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Mullah Mansour, The Afghan Taliban's New Leader

Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour
Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour

The Afghan Taliban has a new leader, one who appears pragmatic and moderate compared to the near-mythical figure he replaces.

In being named as the new head of the Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, one of the founders of the movement, was granted the title of Amir-ul-Momineen (Commander of the Faithful). This gives him the same supreme status held by his predecessor, Mullah Mohammad Omar, whose 2013 death was confirmed this week.

Mullah Mansour is believed to be a proponent of ongoing peace talks with the Afghan government, and his accession has raised hopes of a negotiated end to the Taliban's 14-year insurgency in Afghanistan.

Trusted Heir

In a statement released by the Taliban on July 30, the group described Mullah Mansour as one of the most "trusted" associates of the late Mullah Omar and an "active director" of the movement's war effort.

According to the Taliban, Mullah Mansur has been effectively running the insurgency for the past three years and is said to have the loyalty of field commanders.

The new leader of the Taliban is seen as close to Pakistan, which is believed to be sheltering and supporting the militant leadership despite its denials.

Some observers say this may put him in a position to aid ongoing peace talks. But others suggest his closeness to Islamabad is a source of conflict within the Taliban.

Divisive Choice

Mullah Mohammad Hassan Rahmani, a close aide to the late Mullah Omar, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan on July 31 that Mullah Mansour was not a popular choice and was selected by only a small group of Taliban leaders.

While Rahmani gave assurances to RFE/RL that the Taliban is on board with the idea of negotiations, the group appears to be deeply divided over the issue, with some major commanders vehemently against dialogue.

At the Taliban meeting this week where Mullah Mansour was named leader, several senior figures in the movement, including the son and brother of late leader Mullah Omar, reportedly walked out in protest.

Mullah Mansour, who is said to have considerable clout within the Taliban's political wing, is credited with bringing the group to the negotiating table in Pakistan last month. He has previously acted as an interlocutor in separate, informal peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

He is also said to have had a role in the opening of the Taliban's political office in Qatar, which was closed after protests by then Afghan President Hamid Karzai in 2013.

Mullah Mansur's leadership already faces challenges to its legitimacy and he faces a considerable hurdle in trying to unite a group that is already showing signs of fragmenting. Some major commanders of the Taliban had favored giving the leadership to Mullah Mohammad Yuqub, the eldest son of Mullah Omar.

Fidai Mahaz, a Taliban splinter group, alleged in a statement a week before Mullah Omar was confirmed dead that it was Mullah Mansour who killed the Taliban leader.

The Early Years

Mullah Mansour, believed to be in his 50s, hails from the southern province of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban. He served as civil aviation minister in the Taliban regime that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.

Like many senior Taliban leaders, Mullah Mansour surrendered to authorities after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. He is believed to have asked for amnesty and retired to his home in Kandahar.

But after reportedly being targeted by U.S. night raids he fled to Pakistan, where he helped remobilize the militant group as an insurgency.

Like Omar, he shuns 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.

Mullah Mansour was a relatively minor figure in the Taliban but rose to prominence after senior Taliban leaders were killed or arrested by the Pakistani authorities.

In 2010, his name came up in a bizarre episode in which an impostor claiming to be Mansur duped U.S. intelligence officers, reportedly receiving thousands of dollars from them in goodwill, before disappearing. Before his ruse was discovered, the impostor reportedly met three times with former President Karzai.

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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.