The Afghan Taliban on Monday was quick to deny reports of their leader Mullah Omar being killed while being shifted by former ISI officials from Quetta to North Waziristan. A similar denial came from the Pakistani Taliban and was later quoted by Interior Minister Rehman Malik when asked if the Taliban leader had been killed. This is not the first time the one-eyed militant has been reported dead.
News about Omar being killed was aired by an Afghan television channel on the basis of an observation made by the spokesman of Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security, Lutfullah Mashal. Stating that “our sources and senior Taliban members confirm that they can't contact him”, Mr. Mashal hoped that Omar was dead but could not confirm it.
According to Mr. Mashal, the Taliban leader had been living in Quetta ever since he was forced to flee Afghanistan after the U.S.-led forces attacked the country in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks. The Afghan television report also apparently named the former ISI Director-General, Hamid Gul, as among those retired members of Pakistan's intelligence service who were with Omar at the time of his reported death.
Mr. Gul appeared across Pakistan's television networks denying this, adding he was at his home in Rawalpindi. “Was I killed too,” was his counter. He said the Afghans may have put out this story to facilitate U.S. troop withdrawal and help President Barack Obama's return-to-White-House campaign.
In a statement released in Kabul, the Afghan Taliban said: “We strongly reject these false claims of the enemy and urge our fellow countrymen, Mujahideen and the rest of the Muslims not to believe these intelligence lies and false reports. He is alive and well and is leading the Mujahideen in all aspects while living safely with reliance on Allah.”
Omar — who drew American ire for sheltering al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden — is believed to be heading the Quetta Shura, the highest decision-making body of the Afghan Taliban, from within Pakistan for the past decade. He is reportedly now more amenable to distancing the Quetta Shura from the al-Qaeda and participating in the reconciliation process to retrieve his stake in the Afghan governance pie that he lost owing to his personal equation with bin Laden.