First came the drip, drip, drip information suggesting Mullah Omar had died two years ago. Then within hours, came details the Taliban had already selected a new leader. The man chosen, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, had long been the de facto leader of the insurgent movement, leading it’s powerful Quetta Shura. He served as aviation minister in the Taliban government that led Afghanistan from 1996 to the 2001 US invasion, and became deputy leader of the Taliban when Abdul Ghani Baradar was captured in Karachi in 2010 by a joint operation between the CIA and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency. However, his appointment- announced by unnamed Taliban figures after a meeting of the Shura- will almost certainly be disputed by other commanders who were still digesting the details of their supreme leaders death. In a fractious movement long held together by oaths of allegiance to Mullah Omar, analysts believe it could promote a new round of splits and internal warfare. The new leader is broadly considered a pragmatist who has been a leading proponent of peace talks, although he is thought to be sceptical of the latest Pakistani-sponsored round. Like Mullah Omar, he draws his political base from around Kandahar, considered the cradle of the Taliban. He comes from the Durrani line of the Pashtun tribe, a group that comprises much of the fighting force around the city. Also like Mullah Omar, he studied at the Danil Uloom Haqqania madrassa, outside Peshawar, across the border in Pakistan. And like Mullah Omar few other biographical details- or photographs- exist.
Only last month he issued a statement warning the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant to avoid splits in the global jihadist movement and to fight under the Taliban flag in Afghanistan- and claiming that Mullah Omar was still alive. “The Muslim people of Afghanistan, led by the Islamic Emirate, the Supreme head of which is the leader of the faithful, Mullah Mohammad Omar( May God prolong his life), very bravely organised their jihadist ranks against the aggressors, making unprecedented sacrifices for 13 years to free Afghanistan from the aggression of invaders and to enforce the rule of Islam in the country,” he said. Taliban officials also said Siraj Haqqani had been appointed deputy leader, cementing the place of the Haqqani network- often considered the most deadly of Afghanistan’s insurgent groups- within Mullah Mansoor’s group. The key question now is what Mullah Mansoor’s elevation means for embryonic peace talks. He is thought to have been instrumental in efforts to start negotiations and was among those who attended a meeting with Afghan government representatives outside Islamabad last month. At the time, sources familiar with the matter said Mansoor had attended only under Pakistani pressure. Bette Dam, a Dutch author and journalist who has chronicled the lives of both Hamid Karzai, the former Afghan President, and Mullah Omar, said the appointment of Mansoor may prove to be a positive step for the Taliban. She said: “There are many within the Taliban who have been wanting a leader who is involved in day to day operations. She said Taliban sources described Mansoor as “reasonable” and one of the figures who opposed Osama Bin Laden’s presence in Afghanistan.