Three major developments with regard to regional and domestic peace have taken place in one single day:
(a) in a jungle of southern Punjab’s Muzaffargarh district, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) chief Malik Ishaq, his two sons and 11 fellow militants are killed in what the Punjab government claims a `shootout with police’. Under his leadership, LeJ claimed some of the bloodiest attacks on Shias in country’s recent history and the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore.
(b) spelling out the successes of the Zarb-e-Azb operation, the army chief, General Raheel Sharif, has told the world community that not only will the operation help establish sustained peace in Pakistan, it will also contribute towards global efforts aimed at obtaining peace in the entire region
(c) the Afghan government has made a startling claim, which was later confirmed by Taliban themselves although they had initially maintained a studies silence. According to it, Taliban supremo died two years ago due to an illness. Looking deeper into these developments, one comes across a bigger picture that has emerged following these developments: peace in Pakistan and Afghanistan is a sine qua non or something that is absolutely needed.
There can be counter and even militating claims with regard to the circumstances that preceded the killings of LeJ leader and his fellow militants. The sectarian party that he formed and led has been seen as close to al Qaeda; and it is said to have developed links with Islamic State in recent months that pitted it not only against the Pakistan state but global and regional powers.
The police claims that Malik Ishaq was arrested on Saturday, he was being moved to identify an arms cache when his fellow militants attacked the police convoy in Muzaffargarh. The elimination of much of the top leadership of LeJ in one go gives birth to a key question: Was Malik Ishaq not listening to the warnings of the country’s security establishment that is determined to annihilate all terrorists and curtail extremists of various hues and shades following the launch of the operation Zarb-e-Azb?
Insofar as the Afghan government’s claim that Mulla Omar died two years ago was concerned, it was a clear threatening move aimed at frightening its rivals-Taliban. That Taliban supreme leader Mulla Omar has died is a development that will certainly bode ill for the struggle of Taliban. “The government of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, based on credible information, confirms that Mulla Mohammad Omar, leader of the Taliban, died in April 2013 in Pakistan,” a statement from the presidential palace said.
A senior Afghan official reportedly said that “he [Mulla Omar] was buried in Zabul province (southern Afghanistan)”. The timing of such disclosure was intriguing that could have been tested on the touchstone of a fact: the claim was made two days prior to the second round of Afghan government-Taliban talks scheduled for today at the country’s picturesque Murree resort.
The disclosure was clearly aimed at catapulting the Afghan side to a position of strength at the Murree dialogue. There was a question how the death of Mulla Omar will play out in the second round of talks and beyond after the White House termed it “credible”. The answer became evident as soon as Afghan Taliban postponed the second round of talks with the representatives of Afghan government as they ultimately confirmed the death of their leader Mulla Omar. “The leadership of the Islamic Emirate and the family of Mulla Omar… announce that leader Mulla Omar died due to a sickness,” a Taliban statement said.
It is now quite clear that the Taliban now face the process of choosing a successor to Mulla Omar who led them for some 20 years, although it has been widely speculated that the Taliban deputy Mulla Akhtar Mansour is leading the race to take over while Omar’s son Mulla Yakoub has also been favoured by some top Taliban leaders, but he is considered too young for this post.
Without confirming or rejecting reports, country’s Foreign Office said yesterday: “In view of the reports regarding the death of Mulla Omar and the resulting uncertainty, and 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.” The reports regarding the death of Mulla Omar have not certainly augured well for the second round of Afghan talks after Afghan and Taliban representatives, who were facilitated by Pakistan for an Afghan-owned resolution of the issue, held their first face-to-face dialogue at Murree with a view to ending the 14-year-old insurgency earlier this month.
They had agreed to meet again on coming weeks or July 31 (today). It is, however, quite clear that the Afghan peace process, which is also enjoying the support of China and the US, has received a setback in confirmation of Mulla Omar’s death as Taliban are now likely to focus more on their internal challenges than talks with the Afghan government representatives. His death could be a boon for the Islamic State which is struggling to gain a foothold in Afghanistan.