Taliban will soon return to the dialogue,” Blanc said after meeting with Pakistani civilian and military leaders.
Afghanistan's government is ready to resume talks with the Taliban, the U.S. envoy said, and no other "irritant" should derail the peace process once the Taliban decides to resume negotiations.
Blanc, who visited Kabul prior to his talks in Islamabad, noted both countries' strong commitment to improving bilateral ties and dealing with militants in a coordinated manner. He emphasized the need for enhanced cooperation on security by Afghanistan and Pakistan, and said the United States will do what it can to faciliate this interaction.
Blanc said Washington has made it clear to Pakistani leaders that they must take action to stop attacks on civilians on both sides of the border, whether they are carried out by the Taliban or their allies from the Haqqani network, a separate militant group.
“We expect that Pakistan will not discriminate between [different groups of] militants ... and expect them to go after everyone threatening peace and security,” Blanc said.
All issues that came up during his talks in Pakistan will be on the agenda when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif meets with President Barack Obama, at the White House next month, the U.S. diplomat said.
Major step forward
Tuesday's developments were seen as a major step toward full consolidation of Mansoor's authority, which could end infighting and political intrigue among Taliban members.
Reports of a power struggle within the Taliban had been circulating since the announcement in late July that Omar was dead. The longtime Taliban leader had, in fact, died in 2013, but the secretive group concealed his demise during months and years of fighting with Afghan forces and the U.S.-led coalition supporting them.
The Taliban and the Afghan government held direct, official talks
for the first time in 14 years, in early July. The negotiations were brokered and hosted by Pakistan. Once Omar’s death was disclosed, however, the Taliban suspended the peace process indefinitely.
The Islamist group's senior members, meeting in secret, soon decided Mullah Mansoor should succeed Omar as the Taliban's supreme leader, but there was grumbling almost immediately. Omar's relatives Yaqoob and Manan claimed the appointment illegal and unauthorized by the Taliban's leadership council.
As reported disagreements and divisions within the Taliban continued and increased, analysts said the dissension was a threat to the integrity of insurgent who had been so effective fighting against U.S.-led foreign and Afghan forces.