KABUL (AFP) - The Afghan Taleban are struggling to find a successor to slain chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour, militant sources told AFP Tuesday, with one saying the two main contenders have backed out of the leadership race.
Mullah Yakoub, the son of Taleban founder Mullah Omar, and Sirajuddin Haqqani, an implacable foe of US forces, were seen as the two frontrunners for the job after Mansour was killed Saturday in a rare American drone strike deep inside Pakistan.
"Yakoub has refused to accept the role, saying he is too young for it," a senior Taleban source in north-west Pakistan told AFP.
"Mansour's deputy and operational head of the Haqqani network, Sirajuddin Haqqani, has also refused due to personal reasons."
That development will complicate the job of the Taleban's supreme council, which has been holding emergency meetings since Sunday at an undisclosed location in Pakistan to find a unifying figure for the leadership post.
"If the Taleban want to bring unity in their movement, only Yakoub can bring all factions together and be accepted by all groups," Taleban expert Rahimullah Yousafzai told AFP.
"He is young, uncontroversial and a unifying figure because he is the son of the movement's founder Mullah Omar... whereas Haqqani's appointment would be a huge provocation to the US."
The insurgents have yet to officially confirm Mansour's killing, which has thrown the deeply factionalised Taleban into disarray nine months after he became leader following a bitter power struggle upon the confirmation of Omar's death.
"The main challenge is to save the Taleban movement from being further divided," another Taleban source told AFP, adding that supreme council members were constantly changing the venue of their meetings to avoid potential air strikes.
"It will take time to reach a consensus for the leadership position."
Other candidates in the fray include Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the movement's former deputy who is said to be close to the Pakistani military establishment.
He was jailed by Pakistan in 2010 but freed in September 2013 as part of efforts to boost Afghanistan's peace process. He has since been reported to be under house arrest by Pakistani authorities.
Haibatullah Akhundzada, the group's deputy along with Haqqani, and Mullah Adbul Qayyum Zakir, considered one of the Taleban's most violent and committed commanders, are other contenders.
When Mansour was formally elected leader in July last year, many top commanders refused to pledge allegiance to him, saying the process to select him was rushed and biased as they accused him of keeping Mullah Omar's death secret for two years.
The complicated search for his successor risks igniting a new succession battle within the Taleban, which saw its first formal split last year.
"The Taleban movement is passing through a very crucial stage. We need a conciliator not a warrior to take Mansour's place," one of the Taleban sources told AFP, citing some of the commanders at the supreme council meeting.