Taleban picks new leader; peace talks put off

PESHAWAR (Pakistan) • The Taleban has chosen supreme leader Mullah Omar's deputy to replace him, according to two of its commanders, as Pakistan announced that scheduled peace talks between the insurgents and the Afghan government would be postponed.

Pakistan cited a statement in Kabul on Wednesday about Omar's death as the reason for the delay, amid fears that it could trigger a bloody succession battle.

Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour was appointed leader at a meeting of the Taleban's top representatives, many of whom are based in the Pakistani city of Quetta, according to sources who were present at the shura, or gathering.

"The shura unanimously elected Mullah Mansour as the new emir of the Taleban," said one commander at the meeting.

Siraj Haqqani, who leads the Haqqani faction, will be a deputy to Mansour, said both commanders.

Mansour is the second person to lead the Taleban since Omar founded the ultra-conservative Islamist movement in the 1990s.

At one point, the Taleban controlled most of Afghanistan, imposing strict Islamic law before being driven from power in 2001 by a United States-led military intervention.

The Afghan government said on Wednesday that Omar died more than two years ago in the Pakistani city of Karachi.

The announcement threw into disarray a fledgling peace process fostered by Pakistan, aimed at ending more than 13 years of war between the hardline Islamist Taleban and the Western-backed Afghan government in Kabul.

The two Taleban commanders did not directly confirm Mullah Omar's death, but one said: "If we are electing a new leader to head the movement, you can yourself understand what that implies."

The Taleban's official spokesman said in a statement early yesterday that its official team of negotiators based in Doha was "not aware of this process" in Pakistan.

Later in the day, the Pakistani foreign office said a planned second round of meetings set for today would be delayed at the request of the Taleban leadership.

The two sides held inaugural talks in Pakistan earlier this month.

Mansour's appointment is unlikely to please everyone in the Taleban. Key commanders have criticised the peace process, and they have vowed to fight for power, rather than negotiate for it.

Several have left the movement altogether, pledging allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and targeting the Taleban itself in a worrying new development.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 31, 2015, with the headline 'Taleban picks new leader; peace talks put off'. Print Edition | Subscribe