Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Saturday, March 6th, 2021

The Impact of Haibatullah’s Death on Peace Talks

The death of Mullah Omar’s successor Mullah Haibatullah has surfaced again in national media, citing a “reliable” Pakistani source, as peace talks had already reached a deadlock. The Taliban tend to ignore the report about their leader’s possible death to mitigate the magnitude of their fighters’ reaction.
The source, who confirmed Haibatullah’s death, wants to play the role of a whistle-blower to push the talks to an unbreakable stalemate.
The fragility of talks and Taliban’s lukewarm response to them are understandable.
It is self-explanatory that revelation of Mullah Omar’s death few years back pushed the face-to-face talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Murree, a resort town in Pakistan, to deadlock. It created tension within the Taliban group and appointment of Omar’s successor was a highly controversial issue.
In short, Omar’s death damaged the peace process and created a strong disagreement between and within the Taliban leaders. With this in mind, the Taliban leaders fear the consequences of confirming Haibatullah’s death, and believe that it will undercut the confidence of their rank and file.
On the other hand, the Taliban military commanders and rank and file are likely to show a backlash against its leadership for being out of the loop about their leader’s death.
A number of Taliban fighters may show reaction against Pakistan for not protecting their leader as he was reportedly murdered there.
But this possibility is low since many Taliban leaders as well as al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden were killed on Pakistani soil without any reaction shown by their associates or supporters.
Meanwhile, US officials, including its Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, are unwilling to confirm the death of Haibatullah, which is likely to put an adverse effect on the US-Taliban peace agreement and will put its legitimacy under question, if he died before the agreement.
Many believe that Haibatullah is dead. If the Taliban rebut his death, they have to support it by his own statements through a video clip. That is to say, Haibatullah would have appeared on a clip and denied his death if he was alive. Meanwhile, Haibatullah’s political role is not felt in recent months and he has turned reclusive.
Overall, Haibatullah’s death, which has not been confirmed by the Taliban, is mysterious.
However, blowing whistle on his death is likely to put an adverse effect on the peace process. Willy-nilly, the Taliban have to confirm his death and appoint a successor to him sooner or later, but it will not be the right time now since the talks had reached stalemate. Appointing a successor is likely to be contentious.
The Taliban have to return to the negotiating table. Stalling the dialogue will prolong the conflict and many other issues may surface to create obstacle to the process. Currently, the peace talks carry increasing significance and all Afghans, without exceptions, support a negotiated settlement to the conflict as they have constantly called on the Taliban leadership to declare ceasefire and reduce violence.
The people of Afghanistan expect regional and global stakeholders to support the dialogue and push the Taliban to continue negotiations with the Afghan government team. Regional actors had better not play the role of a whistle blower to push the talks to a deeper stalemate. I have emphasized in my commentaries that a number of regional and global actors have leverage on the Taliban leadership and have to play an active and constructive role in the peace parley.
Overall, the Taliban fighters may be in a state of confusion about the death of Haibatullah since their leaders are not honest with them. The Taliban leadership never plays an honest role among its rank and file. Worst, the Taliban’s playacting is also prominent in the peace talks.
They do not negotiate with sincere intention. Afghans, including ordinary people, view the Taliban with mistrust and hatred, especially as the Taliban hold out against the public proposals including reduction in violence and declaration of ceasefire.
Afghans hope that, if Haibatullah is dead, the Taliban will appoint a relatively moderate figure as his successor so that he could continue negotiations with the Afghan government and declare ceasefire.
Haibatullah has been a radical figure and a large number of Afghan people have been killed as a result of his radical mindset as he put his weight behind insurgency and held out against ceasefire and reduction in violence. Hence, the people of Afghanistan will not pardon him as his men spilled streams of blood under his decree.