ISLAMABAD - The Taliban has released an audio message from new leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, intended to reassure Taliban leaders, elders, clerics and scholars that the Taliban jihad will continue until the Islamic system is brought to Afghanistan.
In the recording sent to VOA, he says all decisions will be taken in the light of Islamic law, be it war or peace talks, and advised his followers not to pay attention to rumors being spread about the Taliban campaign.
Earlier Saturday the Taliban denied reports of the death of Jalaluddin Haqqani, the founder of the Haqqani network.
The Taliban had announced Friday that Haqqani's son, Sirajuddin Haqqani, had been appointed one of two deputies to Mullah Mansoor, the new leader of the militant group.
In a Pashto language statement sent to VOA and other media outlets Saturday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Jalaluddin Haqqani was sick but has now fully recovered.
Mansoor replaces Taliban founder Mullah Mohammed Omar, who's death has been confirmed by the Taliban, although the timing of his death is unclear.
An Afghan Taliban splinter faction called Fidai Mahaz, which first leaked the news of Mullah Omar's death few days ago, claimed Saturday that the Taliban's founder leader was in fact poisoned to death.
The Taliban has not yet commented on the claims.
US Urges Taliban to Engage in Peace Talks
The United States is calling on the Taliban's new leaders to take part in what the U.S. sees as an extremely promising opportunity for "a genuine peace" and reconciliation between the Taliban and the Kabul government.
US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Daniel Feldman, the top American diplomat working on Afghan peace efforts, says the United States hopes all sides will move beyond the cancellation of Friday's scheduled peace talks following confirmation of Mullah Omar's death.
Saturday, Feldman, met with Pakistani military chief, General Raheel Sharif, to praise "his role in bringing all parties to peace talks between Afghanistan Government and Taliban."
A Pakistan military statement quoted Ambassador Feldman as saying he "hoped with all sincerity that talks would resume soon to bring lasting peace."
Feldman said Friday “This is a clear moment of opportunity and we strongly encourage the Taliban to use this time of opportunity to make a genuine peace with the Afghan government and to rebuild their lives in peace in Afghanistan,” Feldman told reporters in Kabul on Friday.
Afghan government and Taliban envoys were set to meet in neighboring Pakistan on Friday for a second round of peace talks aimed at ending the conflict in Afghanistan.
But on the eve of the meeting, Afghan officials disclosed to the surprise of many that the insurgent group’s fugitive leader died two years ago. The Taliban later confirmed the news and decided to pull out of the talks until settling the leadership crisis.
"Mullah Omar’s death could present opportunities for other terrorist organizations to recruit disenchanted Taliban members; create splinter groups who may seek peace settlements with the Afghanistan government; or possibly incentivize the Taliban to continue its fighting efforts," said a U.S. intellegence official on Friday.
Mansoor declared new chief
On Friday, the insurgent group formally declared Mullah Akhtar Mansoor as its new chief but the announcement did not mention the fate of peace talks with the Afghan government.
The revelation by the Afghan government that Mullah Omar had actually died in April of 2013 continues to raise questions about its motives.
Feldman said the United States is still assessing and evaluating the developments.
But he refused to be drawn into speculations, though he acknowledged Washington too until recently was unaware of the death of Mullah Omar.
“[The Taliban] obviously is a secretive organization, to begin with, which sought to keep the issue of [Omar’s] death secret,” Feldman said. “I cannot speculate as to what certain entities or individuals may have known or when.
“We had obviously been seeking information on this for quite a while, but like the Afghan government sources and like others, we started getting very credible reports of it few days ago,” he added.
Too early for speculation
Feldman said it is too early to speculate on what possible decisions the Taliban under its new leadership is going to make about the reconciliation process or any other issues. He said Washington hopes the Afghan peace process will continue.
“So we hope that they will take this opportunity to embrace the reconciliation process,” he said.
Feldman said there is a need for the Afghan national unity government to ensure unity of views while approaching the reconciliation process that he said was key to a stable and sustainable Afghanistan.
"It is one thing that I think is particularly important in terms of the demonstration to the Taliban and to the rest of the international community that this government is not only speaking but working in unison on this issue and that if this opportunity can be leveraged and utilized that it will be in the best interest of all Afghans,” he said.
While question are being raised about the future of Afghan peace process, Afghan and Pakistani officials both see the new Taliban leader Mansoor is a strong supporter of the peace talks and are hopeful the dialogue will resume very soon.
VOA's Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.