Who is ‘new Taliban leader’ Mullah Akhtar Mansoor?

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.”

Taliban confirms death of Mullah Omar as it pulls out of peace talks

Kandahar – A day after the Afghan government announced that Mullah Mohammad Omar, the elusive leader of the Taliban had died in Pakistan two years ago, all eyes are on a meeting between Kabul and representatives of the Taliban scheduled for Friday.

The effectiveness of tomorrow’s negotiations, slated to be the second-ever round of direct talks between Kabul and the Islamic Emirate, as the group calls itself, have been thrown into doubt once again as the group once more says the representatives they designated for negotiations will have no place at the table.

“Media outlets are circulating reports that peace talks will take place very soon between the Islamic Emirate and the Kabul regime … The Islamic Emirate has handed all agency powers in this regard to its Political Office and they are not aware of any such process,” a statement released on the group’s website Thursday read.

The statement, coming only a day after the government of Afghanistan confirmed reports that Mullah Omar had died in Pakistan two years ago, marks the second time the group has alluded to its political office being unaware of talks being touted as face-to-face negotiations between the two parties.

The Taliban had issued a similar statement shortly after government representatives expressed optimism following an earlier meeting in Muree, Pakistan, late last month.

Sources speaking to The Telegraph said the announcement of the Taliban leader’s death throws the direction of the talks into question.

“We always knew Mullah Omar didn’t have a role in the day-to-day affairs of the Taliban,” a source familiar with the matter told The Telegraph only hours after the announcement.

Though one government source told The Telegraph word of Pakistan’s then impending admission to Kabul had first reached them last week, yesterday’s public statement definitely raises new questions.

What makes the announcement so difficult, said another government source from Eastern Afghanistan, is that “no one can every truly prove it to be true or not.”

This uncertainty, especially as Mullah Omar is said to have died several years ago, likely influenced the government’s original hesitancy to confirm or deny the Taliban leader’s death.

It wasn’t until late Wednesday evening, several hours after reports quoting anonymous government sources first surfaced, that the nation’s intelligence agency and eventually the presidential palace itself, acknowledged the reports as credible.

“The government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, based on credible information, confirms that Mullah Mohammad Omar, leader of the Taliban died in April 2013 in Pakistan,” the palace statement, said.

The announcement of Mullah Omar’s death both answers age-old questions and brings about new ones for negotiators, said the source familiar with the talks.

“We always thought there was an order, that they had different shoras who reported to each other. Those reports, we thought, would then reach Mullah Akhtar Mansour,” said the source, referring to Mullah Omar’s deputy.

Now, said the source, it has become entirely evident that, that is not the case.

For Kabul, said the source, the question now becomes who represents the Taliban leadership.

Reports in recent years had indicated that the nation’s largest armed opposition movement had splintered into several groups, without a single unifying leadership structure.

The announcement poses a similar difficulty for the Taliban themselves.

“Now they must decide who will gather these groups to represent them in these negotiations,” said the source.

“Last time in Pakistan we could sense that Mullah Mansour was there only due to the pressure placed upon him by Islamabad.”

Earlier this year, Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan President, made overtures to Pakistan a key aspect to his plans for peace. The president hoped the concessions, including send Afghan recruits for training in Pakistan for the first time earlier this year, would sway Islamabad to bring the group to the negotiating table.

The recent talks were seen as evidence of Pakistan’s following through with that promise.

Further complicating the matter was the image of the elusive leader himself.

To Kandaharis who knew him, Mullah Omar was a simple man, but to the Taliban, who had dubbed him Amir al-Mu’minin, leader of the faithful, in 1996, he had become a larger than life figure.

“He had an aura that far exceeded his physical presence. That aura and the title of leader of the faithful carried a lot of weight for new Taliban recruits, even those who had never met him,” said the source.

In an Eid al-Fitr statement said to be from Mullah Omar, issued earlier this month, the group said their leader was in favor of talks.

“If we look into our religious regulations, we can find that meetings and even peaceful interactions with the enemies is not prohibited,” that statement said.

To Afghans, for whom the death of Mullah Omar in Pakistan, whom they had long accused of aiding and abetting the armed opposition comes as little surprise.

What matters to them, however, is how the government will use the announcement going forward.

Friday’s talks in Pakistan, they hope, will provide the first set of answers to that question.

Can’t stereotype my thing, yo: #GrowingUpAfghan

And you? When will you begin that long journey into yourself?

Chains on my feet, but not on my mind

Im that history, Im that block, Im that lifestylethats my past that made me hot

Hate the Sinner: Killing of an Afghan Woman

Shah-Do Shamshira, Kabul

I first heard the news from a cab driver.

As soon as I sat in the car, Jawed, the driver, asked me: “Have you see anything on the Facebooks?”

“About what?”

What he said next, though, sounded like nothing I ever expected to hear.

“A woman was burned and thrown into the river after burning a Qur’an.”

At first I thought I heard wrong. But the conversation continued. Then I thought this must be a wild, unsubstantiated rumour.

It wasn’t. He had seen the rows and rows of people and cars himself .

“The entire street was backed up. All I could see was the crowds.”

His description painted a vivid picture.

I couldn’t understand why. Why would anyone want to stand back and watch such a thing?

As Jawed drove me home our conversation carried on.

He kept returning  to one point. She disrespected the word of God — a book “sent down from the heavens.”

A fact I could never disagree with.

Still, I failed to see how “one sin [murder] would erase another [blasphemy].”

I asked who the woman was – “was she Afghan?”

This was not the first report of a Qur’an burning in the country. Past reports accused Pakistanis of paying people in the East and the South to do so.

Did the woman have any psychological issues, I asked.

“If she did, then the killers would be the sinners,” I said.

But he had no answers.

Jawed kept returning to the fact that she disgraced the holy book of Islam.

I posed a moral question using an act I knew almost no Afghan could ever rightfully defend.

Suicide bombers, I said, claim they are defending Afghanistan from ‘unbelievers.’

“They think they need to protect Afghanistan from people like you and I.”

“So what’s the difference between suicide bombers taking what belongs to God — judgment — in their own hands and what the people at the river did,” I asked.

He had no answer.

Later that evening, I went to the Kabul River. A sense of disbelief seemed to envelope the the entire area. Store owners and vendors talked of the crowds. One even claimed as many as “40,000” had gathered at the scene. Unlike Jawed, though, none seemed to speak in praise of them. Instead, there was a sense of shock coursing through each of their words.

They seemed to struggle to describe actions of thousands of otherwise ordinary people. The likes of which they encountered every day.

The act occurred at a highly-trafficked architectural and religious landmark of the Afghan capital.

The mosque and shrine lie at the base of a crowded marketplace.

It’s an area every resident of Kabul has passed dozens, if not hundreds of times, a year.

Any of us could have been there at that moment.

The most unsettling part, though, no one can say with certainty how they would act in that situation.

I think it was that realisation that quelled my anger at Jawed’s argument.

Only a few kilometres or a few minutes kept me from facing the reality of what I would have done under those circumstances.

I wasn’t even shocked.

Instead, I found myself thinking: “Now I know why he and others like him think the way they do.” I couldn’t imagine what they did, but somehow I was able to understand it.

We continued to carry on a passionate but mannered conversation. We each made our points and listened to one another.

I found myself caught by the levels of tolerance, or lack thereof, exhibited in both instances. There was none for the woman, but for a man arguing that murder was not the answer shortly after the act, there was.

For several hours I struggled to parse the emotions. I didn’t know what to think or how to feel.

But now, I’m left with only a single emotion — sadness.

Sadness for the woman. Sadness for her family. Sadness for an angry mob, many of whom stood back and watched. Sadness for the police, who seemed to do nothing to stop the brutal murder of a young woman.

In each person’s experience of that moment — the mob, woman and police — there is some level of tragedy.

Shah-Do Shamshira, Kabul

‘For us, or for our enemies’ : Has Karzai forgotten his forces?

His rifle, his boots full of rocksAnd this one is for braveryAnd this one is for me

Kabul – Nearly four members of the Afghan National Security Forces have died each day in the last 10 years, but one of the nation’s youngest parliamentarians says the Afghan president has done little to support the men and women who have died defending their nation.

Shortly after 21 Afghan soldiers were slain by Taliban fighters in a February 23 raid, Baktash Siawash, MP from Kabul, began a sit-in to demand that Hamid Karzai, the outgoing president, “take one day to visit the families of the ANSF martyrs.”

Siawash’s tent, erected across from the American University of Afghanistan, receives dozens of visitors each day. A young man from Parwan province came to relay a message of support from the northern province’s students. Another student said he came as a representative for 4,000 youth who have joined in Siawash’s call for the president to “prove his support of the forces under his command.”

Taliban ‘brothers’

The criticisms of the current administration’s treatment towards its security forces is nothing new. Shortly after an April 2012 complex attack, Afghanistan 1400, a youth-led political movement erected billboards across Kabul in honour of the ANSF.

But the February attack on the Kunar province military outpost, seems to have struck a particularly raw nerve for the Afghan public.

For those that have staged protests in the days and weeks following the 100-Taliban-strong Ghazi Abad raid, it was Karzai’s treatment of the February 17 killing of Mawlawi Abdul Raqib, a former Taliban leader in Pakistan, that showed the president’s priorities.

Reports that the president referred to Mawlawi Abdul Raqib as a “Martyr of Peace” only served to heighten a years-long criticism of Karzai for calling members of Afghanistan’s largest armed opposition movement “brothers.”

To many in the crowd at a separate February 26 rally in support of the soldiers killed in Kunar, the air transport of the body of the Taliban-era refugee-affairs minister to his home in Takhar province was further evidence of the fraternity between Karzai and the Taliban. Many referenced the fact that families of slain ANSF still struggle to return to their loved one’s bodies home after being “martyred.”

One protester put it quite bluntly when he said: “More dangerous than the Taliban’s return is the return of Taliban thoughts in the Arg,” presidential palace.

Enemy’s blood

Gardoo, 46, was one of the 120 rain-soaked protesters gathered at a youth-led demonstration in Kabul’s Shahr-e Naw Park last month.

For Gardoo, Karzai’s actions have shown that: “our enemy’s blood is worth more than our own.”

Siawash used one of his visitors in the West Kabul tent as an example.

“He had to hire a taxi to transport his son’s body back to their home in Ghazni.”

The journey across Highway 1 would see the elderly man travel across dangerous stretches before arriving in Ghazni. As a known Taliban stronghold, the dangers would not end for the old man and his driver upon arrival in the eastern province. In recent years, the Taliban have issued strong statements saying they would target the Afghan government and those who support them. As the father of an ANA soldier, this could put the man squarely in the group’s sight.

In a March 4 statement, the Office of Administrative Affairs, cabinet, secretariat, said 13,729 families of slain security force personnel had been awarded financial support. Another 16,511 families were compensated after a relative was wounded.

Of those, 4,551 were soldiers killed through March 2013.


However, Siawash said support of the armed forces is not merely a financial matter.

Instead, he said support is about the morale of men and women who are “willing to sacrifice their lives to fight the enemies of the nation.”

“All they have to do is tell one orphaned child ‘your father is a martyr, your father is a hero and the person who martyred him is an enemy of the nation.’”

For the protesters in Kabul, the 13,729 recorded ANSF deaths in the last decade are further proof that not enough is being done to keep the security forces out of harm’s way.

“Canons, tanks and planes, our forces need them,” they chanted.

The call for increased armaments in a nation that has seen more than three decades of armed conflict may seem disconcerting from the outside, but for those gathered in the park, their demand was that the ANSF be given a fighting chance.

In November 2013, Kabul asked New Delhi for among other things, 150 battle tanks, 120 field guns and 24 attack helicopters.

In 2012, ANA soldiers in Logar and Paktia provinces told the Associated Press they lacked even proper night vision goggles to target the armed opposition.

“Our commander-in-chief, for us, or for our enemies”, they shouted.

Though they would not comment directly on Siawash’s campaign, the presidential palace said the government does in fact support its forces.

“The president meets with families of security forces  as needed. He has also instructed the reverent government institutions to provide necessary support to them on regular basis”, Adela Raz, deputy presidential spokesperson, said.

Future administration

Still, the movement embodied by the likes of Siawash and the protesters in the park, is calling on Karzai to use the dwindling days of his administration to set the tone for the winner of next month’s presidential polls.

Karzai’s tenure as a military leader has been “stained” by his lack of support of the forces under his command, said Siawash.

All Karzai has to do is tell the armed forces that his lack of attention of was “not intended to say that: ‘you, and your blood have no value’. The shortfall was with us.”

Ali Mohammad Faqeri, who has gone to visit Siawash’s tent several times, said the president must not look at such a statement as an admission of defeat. Instead, he should look at it as a final chance to connect with the nation.

“It’s a good last opportunity for Karzai to possibly earn a place in the Afghan people’s hearts, especially those unhappy with him. He should look at it as a positive step for his legacy.”

This, said Siawash would also send a clear message to the victor in the April 5 presidential ballot to not repeat their predecessor’s decade-long mistake.

For Shokib, a member of the Afghan National Army in the northern province of Takhar, for the president to make his support of the nation’s security forces would be an important step towards showing that the deaths of his colleagues, including those in Kunar, was not without impact.

“The real power and emotion of such a loss can only be understood if officials continue to promote the love and responsibility for one’s nation among the people. They should let these young men die in vain.”