The Taliban has published an audio message attributed to the group’s leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, denying reports of his death in a gunfight during a meeting in Pakistan. Media reports in recent days suggested a gunfight among Taliban rival groups during a gathering in Quetta city of Pakistan in which it was alleged he was seriously wounded. The audio message, which is believed to be Mullah Mansoor’s voice, is not verified by any independent source or the government; however, it still may prove right in near future. The leader of the main Taliban faction may have escaped death at the Quetta meeting. But the gunfight ensuing the high-profile meeting at the house of a senior Taliban commander suggest profound troubles in the Taliban senior leadership.
This incident represents a profound division among different factions of the Taliban. Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour was elected as the new leader of the group after the a death of Mullah Mohammed Omar in late July this year. In the wake of announcement of Mullah Omar’s death, influential mediators failed in trying to mediate over the next leadership of the Taliban. Mullah Rassoul finally was imposed as new leader by ostensibly a majority of the Taliban senior members. At the time, some key members of the Taliban announced their opposition to the leadership of Mullah Mansoor. The foundation of the splinter group led by Mullah Rassoul marked formal split of the united Taliban which fought the US-led coalition and the Afghan government over last fourteen years.
The split was also a major blow to the leadership of Mullah Mansoor and the Taliban as a whole; which had remained intact during the last over a decade of the insurgency in Afghanistan.
Taliban showed concerted efforts in recent months to consolidate the leadership of the group around the new leader while the group raged a bloody campaign on the ground against rival groups such as the Islamic State and the Mullah Rassoul’s faction.
The intense clashes between the main Taliban group led by Mullah Mansoor and other militant groups opposing Mullah Mansoor’s leadership has left dozens of militants dead. The war of the Taliban once targeting the government of Afghanistan and the US-led coalition forces now is redirecting into a dual conflict of internal fighting and the insurgency against the government. With the simmering divisions among senior Taliban members, the authority of the new leader seems to be eroding over the many loose factions of Taliban, which could easily diverge directions from the main group.
Mullah Akhtar Mansoor is allegedly a pro-peace talks figure among the Taliban who allegedly had been supporting talks with the Afghan government. The government of Afghanistan spared no efforts to bring the main Taliban group to negotiation table and strike a peace deal with the Taliban. With the internal divisions among the Taliban leaving the Taliban leader bruised, his future role in leadership of the main insurgent group and the fate of the peace efforts is being undermined. If the Taliban continues to disintegrate, it will get harder for the Afghan government to direct the peace talks with the militant groups. The government of Afghanistan seems to be facing a dilemma of the insurgent groups.
On one hand, different militant players in the country will make it much harder to seek a viable peace with the insurgent groups. While on the other hand split of the Taliban could potentially weaken the insurgency in Afghanistan and make the ground ready for Afghan forces to win the war through military means. Further disintegration of the Taliban will potentially derail the peace talks once started between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
The future of the Taliban will be defined by both development of the infighting among the group and the peace and war efforts by the Afghan government. The infighting among the Taliban factions will possibly further intensify, and as a result, the Taliban may start evolving into smaller warring factions. Such development will further complicate the ongoing war efforts against the insurgent groups as well as the efforts to start a peace process with the Taliban. All evidences on the ground suggest that the government of Afghanistan will not be able to enter peace talks with a spectrum of insurgent groups and secure a peace deal that could end the conflict in the country. The Afghan government needs to intensify the crackdown on the militant groups along with exploring resumption of peace talks with the Taliban and other insurgent groups.