Mulla Mansour new Taliban chief

By Nuzhat Nazar

ISLAMABAD: Adviser to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz Friday expressed the hope for an early resumption of peace talks between Afghan government and the Taliban, which were postponed at the request of the latter following confirmation of Mullah Omar’s death.

Briefing Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs at the Parliament House, the Adviser stated it was a good omen that the new Taliban leadership under Mullah Akhtar Mansour is influential among the Taliban ranks and will carry forward the reconciliation process effectively and efficiently.

He said the second round of talks which was scheduled to be held on Friday have been postponed after confirmation of Mullah Omar’s death, expressing the hope that their internal process of leadership appointment to be soon completed for carrying forward the peace process. He said there were reports that Mullah Akhtar Masnour has been appointed as the new Taliban chief and many commanders have already pledged allegiance to Mullah Mansour while some have differences.

He said the second round of peace talks was scheduled to take place and Chinese Foreign Minister, who is currently in Pakistan, was also supposed to participate in the talks besides the Americans. To a question by the committee members about Mullah Omar’s death in Karachi, he said that the Taliban have already confirmed that he died in Afghanistan two weeks ago and was buried there. To another question about Mullah Omar’s son Mullah Mohammad Yaqub, who is said to have completed his degree from a Karachi seminary, Aziz said that there were reports regarding Mullah Yaqub’s education from a Karachi seminary but not of his father’s death in the metropolis, adding nobody saw Mullah Omar since 2001.

To another question about the first round of talks that was held in Murree, Aziz said that talks were held in a cordial atmosphere and Taliban demanded removal of sanctions, release of their prisoners and certain confidence building measures, adding there was positive response from all sides including, the US and the Afghan government.

As part of the commitment, he said Pakistan hosted the first-ever official meeting between the Afghan government and Tehreek-e-¬Taliban Afghanistan representatives, who were duly mandated by their respective leadership at Murree on 7 July 2015. The representatives of China and the US also participated in the meeting. “The peace talks are a success which contributed in improving bilateral relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan,” he said, adding the importance of Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process, for establishment of peace in Afghanistan is fully recognised by all stakeholders.

He said that there was a need to develop confidence building measures to engender trust upon which a consensus on continuation of the reconciliation process was planned, and it was agreed to hold the next meeting after the Eid. Aziz pointed out that relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have strengthened after the new government led by President Ashraf Ghani took over in Kabul. Pakistan has played a vital role in the peace process while initiating and facilitating the peace talks between Afghan government and Afghan Taliban.

He said that Pakistan government knows that a peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s best interest, for which an inclusive intra-Afghan reconciliation is imperative, adding Pakistan has been doing its utmost to facilitate the process. He said the Afghan leadership has expressed satisfaction on the outcome of the peace talks and appreciated Pakistan’s constructive role in bringing the Taliban to negotiating table. International community, including the US, China, Nato members and the United Nations have also praised Pakistan’s efforts in convening the talks. Former Afghan President has also welcomed direct peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, he added.

In his Eid felicitations message, he said that Mullah Omar had also endorsed the peace talks, which were welcomed by President Ashraf Ghani. “The successful holding of first round of peace-talks was a significant step forward towards a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. Pakistan would continue supporting the efforts to ensure that the reconciliation process successfully meets its logical end,” Aziz added.

Foreign Secretary Aiaziz Ahmad Chaudhry told the panel that it was for the first time that the two sides met for the direct interaction, adding there were some tough issues but the atmosphere remained cordial. To a query about the presence of Daish/ISIL, he said that there is no footprint of the militant outfit in the country. However, he said that Pakistan’s institutions are vigilant to counter the potential threat.

AFP adds: The Taliban named Mullah Akhtar Mansour as their new chief Friday, a historic power transition that raises hopes a more moderate leadership will pave the way for an end to Afghanistan’s bloody war. The Taliban also announced his deputies – Sirajuddin Haqqani, who leads the Taliban-allied Haqqani network and has a $10 million US bounty on his head, and Haibatullah Akhundzada, former head of the Taliban courts.

The appointment of Mansour, seen as a pragmatist and a proponent of peace talks, comes a day after the Taliban confirmed the death of their near-mythical leader Mullah Omar, who led the fractious group for some 20 years. The Taliban’s first handover of power comes at a time when the US-led Afghan government has been trying to jumpstart peace negotiations as it struggles to contain the resurgent insurgency.

Mansour, a long-time trusted deputy of Omar, takes charge as the movement faces growing internal divisions and is threatened by the rise of the Islamic State group, the Middle East jihadist outfit that is making inroads in Afghanistan. “After (Omar’s) death the leadership council and Islamic scholars of the country, after long consultations, appointed his close and trusted friend and his former deputy Mullah Akhtar Mansour as the leader,” the Taliban said in a Pashto-language statement posted on their website.

“When Mullah Omar was alive, Mullah Mansour was considered a trustworthy and appropriate person to take this heavy responsibility.” A Taliban official said that after the group’s ruling council had chosen a successor for Omar, the decision was supposed to be ratified by a college of religious clerics. Mansour, who was named the new Amir-ul-Momineen – “commander of the faithful” – faces staunch internal resistance from some members of the Taliban’s ruling council, the Quetta Shura, who accuse Pakistan of hijacking the movement.

But the internal opposition is unlikely to prevent Mansour from proceeding with peace talks launched in the Pakistani hill station of Murree earlier this month. “Mullah Mansour is one of the founders of the Taliban movement and he is a moderate, pro-peace, pro-talks person,” Abdul Hakim Mujahid, a former Taliban official and a member of the Afghan High Peace Council, told AFP. “I believe that under him the peace process will be strengthened and the Taliban will become part of political process in Afghanistan.”

The confirmation of Omar’s death ends years of speculation about the fate of the leader, who was not seen in public since the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan that toppled the Taliban from power. Mark Toner, the US State Department’s deputy spokesman, said Omar’s death was “clearly a moment of opportunity and we would encourage the Taliban to use this time of opportunity to make genuine peace with the Afghan government”.

His death, however, initially cast doubt on the fragile peace process aimed at ending the long war, forcing the postponement of a second round of talks that had been expected in Pakistan on Friday. The two sides had agreed to meet again in the coming weeks, drawing international praise, and Afghan officials had pledged to press for a cease-fire in the second round.

But so far the embryonic talks have not stopped the militants pressing ahead with their summer offensive, which is shaping up to be one of the bloodiest in recent years. The Taliban have ramped up attacks on military and government targets since the Nato combat mission ended in December.

Source: Business Recorder