Kabul – The Taliban have reportedly chosen a new leader after the Afghan government confirmed earlier reports that the group’s long-time head, Mullah Mohammad Omar, had died in Pakistan two years ago.
Thursday’s news was first reported by Pakistani media outlet GEO News and later confirmed by the group’s representatives to several international media outlets. The announcement comes only a day after Kabul confirmed that Mullah Omar died in Pakistan in the spring of 2013.
The Taliban themselves, issued a statement confirming their leader’s death early Thursday evening.
A former aviation chief in the Taliban government that led Afghanistan from 1996 to the 2001 US invasion, Mansoor rose up the group’s ranks shortly after the 2010 capture of Abdul Ghani Baradar, one of the four founding members of the movement.
After Baradar was captured in a joint ISI-CIA operation in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, Mansoor was named the group’s new number two, who reported directly to the Taliban’s elusive leader.
Soon after word of Mansoor’s appointment was made public, the Islamic Emirate, as the group refers to itself, called for a postponement of peace talks scheduled for Friday in Pakistan.
A statement released by the Pakistani foreign ministry late Thursday afternoon said: “at the request of the Afghan Taliban leadership, the second round of the Afghan peace talks, which was scheduled to be held in Pakistan on 31 July 2015, is being postponed.”
Mansoor had previously engaged with representatives of the Afghan government during a meeting outside Islamabad last month.
At the time, sources familiar with the matter, said they could sense that Mansoor was there solely due to Pakistani pressure. That pressure was itself the result of a series of controversial concessions made by Kabul towards Islamabad in hopes that Pakistan could bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.
Bette Dam, a Dutch author and journalist who has chronicled the lives of both Hamid Karzai, the former Afghan president, and Mullah Omar, said the appointment of Mansoor may in fact prove to be a positive step for the Taliban itself.
Speaking to The Telegraph, Dam said: “There are many within the Taliban who have been wanting a leader who is involved in day-to-day operations that they can go directly to for guidance.”
For years, Afghan and international sources had said Mullah Omar had not been involved in the group’s day-to-day operations in years.
“I met people [within the movement] who were still not sure where exactly Mullah Omar was, or if he truly was in the hands of Pakistani intelligence.”
“It has been a mystery since 2009,” said Dam.
Dam said Taliban sources described Mansor as “reasonable” and a leading figure in opposition to former al-Qaeada leader Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan.
In their statement, issued early Thursday evening, the group confirmed their leader’s death.
However, they refuted earlier reports by Pakistani officials that Mullah Omar was killed during a Pakistani raid. They also rejected the Afghan government’s claims that he died in a hospital in the Pakistani port city of Karachi.
“The leader of the faithful Mullah Mohammad Omar Mujahid has passed away due to his illness … [He] was living in Afghanistan beside the pressure of the global infidel invasion and bounty on his head. He hasn’t gone to Pakistan or anywhere else outside the country,” the statement read.
They also refuted consistent media claims that Mullah Omar had become a figure head.
“He has led the affairs of the Islamic emirate from his own place and we have enough evidence to prove that … Amir al-Mu’minin was not only a person but a movement, an ideology and a sacred desire.”
The group went on to call or three days mourning in areas under their control.
Aimal Faizi, former spokesman to Hamid Karzai, the former president of Afghanistan, said the selection of Mansoor, or any other figure within the Taliban is irrelevant, as Pakistan will continue to call the shots.
“If Mullah Omar was a myth all these years and Afghans were just used to fight and kill one another, one should know that Mansoor or anyone else would be similarly symbolic.”