The United States and Afghanistan have termed the killing of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Mansur in Pakistan as a blow to the insurgent fighting to overthrow the Western-backed Afghan government.
But a senior Russian diplomat has characterized the May 21 killing on a remote road in the southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan as a strike against the Afghan peace process that aims to end the nearly 15-year Taliban insurgency through negotiations between Kabul and the Taliban.
"If this information [about Mansur’s killing] is confirmed, it will seriously hinder the negotiating process," said Zamir Kabulov, President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy to Afghanistan, on May 23.
Kabulov predicted that it will also escalate fighting in Afghanistan because "field commanders of the Taliban keep on fighting; they will hardly give themselves in or reconcile."
While the Taliban are reported to be deliberating over choosing Mansur’s successor, Kabulov warned that the elevation of Mansur’s military deputy Sirajuddin Haqqani to the Taliban leadership might prove a bad omen.
“Haqqani is ultra-radical. It will not be a picnic if he succeeds Akhtar Mansur," he warned.
After backing U.S. and its NATO allies for more than a decade, Russia first withdrew its cooperation during the past year and now appears to be exploring options to work with various Afghan factions to challenge or even undermine Washington’s efforts.
Late last year, Kabulov said Russian interests in Afghanistan "objectively coincide" with those of the Afghan insurgents. Another Russian official even admitted that Moscow had established contacts within the Taliban to exchange information against the so-called Islamic State.