Mullah Omar had been a mysterious man. The world knew little about him, or his rise to power in Afghanistan through the mechanism of the Taliban. The Islamist government he imposed on the 30 million people of the country was largely cut off from the outside world during its repressive and misogynistic run from 1996 to 2001. After it was toppled following the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, Omar went into hiding. This week, the Afghan government and then the Taliban >confirmed he was dead . While the full details are still not available, it raises several questions about the brutal organisation that he led. The Taliban is today far from being a united force: one section is talking with the Afghan government while the political office, established in Qatar, has publicly disowned that process. On the other hand, its military wing has launched a deadly offensive against the Afghan troops, whose position weakened after most of the multinational troops withdrew from the country early this year. One possible explanation is that the divisions have run deeper after >Omar’s death . It remains to be seen whether Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, who has been named Omar’s successor, would indeed be able to hold the group together. He is already facing competition from Omar’s 26-year-old son Mullah Yaqub, and also from former military commander Abdul Qayum Zakir. Besides, the Taliban is facing heat from the Islamic State, which is trying to poach from its ranks.
But the key question that the Afghan authorities face today is whether they could turn Omar’s death to their advantage in the civil war with the Taliban. There is little evidence to suggest that such a turnaround is in the offing. If Afghan intelligence reports that Omar died two years ago are indeed true, then it should be clear that the Taliban has been carrying out its recent attacks, including one on the Afghan Parliament, without its most infamous leader around. This should suggest that its operational efficiency remains intact. Also, though the Taliban’s internal problems remain, the government has still not developed a viable strategy to exploit the divisions. Above all, Afghanistan should become more proactive in getting the international powers to pressure Pakistan over its alleged links with the Taliban. The appointment of Sirajuddin Haqqani as the Taliban’s deputy leader itself raises questions about Pakistan intelligence’s complicity in the leadership selection process. The Haqqani terror network, now led by Sirajuddin Haqqani, is known for its ties with the Inter-Services Intelligence. President Ashraf Ghani should evolve a strategy, with help from his government’s international backers, which addresses the flaws in its approach to the Taliban. Omar’s death provides an opportunity. The Afghan government should seize it to decisive effect.