he new Afghan Taliban leader appealed for unity in the insurgency in his first public message released on Saturday amid reports his predecessor’s family members opposed his selection.
The new head, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, was deputy for several years to the elusive Mullah Omar, who served as a unifying figure and a spiritual guide for the insurgency despite his absence. This week the Taliban confirmed Omar had been dead for some time. The Afghan government said it was more than two years ago.
Mansour’s selection could be a promising development for peace talks, analysts say, if he can persuade other factions of the fractious insurgency to support him.
“The enemy can’t defeat us if we have shown unity,” he said in an audio recording that Taliban members provided to journalists.
“I will utilise all my energies to follow our late Mullah Mohammad Omar and his mission,” he said. “We need to be patient and should try to go to those friends who are unhappy. We will have to convince them and take them on board.”
Mansour blamed divisions in the Taliban on “enemy propaganda” and swore to continue to fight for rule under sharia, the Islamic legal and moral code, and to follow the vision of Mullah Omar.
He also cautioned against the killing of civilians. A United Nations report released at the end of last year said that for a second year, insurgents were responsible for about 75 per cent of civilians killed. “In the name of jihad, the killing of innocent people is not Islamic. We need to win the hearts of people, then we can rule their hearts,” he said.
Mansour is seen as a pragmatist and a proponent of peace talks, raising hopes that the power transition could pave the way for an end to Afghanistan’s long, bloody war. But though Mansour obliquely referenced the talks in his audio message, saying any negotiations would be in “accordance with sharia”, it was not clear if he supported them.
Haqqani is alive: Taliban
In a separate statement on Saturday, the Taliban refuted media reports that the leader of the Haqqani Network, Jalaluddin Haqqani, had died in eastern Afghanistan a year ago.
“These claims have no basis,” the statement said. It said the leader of one of the country’s most brutal insurgent groups, based in Pakistan’s tribal belt with links to al-Qaeda, “has been blessed with good health for a long time now and has no troubles currently.”
Like Mullah Omar, Haqqani has been reported dead on a number of occasions, but the reports have not been independently verified. Jalaluddin’s son Sirajuddin was elected as the Taliban’s deputy to Mansoor — a move possibly aimed at ensuring a steady cash flow from the Haqqani’s wealthy backers and appeasing hardliners.
The Haqqani Network is considered one of the country’s most vicious militant organisations, responsible for complex and well-planned attacks that often involve large numbers of suicide bombers and produce heavy casualties.