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Former Taliban Official Claims Rivals Creating New Leadership Council

Pakistan members of Jamiat Ulma-e Islam Nazraiti party pray for Afghanistan's Taliban chief Mullah Mohammad Omar at a ceremony in Quetta on July 31
Pakistan members of Jamiat Ulma-e Islam Nazraiti party pray for Afghanistan's Taliban chief Mullah Mohammad Omar at a ceremony in Quetta on July 31

A former Taliban official says the newly elected leader of the militant group faces significant opposition from within.

Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi, a former Taliban governor of Balkh and Herat provinces, said new leader Mullah Akhtar Mansur was selected by only a handful of Taliban figures in a meeting on July 30.

Mullah Niazi, speaking to RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, said powerful rivals within the Taliban were working to create a "new council" that would replace the existing Quetta Shura, the Taliban's Pakistan-based leadership council.

Among the rivals is powerful commander Mullah Abdul Qayum Zakir, a former inmate of the U.S. prison in Cuba's Guantanamo Bay.

Zakir is pushing for Mullah Omar's son Yuqub to take over the group.

Mullah Niazi's claims highlight the deepening divisions in a group already split over peace talks with the Afghan government and facing competition from the Islamic State extremist group, which has made inroads in Afghanistan.

A close aide to late Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar corroborated Niazi's claims.

Mullah Mohammad Hassan Rahmani -- who was the governor of Kandahar Province during the Taliban's rule -- told Radio Free Afghanistan that Mansur was selected by only a small group of Taliban leaders despite opposition from him and other major commanders, including Mullah Abduraziq and Mullah Zakir.

Rahmani said that there were no divisions within the group over the current peace talks with the Afghan government, which were delayed after Omar's death.

At the Taliban meeting this week where Mullah Mansur was named leader, several senior figures in the movement, including the son and brother of the late leader Mullah Omar, walked out in protest, according to the Reuters news agency.

Reuters reported that Yuqub and his uncle Abdul Manan, Mullah Omar's younger brother, were among several Taliban figures who walked out of the leadership meeting held in the western Pakistani city of Quetta, according to three people who were at the gathering.

"Actually, it wasn't a Taliban Leadership Council meeting. Mansur had invited only members of his group to pave the way for his election," said one of the sources, a senior member of the Taliban in Quetta, to Reuters. "And when Yuqub and Manan noticed this, they left the meeting."

News reports have highlighted an alleged division between Taliban moderates who favor the peace talks and hard-liners who want to continue the 14-year insurgency.

With additional reporting by Reuters and AFP
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