A setback for Afghan peace?


WEB DESK: Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mansour is believed to have been killed in a US drone strike in Balochistan.

Although Pakistan is yet to confirm one of the two dead passengers in the targeted car was actually him, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday he had informed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif by phone of a drone strike that “likely killed” Mullah Mansour.

A passport found on the scene issued in the name of a Pakistani citizen, with a photo bearing close resemblance to the Taliban leader, had a valid Iranian visa stamped on it, showing the bearer had entered Pakistan from the Taftan border in Iran on may 21. It is a mystery what Mullah Mansour might have been doing in Iran, and why would that country issue him a visa. The attack came just a few days after the May 18 meeting of the Quadrilateral Co-ordination Group comprising representatives of the US, China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan governments, aimed at finding a negotiated settlement of the ceaseless conflict.

Kerry justified Mullah Mansour’s ‘elimination’, saying “he was directly opposed to the peace negotiations, and to the reconciliation process”. It remains to be seen though whether the action is to help or hinder the peace negotiations. Some analysts have described the action as a serious setback for the Taliban. The situation though is very different from what happed following the belated revelation of the Taliban Mullah Omer’s death, which led to divisions and infighting over the leadership question.

Mansour had to contend with serious challenges from many senior leaders, including Mullah Omar’s eldest son, Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, who had initially refused to swear allegiance to Mansour for having concealed the news of his father’s passing, and also because he had agreed to participate in Pakistan-supported peace negotiations, issuing fake supportive statements on Omar’s behalf. It is unlikely to be so difficult for the Taliban to replace him. One name being mentioned is Mullah Yaqoob.

According to some Afghan affairs specialists, he will be easily ready for a meaningful peace dialogue, which seems rather unrealistic given that he had opposed Mullah Mansour’s stated interest in resolving the conflict through intra-Afghan understanding. The other possible successor is Mullah Mansour’s deputy, Sirajuddin Haqqani of the powerful Haqqani network, who has a $5 million US bounty on his head.

He would be a daunting opponent considering the fact that he wields direct control over important field commanders. In any event, whosoever becomes the next Taliban chief will need time to consolidate his position. The more than a decade long internecine conflict in Afghanistan has shown neither the Kabul government nor the Taliban can win this war.

The only way forward is a negotiated settlement. Sooner or later they will have to come to the talks table. History of such conflicts shows it takes time for belligerents to arrive at an agreement. The US has demonstrated its characteristic impatience in launching the drone attack. Whether or not it is a setback for the Taliban, it certainly is a setback for the peace negotiations. The situation will get worse before it gets better.-Business Recorder