Mullah Mohammad Omar, the long-time leader of the Taliban, caused a furor this week by turning out to have died two years ago.
The official new head of the Taliban is Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, according to official statements made by the group. Upon the announcement, several top Taliban figures unexpectedly stormed out of the meeting, telling reporters that they were “against the decision.” (RELATED: Shady Taliban Leader Dies For Fourth Time Since 2010)
Mullah Mansoor reportedly served as an “active director” of the Taliban’s struggle to regain control of Afghanistan. But according to the dissenting terrorists as quoted by The Associated Press, instead of taking a vote of “all Taliban commanders,” the leadership vote was confined to only a “small number of leaders.”
The now-dead Mullah Omar led the Taliban through its last phase of governmental power in Afghanistan. For 12 years after the U.S. expelled the Taliban, he kept control of the embattled organization without ever appearing in public or even being photographed.
As Afghanistan expert Michael Semple wrote Thursday, Mullah Omar was the group’s “most powerful talisman,” serving as a symbol of cohesion and unity who purportedly exerted meticulous control over its operations. The “Mullah Omar myth” has now shattered, and the Taliban is left to forge its own credibility.
The group is currently engaged in peace talks with the Afghan government. With the revelation that Mullah Omar is dead, Taliban members are suddenly finding new opportunities for disagreement and dissent. The Taliban quickly suspended its participation in an upcoming negotiation session, and in the past day it has launched renewed attacks inside Afghanistan. (VIDEO: Afghan Speaker Doesn’t Flinch As Car Bomb ROCKS Parliament)
Likewise, Mullah Omar’s death also requires the Taliban to confront its rivalry with Islamic State. The Afghan group has issued countless condemnations of the jihadi upstarts in the last two years, most of them bearing Omar’s name.
The news of the Mullah’s date of death — in April 2013 — predates ISIS’ declaration of an Islamic caliphate by over a year. That makes Mullah Omar an acceptable target for praise by Islamic State. But it also makes the post-Omar Taliban a much more dire enemy for the upstart group, which has fighters of its own in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
With Mullah Omar out of the picture, the worldwide jihadi scene enters an era of new threats, challenges and rivalries. This provides an opportunity to see a weakened Taliban, though such an outcome could also give Islamic State the upper hand.
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