The Afghan Taliban leadership appears huddled in ongoing sessions to reach a consensus over a successor to Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in southwestern Pakistan on May 21.
Pakistani intelligence sources told the German news agency dpa that at least six names were being considered at the meetings under way since May 22.
One official said the Taliban leadership council was “trying to zero in on one of them.”
The candidates include the brother and son of the Taliban movement’s founding leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar. Mullah Abdul Manan and Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob are being considered, along with Mansur’s two deputies, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada and Sirjudding Haqqani. Mullah Abdul Qayum Zakir and a former Taliban information minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, are the other contenders.
Yaqoob, the eldest son of Omar, has emerged as the leading contender. Thought to be in his late 20s or early 30s, Yakoub is a graduate of an Islamic seminary from the southern Pakistani city of Karachi. He is also the one who is seen as supported by Pakistan’s powerful spy service, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Western and Afghan officials have often accused the ISI of manipulating the Taliban.
"He is the one most factions would rally around because of the
respect his father had," said one Pakistani official, "and that's his utmost quality.”
Haqqani, on the other hand, is being see as too closely tied to the ISI. In addition, his appeal among Taliban fighters from southern Afghanistan -- where the Taliban movement emerged and still attracts a majority of its supporters -- is extremely limited.
Haqqani and his loyalists, collectively dubbed the Haqqani network, are seen as a capable fighting force often able to stage complex attacks in the Afghan capital, Kabul.
The Taliban have yet to officially acknowledge Mansur’s death. Insurgent sources have said they are keen to avoid the divisions that arose within the leadership council following the hasty appointment of Mansur last year after the Taliban acknowledged that Mullah Omar died in April 2013.
"The leadership is being very careful because one wrong step could divide the group into many parties like former mujahedin," said one Taliban official from the eastern province of Nangarhar, noting the differences among anti-Soviet guerrilla leaders whose infighting in 1990s plunged Afghanistan into a civil war.
With reporting by Reuters and DPA