Taliban chief's death may spur infighting

With the death of its chief Mullah Akhtar Muhammed Mansour, the Afghan Taliban
has suffered another grievous setback. Mansour was confirmed the Taliban chief only last year after the death of its founder-chief Mullah Omar two years ago was made public. During his short stint at the helm, the Taliban scored several victories in Afghanistan, including the high-profile but short-lived capture of Kunduz. His death will be felt by the Taliban; morale among the rank-and-file is likely to be affected.

The new chief, Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, a deputy of Mansour, is not a soldier and is better known as a spiritual leader. He is not a divisive figure and may have been selected as the leader for this reason. Hitherto, elimination of
Taliban commanders and leaders led to infighting; new leaders like to assert their control by carrying out spectacular attacks to impress fighters and stave off challenges from rivals. The coming weeks and months could thus see a rise in Taliban attacks in Afghanistan as well as fratricidal fighting. Awakening of the Afghan Taliban could open up space too for the rise of deadlier groups, like the Islamic State or the Haqqani Network.

Mansour was in Pakistan when he was killed, laying bare yet again Pakistan’s continuing extension of support and sanctuary to Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders. Like Mansour, al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar met their end in Pakistan. Over the last 18 months, Pakistan is supposedly cooperating with Afghanistan to deal with the Taliban and bring it to the negotiating table. However, it has done little in this regard, claiming that it has no influence over them. Mansour’s presence in Pakistan lays bare the latter’s disingenuousness. Surely, the military and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in particular were aware of Mansour’s presence on Pakistani soil.

Mansour was eliminated in a drone strike carried out by the Ame-ricans. The Pakistan government has said that it was not in the loop on the operation and has accused the US of violating its territorial sovereignty. It is possible, of course, that the Pakistan government was part of the decision and is now distancing itself to fend off criticism at home. However, the US is wrong in acting with insensitivity. It cannot enter the air space or territory of another country. Entering Pakistan’s airspace may have enabled it to carry out the drone strike that killed Mansour but in the process, the anger it has generated by stamping on Pakistan’s toes is likely to strengthen support for radicals and extremists. Mansour should have been captured alive so that he was made to stand trial for the crimes committed.

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