Friday, July 31, 2015

FATE OF PEACE TALKS

There have been several reports in the past that Mullah Omar had died. The BBC broke the news of his death the other day, claiming that it occurred in 2013, while quoting Afghan government sources. Another former Taliban member of the group’s council endorsed the Afghan government claim: “Mullah Omar died of tuberculosis two years and four months ago. He was laid to rest on the Afghan side of the border.” The earlier BBC report was that he died in a hospital in Karachi while the Taliban the next day officially declared him dead since 2013 from a heart attack in a village on the border. Another report talks about him disappearing from Quetta where he resided after the Taliban’s overthrow in Afghanistan in 2001. A statement from the Afghanistan presidential palace in Kabul said “based on credible information”, the Taliban leader died in April 2013 in Pakistan. Abdul Hassib Seddiqi, the spokesman for Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security, said Omar died in a hospital in Karachi, Pakistan, in April 2013. “We confirm officially that he is dead,” he said.
Most importantly, his death has been confirmed, regardless of the location or cause. The question is why was this information disclosed now when the preparations were underway for the second round of peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban? Was the intention to sabotage them? A controversy started after the first round of peace talks held in Murree, Pakistan. The question of the legitimacy of the peace talks and the authenticity of representation was raised by some Taliban factions opposed to the dialogue. A statement purportedly from Mullah Omar was released stating that Islam allows dialogue with the enemy. Now, with the new revelation, obviously that statement appears to be an attempt to endorse the peace talks using the name of Mullah Omar to lend it legitimacy and authority. Amid concern over how a transition in leadership in the Taliban could affect the fragile peace negotiations, President Ghani’s office added that the government is of the view, “grounds for the Afghan peace talks are more paved now than before.”


In April the Taliban published a biography of Mullah Omar, saying he was alive and still supreme leader of the movement, as he had been since 1994. The last audio message thought to be from him appeared in 2006. He had not made a public appearance in very many years. The late US envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, articulated that Mullah Omar was in hiding somewhere along the rugged border between the two countries. Others were of the opinion that he had been hiding within Pakistan, something officials in Islamabad denied repeatedly. Spokesman John Kirby said the US State Department could not immediately confirm Mullah Omar’s death, but White House spokesman Eric Schultz said the Afghan intelligence reports are credible. He added that the US intelligence community is looking into the circumstances surrounding Mullah Omar’s death. Ending Afghanistan’s war with the Taliban has been a main priority for President Ghani since he took office last year.

The death of Omar could have deepened divisions within the movement as rival commanders position to succeed him, in a possible setback for the fledgling peace process. However, the tussle has been laid to rest as it has been finalised that Mullah Mansor, Mullah Omar’s number two, has succeeded him and is supporting the peace talks. The Taliban are split between those who support talks with Kabul to end the 13-year war and others who want to continue to fight. The only chink of light remains the peace talks continuing, as the only alternative is an indefinite civil war that will devastate an already prostrate Afghanistan and continue to spread ripples of instability throughout the region.

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