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Taliban Working Toward Resolving Differences

A purported photo of the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.
A purported photo of the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.

Senior Afghan Taliban leaders are working toward resolving growing differences after the death of the hard-line Islamist movement's founding leader was made public last week.

Days after the Taliban's fugitive leadership council in Pakistan apparently split over the appointment of Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour as the successor of Mullah Mohammad Omar, both sides have indicated they are now working toward resolving their differences.

The growing divisions within the top Taliban leadership had raised the specter of dividing the jihadist movement, which has previously shunned splits. Taliban supporters maintained their movement was founded to end the anarchy and factionalism that afflicted Afghanistan in the mid-1990s.

The Taliban emerged in the southern Afghanistan province of Kandahar in late 1994 and controlled more than 90 percent of the country by 1998. The movement remained largely united even after a U.S.-led military campaigned toppled its regime in late 2001.

Taliban supporters and top leaders are now jostling to revive unity among their leaders and cadres by invoking the founding myth of their movement and reminding sympathizers that their main aim is to implement Islamic law in Afghanistan, an aim they argue should not be tainted by material gains and lust for personal power or privilege.

"I hope that all our comrades will sacrifice their ambitions, personal interests, and material gains," Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi, a former Taliban governor, told Radio Free Afghanistan on August 4.

"Within the next two or three days, we will hold a major gathering of the ulema (religious scholars)," he said. "They will resolve all our differences swiftly. Their decision will be good for all the Muslim people of Afghanistan and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the formal name of the Taliban)."

Niazi, a former Taliban governor of Afghanistan's Balkh and Herat provinces, is the spokesman of a loose alliance of Taliban leaders and Mullah Omar's family who opposed Mansour's election as the new Taliban "Amir-ul-Momineen," or Leader Of The Faithful, on July 30.

Last week, Niazi told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that Mansour's rivals within the Taliban were working to create a "new council" that would replace the existing Quetta Shura, the Taliban's leadership council named after the southwestern Pakistani city where it is believed to be based.

"We have received indications from Mansour that he is ready for reconciliation with fellow leaders," Niazi said. "Mansour and his faction and other Taliban members are either ulema or religious students. All of them have learned some tough lessons from the mistakes and blunders the [anti-Soviet] mujahedin committed [in the 1990s]."

Mansour, the new Taliban leader, agrees. "Our enemies are always trying to break our unity. We need to preserve our gains and prevent them from being squandered at this late stage during our struggle," he told supporters in an audio message released after being elected as the Taliban leader on July 30. "We need to cooperate even more and be tolerant of each other, which will lead to success."

Even Mansour's two main rivals within the Taliban movement and the family of Mullah Omar have so far resisted forming separate organizations and are instead pushing for reconciliation.

"There should be a [grand council] so that everyone has a chance to choose their own leader," Mullah Abdul Mannan, a younger brother of the late Taliban leader, said in an audio statement released on August 2. "I do not accept this selection of Mullah Akhtar Mansour because only a few chose him."

On August 3, Syed Mohammad Tayyab Agha resigned as director of the Taliban's political office in the Qatari capital, Doha. In a swipe at Mansour, Agha termed his apparent appointment as the Afghan Taliban leader inside Pakistan and his concealment of Mullah Omar's death for more than two years as "historic mistakes."

However, he emphasized Taliban unity.

"Our military leaders should strive to preserve their unity and independence," he wrote in his resignation letter posted by a pro-Taliban website. "The only way of salvation now is that the Taliban leaders make sacrifices. They should move to somewhere inside Afghanistan and ponder over the selection of their leader and other issues independently."

The prospects for reconciliation between Taliban leaders received an unexpected boost from a former top Taliban military leader. Since his sacking in April last year, Abdul Qayyum Zakir has been projected as a main rival of Mansour.

But in a recent statement issued by the Taliban's official website, Zakir called reports that he in conflict with Mansour "absolutely baseless."

"I reassure you all that I serve the Islamic Emirate with the best of my abilities and will be one of its most obedient followers," he said in a statement on July 31.