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'Good Listener, Neat Dresser' -- Taliban Publishes Biography Of New Leader

Mullah Akhtar Mansur, the Taliban's new leader, is seen in this undated handout photograph by the Taliban.
Mullah Akhtar Mansur, the Taliban's new leader, is seen in this undated handout photograph by the Taliban.

Little is known about new Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansur.

So the Taliban has published a 5,000-word biography in five languages as an "introduction" to the man now in charge of the hard-line militant group, which could be at a crossroads as pressure mounts in some quarters for peace talks after decades of war.

The biography, published on the Taliban's official website on August 31, characterizes Mullah Mansur as a tireless holy warrior, good listener, neat dresser, and ardent protector of civilians.

'Jihadi Acumen'

The biography lauds Mullah Mansur's "jihadi acumen," describing him as a pious and visionary warrior who is "naturally bequeathed with unique leading and guiding capabilities."

It says his biggest achievement was reviving Afghanistan's air force and airports as the civil aviation minister during the Taliban's largely unrecognized 1996-2001 regime.

The biography is also scattered with details about his purported lifestyle, claiming that "he likes and wears loose, neat, and clean clothes ... dislikes and avoids extravagance."

It adds that he "speaks less and tries to listen more to other people."

The biography gives details of Mullah Mansur's life, from his birth in Kandahar in 1968 to his early studies, which were interrupted by the Soviet invasion in 1979.

The document says he is a capable military leader who was twice wounded in combat fighting the leftist Afghan government and Soviet forces.

After the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, Mullah Mansur was the shadow governor of Kandahar, according to the document.

The biography makes no mention of a key period at the center of an assertion made by Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum the same day as the Taliban document's release. Dostum, a longtime warlord, claimed on August 31 that his forces turned Mullah Mansur into their spy after his capture in northern Afghanistan in 2001.

“The same Mansur was our spy; he was giving information to us," Dostum was quoted as saying by Pajhwok news agency, adding quizzically, "And now he is leading the Taliban?"

Dostum's spokesman summarized the vice president's remarks in a subsequent tweet:

The biography adds that Mullah Mansur was appointed deputy Taliban leader after Mullah Obaidullah and Mullah Baradar, the first and second deputies of the group, were killed and detained by Pakistan, respectively.

Quell Internal Rifts

Observers call the biography an attempt to shore up Mullah Mansur's position and consolidate his power while quelling growing infighting over his appointment.

His selection has been contested by senior members of the group, including the son and brother of late leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.

Mullah Mansur was named as new chief last month after the Afghan government revealed that Mullah Omar had died in 2013, which the Taliban confirmed in the biography.

INFOGRAPHIC: Taliban's Leadership Crisis

The biography described Mullah Mansur as being appointed "in full compliance with Islamic Shari'a law," making him "totally legitimate."

The document even says Mullah Mansur "never nominated himself for leadership. Rather he was selected as the only candidate and by the members of the leading council of the Islamic Emirate [the official name of the Taliban movement] and religious scholars."

Hundreds of Taliban fighters, including battlefield commanders, are meeting in the Pakistani city of Quetta in an effort to resolve the leadership dispute.

Shadowy Leader

Like Mullah Omar, Mullah Mansur has shunned public appearances. The few pictures believed to be of him show a middle-aged man with the dark beard and turban that essentially serve as the uniform for senior Taliban cadres.

He was a relatively minor figure in the Taliban but rose to prominence after the demise of senior leaders.

Mullah Mansur, who has been effectively running the insurgency for the past three years, appears pragmatic and moderate compared to Mullah Omar.

He is believed to be a proponent of peace talks with the Afghan government and is seen as close to Pakistan, which is thought by many to be sheltering and supporting the militant leadership despite its denials.

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    Frud Bezhan

    Frud Bezhan is the editor for Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan in the Central Newsroom at RFE/RL. Previously, he was a correspondent and reported from Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Turkey. Prior to joining RFE/RL in 2011, he worked as a freelance journalist in Afghanistan and contributed to several Australian newspapers, including The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.