New Taliban leader moves fast to heal rifts


KABUL, Aug 5:  If the first public comments from the Afghan Taliban’s newly appointed leader are anything to go by, Akhtar Mohammad Mansour recognises how fractured the militant movement has become and that humility and consensus may be his best way forward.
Mansour, who was deputy to the late Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, is widely seen as close to neighbouring Pakistan’s powerful military intelligence, which helped create the Taliban in the 1990s and has maintained links ever since.
That would suggest he was in favour of nascent peace talks with the Afghan government that Pakistan has strongly backed, and Mansour has endorsed negotiations previously.
Yet his first speech since being named leader last week was an appeal to Taliban commanders opposed to negotiating with President Ashraf Ghani’s government in Kabul, which they see as a vassal of the West that must be overthrown.
“This is propaganda of the enemy,” he said. “Jihad will continue till an Islamic Sharia system is enforced in the country.”
Experts believe it would be premature to read too much into those comments.
“If he’s playing to his own audience and trying to consolidate his position, it wouldn’t make much sense to make announcements about seeking peace at the moment, as the peace talks issue is a make-or-break point within the Taliban,” said Thomas Ruttig, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network in Kabul.
With a touch of diplomacy, Mansour added: “We have to be patient and tolerant and bow our heads before other colleagues and then we will succeed. We should not impose our wishes on others.”
Born around 50 years ago in the southern Afghan region of Kandahar, Mansour studied in religious schools there and in northwestern Pakistan, interrupting his studies to fight after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Taliban sources said.
He became close to Omar, the movement’s late founder, being appointed aviation minister after the Taliban wrested control of Afghanistan from feuding warlords in 1996 and eventually rising to become his deputy.


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