Is Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada ready for new war?

Screenshot 2016-05-30 20.58.11

Several days ago, a leader of the Taliban movement Mullah Akhtar Mansoor has been killed in a U.S led drone strike in Pakistan, a year after he was appointed to the post. Ironically, his career did not last so long, even though during his reign, the Taliban fighters successfully carried out military operations against the government troops in the Southern part of Afghanistan. Moreover, the physical elimination of Mullah Mansoor would eventually weaken the military readiness of the Taliban movement.

Mullah Akhtar Mansoor was appointed as a new leader of the Taliban movement in 2015, following the death of founder and unchangeable leader of the movement Mullah Omar. However, a majority of followers of Mullah Omar openly voiced their objections regarding Mansoor’s candidacy, he managed to consolidate the movement within several months. Unlike his predecessor Mullah Omar, who cut off the relations of the Taliban with other radical Islamist organizations based in Afghanistan, Mullah Mansoor appeared to be keen in improving relations with Haqqani Network, one of the most radical and dangerous Islamist groups in Afghanistan, and with Al-Qaeda. Thus, an important task for Mansoor was to demonstrate his ability to lead his followers to the victory.

After several terror attacks in the biggest province Helmand, the Taliban militants seemingly advanced towards Marjah city. However, all these attempts nullified when the U.S special forces launched counter – operation against the militants. İn retaliation to the government actions, Mullah Mansoor conducted a new operation titled “Omari” (named after Mullah Omar) in order to re-take the control in Helmand province. The most significant tactic – “infiltration” has been used in Lashkar-Gah city: militants dressed as police officers conducted a surprise bomb attacks in police stations and civilian districts.

Needless to say that a surprise drone attack raised huge concerns of the Taliban’s long-standing patron – Pakistan. Apparently, the dissatisfaction of Pakistan is understandable as the Intelligence services (namely ISI) of the country showed unprecedented efforts to bring pro – Pakistani Mollah Mansoor to the power after rebellious Molla Omar passed away. Thus, the strike of the U.S drone ruined another ingenious combination of Pakistani intelligence service. İn the shadow of the unexpected assassination of Mullah Mansoor, the Taliban movement probably will be divided into several groups. Once the infighting had broken inside of the movement between the Mansoor’s loyalists and the splinter group led by Mullah Muhammad Rasoul aftermath Mullah Omar passed away.

Unlike his Pakistani counterpart, president Ghani is full of hopes that the death of Mullah Mansoor will shape the relations between Kabul and Taliban in a good way and allow him to acquire the long-awaited peace. However, the appointment of Mullah Mansoor as a new leader of the Taliban highlighted the deep confidence crisis between Ghani government and Mansoor followers, which led the peace negotiations to deadlock. The Taliban should seize the opportunity to pursue a peace policy for ending the long conflict by joining the unified government.

The absence of the leader gives Kabul an irreplaceable chance to force the movement for peace negotiations and if the Taliban fails to take an adequate step, it will lead to the dismantling of the movement into small groups. İn this case the government troops would easily re-take the control of provinces along Pakistan border within several months. On the other hand, the Taliban could appoint a new ambitious leader, who would have to consolidate the movement repeatedly, but the only way to do is to launch active military operations against Kabul government.

According to the official statement issued by the Taliban on 25th of May, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada was named as a new leader of the movement.[1] Mullah Akhundzada who is originally from Kanadahar province held key positions in the movement’s hierarchy during Mullah Omar’s reign. Due to his personal influence among the Taliban adherents, his followers hold the most strategic positions in the Taliban’s administration. But he is considering as a prominent religious leader rather than a powerful and capable leader in comparison to the most feared warlord in the Taliban hierarchy – Sirajuddin Haqqani (leader of Haqqani Network) who was a top candidate for the leadership. Sirajuddin, who is in tie contacts with Al-Qaeda leadership, as well as, with Pakistani intelligence services, is also a well – known negotiator. His negotiator skills were useful during the rebellion of Mullah Rasoul. As in all crisis situations, most probably the Taliban’s new leader will decline the peace offerings raised by Kabul government.

Even though it is not clear who will be the next ruler of the Taliban movement, and what would be the next step of the official Kabul, the common strategic foes for both of them – Islamic State in Afghanistan, and Islamic movement of Uzbekistan gaining a breathing – space at least for half a year. The other possible option for the Taliban would be further big joint military actions of Afghan and U.S troops against it.

published by The Politicon