Mullah Omar's death: The significance of the timing

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New Delhi, Aug 1: Mullah Omar has been dead since 2013, but it was only a few days back that the Aghanistan government decided to announce the same. Is there any specific reason behind the timing of the announcement?

It has always been assumed that Mullah Omar was either dead or incapacitated.This time around the Taliban too decided that it would not hide his death.

Significance of Mullah Omar's death

It went a step ahead and even announced a new leader to succeed Mullah Omar. The Taliban was well aware that there was a need to move forward and with doubts about Mullah Omar rising every single day, they decided that enough was enough.

The timing of the announcement:

It was a bit surprising that the Afghanistan government and the Taliban decided to confirm the death of Mullah Omar at such a crucial time. After all the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban were engaging in relatively successful peace talks. The Afghanistan government wants to ensure that there are no hiccups in these peace talks and for the nation to move forward the negotiations have to succeed.

The death of Mullah Omar is a big blow to the Taliban. In fact it continued to use his name although he was never in business since 2009 itself. The news of his death would make the Taliban weaker and there would be growing insecurity among the ranks.

Michael Kugelman, Senior Associate for South and Southeast Asia

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars says that surely Kabul knew that announcing Omar's death would bring long-festering tensions within the Taliban to the fore and trigger a deep and perhaps even existential organizational crisis - a messy, drawn-out, and possibly bloody leadership transition that will consume the Taliban's energies and could limit its ability to focus on peace talks.

One might reasonably conclude that a spoiler wanted to sabotage the peace process by getting the word out about Omar's death.

There is no shortage of possible candidates - Pakistani intelligence officials who prefer continuous war in Afghanistan to ensure a limited Indian footprint in the country; rivals of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani who opposes a reconciliation process that entails Pakistan playing a leading role; or hardline, anti-peace Afghan Taliban figures who prefer to stay on the battlefield, where great gains have been made of late.

The problem with this idea is that no one in Pakistan, no Afghan opposition figure, and no Taliban member made the announcement of Omar's death. It was the entity that least wants the peace process to be sabotaged the Afghan government that broke the news.

Perhaps the best attempt at conspiratorial conjecture is this: The Pakistanis who reportedly were the ones that passed on the information of Omar's death sought to scuttle the talks and capitalized on their improved relations with Kabul to share the news and encourage the Afghans to broadcast it to the world.

Will the Taliban unite?

The Taliban has splintered into several groups in the past few years. The unity of the Taliban is extremely crucial for Afghanistan as it continues to have peace talks with the group.

The Afghan government felt that announcing the death of Mullah Omar would pave the way for a new chapter in the Taliban. It is a double edged sword as the announcement of his death could unite the Taliban or completely disintegrate it.

Moreover the Taliban is a much weaker force without Mullah Omar. He was the one that the fighters went to and the weakening of the Taliban was evident ever since the cadres began casting doubts about him being alive or not.

While the announcement of Mullah Omar's death is a major development, the other issue that one needs to look out for is the possible rivalry that could emerge between Mullah Mansoor the new leader and Mohammad Yaqoob, who is Mullah Omar's eldest son. The Taliban for now has stated that Yakoob is too young to take over the Taliban and hence Mullah Mansoor was being appointed.

Kugelman states that what ever the case may be, the Afghan government is sending out a very strong message to the Taliban. It wants to tell the Taliban that it has no option but to talk. There is no leader now and it is better you come to the negotiating table.

The Taliban has sought that the peace talks be set aside for a while as there is a crisis within the group. It is just a matter of time before we find out what exactly the next move by the Taliban would be.

Will the Taliban come together and negotiate peace or will it derail the talks? Only time will tell.

OneIndia News

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