Death of a terrorist

Updated - December 04, 2021 10:57 pm IST

Published - May 24, 2016 12:58 am IST

The >death of Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour , the leader of the Afghan Taliban, has thrown the insurgency into its second leadership crisis within a year. Mansour, who took over command of the Taliban after its founder >Mullah Omar’s death was announced in July 2015, had a chaotic year. His attempts to capture more territory from Afghan troops were thwarted, and his plans to unify the group under his leadership never succeeded. Now, after a year of bloodshed and internal power struggles, he has been killed in an American drone strike in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, miles away from the actual battleground. Whether this development weakens the insurgency will depend on three main factors. First, today’s Taliban are not a cohesive force. Mansour never enjoyed the authority that his predecessor had. Omar’s family had challenged him, and a breakaway faction under commander Mullah Mohammad Rasool may have even cooperated with Afghan intelligence against him. If Mansour, a long-time associate of Omar, failed to unify the Taliban, it is doubtful if his successor would succeed in doing so. Mansour’s deputy, Sirajuddin Haqqani, who was practically in charge of the Taliban’s attacks over the past few months, is tipped to become its next leader, but having been brought into the Taliban network only last year he could face resistance within the group.

Second, Pakistan will continue to play a major role in Afghanistan. President >Ashraf Ghani’s initial plan was to persuade the Taliban to come for talks through Pakistan, and he reached out to Islamabad. But this did not go far as the Taliban under Mansour continued to stage attacks on security personnel and civilians. Even the circumstances of his death raise serious questions. Mansour was killed not in Pakistan’s restive north-west, where the Taliban operate from, but in Balochistan. This raises questions about how Mansour managed to travel so freely in Pakistan. The U.S. airstrike, the first in Balochistan, also indicates its willingness to widen the drone war in Pakistan, putting more pressure on the government. The third factor is the state-of-play of the peace process. When Omar’s death was made public, the Taliban had already begun talks with the government, though a section within the organisation, mostly field commanders, continued to oppose negotiations. Mansour had a choice between peace and war. He chose the latter, perhaps in a bid to win over the rank and file of the Taliban and to present himself as a hard-nosed militant. The war helped him win neither more territory nor control over the organisation. What he managed to do was to unleash widespread death and destruction, eventually prompting the U.S. to target his life. Kabul has to keep in mind these three factors when it makes the next move. It’s in an advantageous position now — the Taliban are leaderless and divided, and Pakistan stands exposed. Whoever the group’s next leader is, Kabul should press ahead with the plan for talks, either directly or through Pakistan, without being complacent on security. The U.S. must continue to put pressure on Islamabad to use its influence on the militant group.

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