A longish delay in resumption of the Afghan reconciliation process appears likely as new Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour, in his first recorded message, has hinted at pursuing both talks and fighting for achieving his group’s goals. Furthermore, he has taken a rather tough line on the dialogue facilitated by Pakistan, describing it as “enemy propaganda”.
In his 33-minute audio message released on Saturday, which spelt out the policies and strategies he intended to pursue as emir of the Taliban, Mullah Mansour said he would be guided by Islamic principles, whether in war or peace talks.
Other than this vague reference about adhering to Islamic principles in any negotiations on ending the conflict, he said nothing about whether or not he would engage with the Afghan government.
The speech appeared to have been delivered a day after his elevation as Mullah Omar’s successor. The low quality of the audiotape suggested that it had been recorded at some remote location. He seemed to be addressing a group of people, presumably members of the Taliban Supreme Council and other senior cadres.
During the speech Mullah Mansour remained focussed on counselling unity in the ranks, dispelling the impression of any rift, emphasising continuity of jihad, and repudiating the negotiations with Afghan government that began on July 7 in Murree.
“Do not listen to the enemy propaganda that it is a peace process or it is a dialogue process,” he said.
He asked his followers to continue the “jihad” instead of being distracted by the talk of peace.
The statement served to dampen hopes of any immediate resumption of the peace talks. The second round of talks slated for July 31 had to be postponed at the last minute because of the disclosure of Mullah Omar’s death.
While announcing the postponement of the July 31 meeting, Pakistani government had said that it had been put off on Taliban request and hoped that it could be reconvened soon.
US Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Daniel Feldman, in a meeting with Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif at the General Headquarters on Saturday, said it was “hoped with all sincerity that talks would resume soon to bring lasting peace”.
The US believes that the change in Taliban leadership has provided an opportunity for ending the 14-year-long conflict in Afghanistan.
Until now Mullah Mansour was considered to be in favour of the peace process. The perception was based on a statement made by Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai, who after returning to Kabul from the first round of talks had said the Taliban delegation for the Murree meeting had come with Mansour’s blessings, who was then thought to be deputising for Omar.
The harsh stance taken in his speech by Mullah Mansour against the Pakistan-facilitated process seems to be aimed at blunting criticism that he has been toeing Pakistan’s or the ISI’s line.
The immediate challenge for the new leader is to establish his control over the group. He might have been the de facto leader for years, but he had been operating in the name of Mullah Omar. Therefore, he will require some time to settle into the new position and be able to win unqualified loyalty of his men.
In his message, Mullah Mansour not only rejected the peace talks, but also reiterated his opposition to democracy. “There is no space for democracy and other things,” he said casting doubts over expectations that Taliban would accept the progress made by Afghanistan since the ouster of their group from power after the US-led invasion.
Addressing the disapproval of his election as emir by some of his comrades, Mansour said he had been entrusted the responsibilities by his predecessor and founder of the movement and he was continuing with the mission and fulfilling the task given to him.
“We should keep our unity, we must be united, our enemy will be happy in our separation,” he said.
“The enemy has tried to create rifts, doubts or weaken the jihad. But thank God nothing has worked, neither their money, (military) might and nor (have) human losses inflicted on Muslims succeeded in dividing us,” he added.