Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Monday, October 22nd, 2018

The Aftermaths of Mullah Mansoor’s Killing

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The Aftermaths of Mullah Mansoor’s Killing

Mullah Mansoor's death came as profoundly unexpected for all parties involved in the conflict in Afghanistan. The new Taliban leader was doing well in consolidating his power within the Taliban as he proved skillful in uniting the group's senior leadership around him and relentless in suppressing the irreconcilable splinter and rival groups. Facing fierce opposition from many of senior members of the Taliban, Mullah Mansoor quickly managed to impose his leadership over the group after he was named as the successor of the Taliban founder, Mullah Omar. He further consolidated his power and the Taliban insurgency by organizing aggressive military operations against the government of Afghanistan and refusing to join the peace initiative backed by the four-way group comprising Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States.
However, his death is hailed by many in Afghanistan and the United States as a major blow to the Taliban insurgency that was gaining further momentum under leadership of Mansoor and his notoriously-famed Sirajuddin Haqqani. It is seen is a major milestone for the war and peace efforts in Afghanistan. The United States and the government of Afghanistan expressed hopes that his demise would help the peace process and persuade the Taliban leadership to come to table of peace negotiations. The United States and the Afghan government have mentioned Mansoor's killing as a rare opportunity for the peace efforts in Afghanistan, urging the Taliban to come to the table of negotiations with the Afghan government. Both Afghanistan and the US have described Mansoor as a major hurdle against the peace process, and expressed hopes for a potential breakthrough in the talks with the post-Mansoor Taliban.
However, it seems the optimisms are largely based on the euphoria of the operation's success and the sense that the killing is a major military as well as political achievement for the administrations in Kabul and Washington. It is obviously a major blow to the Taliban, but the argument that it would help peace seems to be quite premature. Irritated by Taliban's refusal to join the four-way peace plan backed by Pakistan, China and the US, the Obama administration and the government of Afghanistan is trying to attribute the failure of the peace initiative to Mansoor's hard line, and that his demise is going to help renew the peace talks with the Taliban. This is while there is no assured signs that the Taliban's senior leadership will be more willing to talks with the Afghan government after managing to find a new leader to replace Mullah Mansoor.
It is a rightful argument that Mansoor's approach to the peace efforts largely shifted after he assumed the Taliban's leadership. Mansoor is said to have taken harder stance towards peace talks with the government of Afghanistan after he took over the leadership of the Taliban. American officials claim he was tempted to revive the group's relations with Al-Qaeda and other militants who are considered as international terrorist groups. Afghan and US officials also say he was the main figure behind Taliban's refusal to join the four-nation backed peace initiative that was set to resume talks between the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan. All evidences corroborates the claims that Mansoor's approach to peace talks with the government of Afghanistan substantially shifted compared to the time he was dubbed as a pro-peace figure when he was serving as the right-hand to Mullah Omar, and later when he effectively led the Taliban while hiding the death of Mullah Omar.
The shift in Mansoor's approach to peace talks with the Afghan government was one of the factors that helped him consolidate his power within the Taliban. By taking harder stance on the peace process Mansoor managed to largely mend the internal rifts among the Taliban over peace talks with the Afghan government and appease the broader spectrum of Taliban members opposing talks with the government in Kabul. And by intensifying the Taliban insurgency across Afghanistan, Mansoor also proved him as an indispensable leader for the group with the ability to effectively lead the movement and gain victories on the ground. With no doubt a combination of these with his outreach to the disgruntled members of the group helped him to unify senior Taliban members around him and deprive the splinter group of a major power base in the group.
Therefore, the dominant opposition to peace talks with the Taliban tells everything behind Mansoor's refusal to start a window for negotiations with the Afghan government. Any successor to Mansoor for Taliban leadership is not expected to do differently and risk his influence and power within the Taliban senior leadership who are believed to be overwhelmingly opposed to talks with the Afghan government and the United States. Therefore, it is less likely that the killing of the Taliban leader will help a change of stance in Taliban's approach to the peace process. It is even possible that the Taliban get even more hostile to the peace efforts if the group successfully manages to resolve leadership succession.
Things could go differently if the killing of Mansoor triggers a leadership crisis within the Taliban. If failing to successfully resolve the leadership succession, the Taliban would be weakened, and out of weakness and chaos, some splinter and disgruntled parts or members of the Taliban may come forward for opening talks with the government of Afghanistan. It should also be considered that the Taliban will try to seek avenge rather than changing approach and entering peace talks with the government of Afghanistan. The Taliban is going to blame both Afghanistan and Pakistan responsible for the death of their leader. The killing will further extend the mistrusts between Taliban and Pakistan who has played a facilitating role in the Afghan peace efforts. Given this, if the Taliban successfully manages a leadership transition, the group will likely take a harder stance to the peace initiative backed by Pakistan and the United States.
Without any doubt, Mullah Mansoor’s killing is hitting the Taliban hard. Mansoor had proved exceptional in leading the Taliban’s insurgency campaign across Afghanistan. It would be hard for the Taliban to agree on the right replacement for Mansoor. Sirajuddin Haqqani is dubbed as a mastermind behind Taliban’s more sophisticated attacks, and he is said to be one of the possible contenders for assuming Taliban leadership. But his appointment to the position will bring further rifts among the Taliban as he has been the leader of the Haqqani network which has been operating independently from the Taliban. The death of Mullah Mansoor is exposing the Taliban to a potential internal power struggle that could benefit the war and peace efforts in the country.

Abdul Ahad Bahrami is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at ahad.bahrami@gmail.com

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