New York, Dec 29: Taliban's reclusive leader Mullah Muhammad Omar is alive and hiding in the Pakistani city of Karachi, a top Afghan intelligence official has said, echoing a similar assessment by Western intelligence officials.
"There is a lot of doubt whether he is alive or not. But we are more confident that he is in Karachi," acting Afghan intelligence chief Rahmatullah Nabil was quoted as saying in the New York Times regarding Omar's whereabouts.
"Not only do they think he's alive, they say they have a good understanding of where exactly he is in Karachi," the Pakistani metropolis where some say Mullah Omar is hiding. The report said that Mullah Omar has always functioned more as the spiritual and ideological leader of the movement than as an operational commander.
His inner circle, made up of village mullahs who have known one another for decades, has provided the active leadership of the Taliban's many local factions.
"But now one man, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, has risen to the No 2 role and become the main link to Mullah Omar, allowing him to place his loyalists up and down the ranks," Nabil said in the report.
Nabil, in his assessment, saw Pakistan's security establishment driving the changes, an appraisal shared by some Western officials. "Some said it was a bid for greater control over the insurgency; others saw it as the evolution of a long-running Pakistani effort to avoid the embarrassment of having Mullah Omar discovered being sheltered in their country," the report said.
The report comes even as Pakistan tries to clamp down on terrorists following the Taliban attack on a Peshawar school this month that killed 148 students and their teachers. Sharif vowed not to show any distinction between good or bad Taliban and "resolved to continue the war against terrorism till the last terrorist is eliminated."
Other Afghan officials, along with some European and American counterparts, said the suggestions that Mullah Omar had died were a propaganda ploy intended to weaken Taliban morale, not a reflection of the true thinking within the Afghan government. Maulvi Najibullah, a senior Taliban military commander, said in a telephone interview from Peshawar, that he has "not seen Mullah Omar in a very long time".
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid credited Omar's reclusiveness with his survival, claiming that Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was found because he had couriers coming and going with videos and letters.
"We are attempting to eliminate any possible opportunity that could end up helping our enemies find our leader," the report quoted Mujahid as saying.