Focus shifts to succession as Taliban admit Omar is dead

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Kandahar: A shopkeeper shows a calendar with pictures of Afghan leaders, including Mullah Omar, here on Thursday. — AP
Kandahar: A shopkeeper shows a calendar with pictures of Afghan leaders, including Mullah Omar, here on Thursday. — AP
ISLAMABAD: Putting to rest controversies over the death of their chief Mullah Omar, Taliban formally confirmed on Thursday his death but insisted that he had never gone out of Afghanistan since the 2001 US-led invasion.

Furthermore, the Taliban’s official statement’s silence over the reports about leadership succession, according to which Mullah Akhtar Mansoor has been named as the next emir, confirmed reports about a split within the insurgent group over choice of the new leader.

Know more: Afghan Taliban Shura elects new emir

Surprisingly, nothing was said either about the process for selection of Mullah Omar’s successor.

“He was seriously ill and in the last two weeks of his illness his health deteriorated and he passed away,” Taliban spokesman Zabhiullah Mujahid said in a statement issued in Pashto language and offered condolences to his son Mullah Yaqoob.

Mystery remains over when and where he died
The statement did not say when Mullah Omar died.

However, a Twitter account associated with the Taliban’s political office in Qatar said he had died on April 23, 2013, in southern Afghanistan.

The news of Mullah Omar’s death was first leaked through unnamed sources in Kabul on Thursday and the Afghan intelligence and government soon after followed in with a confirmation.

The acknowledgment by the Taliban spokesman is the first time the militant group has confirmed the death of their supremo even though reports about his demise surfaced in the past as well.

Mr Mujahid challenged the Afghan government’s account that the Taliban chief died in a hospital in Karachi.

“Late Mullah Mohammad Omar never left Afghanistan for Pakistan or any another country since the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan. He was guiding the Taliban while remaining in the country and there is irrefutable evidence with us to establish that Mullah Omar never left his homeland in the last 14 years,” he said in the statement.

SUCCESSION: Even before the formal announcement of Mullah Omar’s death, sources in the insurgent group had begun telling journalists that Mullah Akhtar Mansoor had succeeded him.

Mansoor was earlier Mullah Omar’s deputy and head of the Taliban’s consultative council. He is in his mid-fifties and served as head of aviation in the Taliban government. He belongs to the Pashtun Ishaqzai tribe.

Mansoor was reportedly elected as emir at a consultative meeting of the group after the news about Mullah Omar’s death became public.

Khalifa Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is the son of the chief of the Haqqani network, Jalaluddin Haqqani, and former deputy chief justice during Taliban era Maulvi Haibatullah were named as Mullah Mansoor’s deputies.

Taliban Shoora, it is said, will be reconstituted once the new leader settles in the role.

Earlier, reports had suggested that Mullah Omar’s son Yaqoob was being considered for appointment as one of the deputy heads.

However, omission of Yaqoob’s name from the list of new office-bearers was yet another pointer of the differences among Taliban leaders.

A group of Taliban commanders led by Mullah Dadullah, Mullah Qayum Zakir and Mullah Mohammad Baz had been pushing Yaqoob as his father’s successor instead of Mansoor.

The statement issued by the Taliban spokesman was curiously silent about the new leaders.

In a veiled verbal attack against Mullah Mansoor, the Qatar-based political office in a late night Twitter posting in Pashto and Arabic said that concealment of the news of Mullah Omar’s death harmed jihad (the fight against the US).

In another tweet, the office said the information about Mullah Omar’s death had also been kept secret from it like other countrymen.

Mullah Mansoor is accused of being responsible for keeping Mullah Omar’s death secret for three years.

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